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  • Aimer et mourir: Love, Death, and Women's Lives in Texts of French Expression
  • Gill Rye
Aimer et mourir: Love, Death, and Women's Lives in Texts of French Expression. Edited by Eilene Hoft-March and Judith Holland Sarnecki. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. ix + 329 pp. Hb £44.99.

This volume grew out of a panel for the 2006 conference of the Midwest MLA. The editors aim to explore 'how the themes of love and death intertwine in women's lives and texts' (p. 1); they claim, as other critics have done before them, that women's sexuality has been linked with death since the Middle Ages. The topic is vast, of course, and while the strategy of a 'representative sampling' (p. 2) of texts by both female and male authors over five centuries goes some way to justifying the breadth of the collection, the volume nonetheless lacks cohesion. Above all, it would have benefited from a more substantial and theoretical introduction in order to provide greater coherence. However, it does include some high-quality individual contributions, and this is where the strength of the volume lies. The essays are organized thematically in pairings. One piece looks at [End Page 511] early modern literature; several essays focus on nineteenth-century texts (Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Zola, and Gautier); one is on Marcelle Tinayre's La Maison du péché (1902); while half (six contributions) are on women's writing from the 1990s and 2000s; and the remaining essay, on love as a narcissistic quest, spans literary periods. The contributions on male authors tend to point to the way in which the links between women and death reflect the sexual politics of the time and male anxieties about women's sexuality. Susan Hennessy's chapter on Zola, for example, examines narratives of pregnancy and childbirth to argue that the violent imagery employed suggests pathological excess, revealing a desire for order and control of procreation. The chapters on texts by women authors are more concerned with counter-narratives, such as France Grenaudier-Klijn's exploration of how Tinayre's novel subverts stereotypes of good and bad mothers. Two essays in particular stand out. Amaleena Damlé's thoughtful and complex reading of Amélie Nothomb's work around the 'death of the maiden' motif draws on Bataille to argue ultimately that the writing works from within a heteropatriarchal cultural paradigm to explode it from the inside. Helena Chadderton's fascinating close reading of Marie Darrieussecq's Le Bébé suggests that it represents a 'counter discourse of motherhood' (p. 157), a narrative of mothering as an extreme experience that is not normally codified by language. The essays on Assia Djebar and Leïla Marouane address violence, trauma, and survival in the Algerian context in the complex work of these two important authors. Hoft-March's study of Catherine Clément's autobiographical texts on her family history also deals with trauma, memory, and survival, but in the context of the Holocaust. And, fittingly, since it closes the collection (apart from a short Conclusion by the editors), Patrice J. Proulx's chapter on two texts by Nancy Huston argues for the redemptive role of writing and storytelling. A number of the chapters represent valuable analyses of the work of individual authors and will become key reference points for students and researchers alike. Moreover, there is plenty in this volume on the connections between love and death in literature to interest scholars more generally.

Gill Rye
Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, University of London


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