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  • "Oui, tu t'en vas…":Suspension Points in Isabelle Eberhardt's Yasmina1
  • Sage Goellner (bio)

Nomade j'étais quand, toute petite, je rêvais en regardant la route, la blanche route attirante qui s'en allait, sous le soleil qui me semblait plus éclatant, toute droite vers l'inconnu charmeur […] nomade je resterai toute ma vie, amoureuse des horizons changeants, des lointains encore inexplorés, car tout voyage, même dans les contrées les plus fréquentées et les plus connues, est une exploration.

Isabelle Eberhardt, Journaliers (231)

The life of Isabelle Eberhardt was nothing less than extraordinary.2 Born in Geneva in 1877 to Nathalie de Moerder, she was tutored by her stepfather, Alexander Trophimowsky, to speak and write in Russian, French, Greek, Latin, and Arabic. According to Trophimowsky's wishes, Eberhardt wore masculine attire at a very early age; her first publications appeared under the pseudonym of Nicolas Podolinsky.3 Escaping the bourgeois milieu of Europe to undertake nomadic adventures in the Sahara, Eberhardt left Switzerland in 1897 and, accompanied by her mother, relocated to Bône, Algeria, where both women converted to Islam. After her mother's untimely death seven months later, Eberhardt adopted the masculine name Si Mahmoud Saadi, and met and married an Algerian Muslim of French nationality, Slimane Ehnni. Dressed as a man and accused of both pro- and [End Page 276] anti-colonial efforts, Eberhardt traveled widely throughout the Maghreb. Presumed a spy sympathetic to the colonized, she was recruited by the French general Hubert Lyautey to help conquer Morocco. At the age of 27, Eberhardt died in a flash flood in the small village of Aïn Séfra, Algeria.

Before her premature death, Eberhardt had crisscrossed convention, gender, patronymic, and language in multiple and complex ways. In her more than two thousand pages of diary entries, fiction, and news articles, she also traveled in and out of the French language, interlacing it with words from other idioms: Russian, Latin, Greek, Arabic, German, and Italian. Disruptive to gender, heteronormativity, colonialism, habit, and language, Eberhardt's life and writing afforded her a certain kind of freedom and transformation of identity.

Eberhardt's biography and the themes of her texts, including but not limited to the journey to the Maghreb, the corrupting influence of European civilization, the doomed relationships between Europeans and Algerians, the migration from a rural, nomadic lifestyle to life in the city, and the plight of prostitutes, have been extensively studied. For instance, Sidonie Smith (2001) and Michelle Chilcoat (2004) have focused on misogynistic tendencies in Eberhardt's writing. Other scholars have demonstrated Eberhardt's contradictory positions in colonial French Algeria. Laura Rice (1990-1991) and Ali Behdad (1994) examine how Eberhardt placed herself both in and outside of gendered, heteronormative, and colonial systems. In more recent scholarship with new studies by Dunlaith Bird (2012), Irmagard Scharold (2013), and Linda Chouiten (2014), Eberhardt's life remains a main focus. Interest in Eberhardt's actual written expression has thus been eclipsed by her larger-than-life personage, and what has suffered the test of time is an equal or greater amount of analysis of Eberhardt's linguistic production. Although some critics have dismissed Eberhardt's writings upon the argument that her fiction was poorly constructed, journalistic, and full of technical errors, it is my intention to show how these characteristics are actually worthy of further investigation. In this article, I demonstrate how the supposed faults in Eberhardt's writing, such as an overuse of suspension points, can be read as [End Page 277] showing a far from neutral rendition of her experience in North Africa. I intend to shift the spotlight back onto Isabelle Eberhardt, the femme de lettres, by putting a softer focus on her biography and the themes in her texts in order to illuminate her actual writing style, because there remains an unanswered question in the scholarship on Eberhardt: in what ways does her creative work, particularly her use of language, merit deeper study?

The only scholar to have offered a convincingly in-depth analysis of Eberhardt's literary language is Hédi Abdel-Jaouad (1993). In a departure from more heavily biographical and thematic analyses...


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