- Delphine de Vigan's PathographiesWriting as a Response to Trauma and Illness
Award-winning French writer Delphine de Vigan's career took off in 2008 with her acclaimed novel No et Moi, but she is now better known for her 2011 offering, Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit, in which she attempted to "write [her] mother" ("écrire [sa] mère"), to tell the story of her family and how they coped with her mother's bipolar disorder.1 She had published her first novel, Jours sans faim, in 2001 under the pseudonym Lou Delvig, an account of nineteen-year-old Laure's anorexia and her stay in the hospital to overcome it.2 It later emerged, however, that this account was inspired by Vigan's experience.
Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit and Jours sans faim have respectively been labelled as a family novel and an autofiction, and there is no denying that, in the case of Vigan as in that of many other writers, family is "at the origin of the need to write" ("à l'origine du besoin d'écrire").3 Nor is she the first to write about illness and/or trauma. Within contemporary literature in French, many famous names come to mind such as Annie Ernaux, Lydia Flem, Chloé Delaume, and Lorette Nobécourt, to mention but a few. Yet, the case of Vigan's writing is interesting to study, as a close reading of the two aforementioned texts reveals how both stories overlap and inform each other, and could almost form a single narrative. Indeed, Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit provides the reader of Jours sans faim with a fuller picture of her mother's illness and suicide at age sixty-one, what led Vigan [End Page 87] to become anorexic, and how writing helped her come to terms with both experiences. One could almost insert Jours sans faim in the middle of Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit to expand it. Similarly, Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit provides further details to Jours sans faim, which, as Damlé points out, contains "notable gaps and ellipses in Laure's story."4
Along with illness, trauma links and permeates both narratives; as such, in this article, I would like to go beyond the family novel and the autofiction readings associated with these two texts and look at how family, transgression, trauma, illness, and writing are intrinsically linked in Vigan's writing. This analysis will also show how Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit can be labelled a pathography—a comprehensive account of one's life including illness—and Jours sans faim an autopathofiction—referring to the combined genres of autofiction and autopathography,5 and how writing these accounts helped Vigan as a patient and as a daughter. This is an approach that echoes Anne Hunsaker Hawkins's view that pathographies "are as much autobiographical accounts of the author's experience as witness as they are biographical accounts of another's illness and death."6
Let us first focus on family and transgressions as roots for trauma and illness. Since, in the two narratives in question, the transgressions, both physical and mental, take place within the family sphere, it only seems appropriate to start this analysis with Vigan's view of her family:
My family embodies the noisiest, most spectacular kind of joy, the unrelenting echo of the dead, and the repercussions of disaster. Today I know that, like so many other families, it also illustrates the destructive power of words, and of silence.
(Ma famille incarne ce que la joie a de plus bruyant, de plus spectaculaire, l'écho inlassable des morts, et le retentissement du désastre. Aujourd'hui je sais aussi qu'elle illustre, comme tant d'autres familles, le pouvoir de destruction du verbe, et celui du silence.)7
This quotation features many aspects linked to trauma, with words such as "désastre," "pouvoir," and "silence." Indeed, in Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit the various transgressions—along with the traumas they caused—remain unspoken, and all the family members (at least before Vigan) abide by [End Page 88] the omertà that is implicitly dictated by Vigan's...