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In Uncertain Terms: Mothering without Guilt in Marie Darrieussecq's Le Mal de mer and Christine Angot's Léonore, toujours Gill Rye IN THE MOTHER/DAUGHTER PLOT, Marianne Hirsch exposes the extent of the silencing of the maternal voice in narratives by women.1 In this study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature from North America and Europe, Hirsch finds that mothers' own stories are mediated and suppressed, particularly by their daughters as authors or narrators. She concludes that mothers themselves must become narrative subjects so that new, different stories of mothering in all their complexity can be inscribed, and, indeed, she points to the beginnings of "a slow emergence of maternal speech" in texts by Black American writers Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.2 More recently, however, maternal voices have begun to make themselves heard loud and clear in feminist literature, in, for example, a trio of autobiographical accounts published in the first years of the new century: in the US, Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions; in the UK, Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work; and in France, Marie Darrieussecq's Le Bébé.3 The strong narrative voices in these texts testify to ambivalent experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood, to women being engulfed by maternity—at times joyfully, at other times terrifyingly—to being desperate not only for sleep but also for time and space of their own, to feelings of insecurity and incompetence, failure and guilt.4 In their different ways, all three writers set out to demystify mothering, to interrogate its myths, to recognize its complexity and to ask what it means to (be a) mother today.5 Framed chronologically by Hirsch's 1989 study and these new maternal voices at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the literary output of the 1990s generation of women writers in metropolitan France. In socio-political and economic terms, France has some of the most generous state provisions for mothers (and fathers) in contemporary Europe: extensive childcare, a culture in which mothers are an integral part of the paid workforce, maternity and paternity leave, childcare subsidies, and career breaks.6 Yet maternal guilt remains a stumbling block for mothers in France, despite all the feminist work over the last thirty years or so which has argued that the maternal instinct is a myth,7 which has uncovered a whole range of other guilt-inducing discourses for mothers, from politics, religion, and psychology, to feminism itself,8 and which signals the changing face of family patterns and parenthood.9 Vol. XLV, No. 1 5 L'Esprit Créateur Two literary texts of the 1990s, Marie Darrieussecq's Le Mal de mer and Christine Angot's Léonore, toujours, present particularly provocative narratives of motherhood.10 Both Darrieussecq and Angot have attracted a great deal of attention as well as some controversy for their writing about women's experiences. Darrieussecq's first novel and best-seller Truismes caused a stir with its portrayal of a woman as sow (truie).." Angot's quasi-autofictional life-writing elicits strong reactions: on the one hand, accusations of narcissism and lack of literariness, or criticism for the ways in which she uses real-life people in her texts and for the politically incorrect comments that punctuate her writing; yet, on the other hand, appreciation for doing something really new and interesting, particularly in terms of the play between autobiography, fiction, and performance in her writing.12 Predictably, then, both Le Mal de mer and Léonore, toujours offer rather unconventional portrayals of mothering . The mother in Darrieussecq's novel eventually gives up her daughter, after first taking the child with her when she leaves her home and marriage. Angot's narrator-writer fantasizes her baby daughter as a sexual woman in her writing, and then, at the end of the text, the baby dies—or, one might say, is killed off by the writer(s). These challenging maternal figures are not proposed here as role models for motherhood or even as possible loci of identification tel quel, although reader identification is of course always a potential element. Rather, their particular interest for a feminist reading lies in their portrayal of what...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 5-15
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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