No Dialogue? Mothers and Mothering in the Work of Marie Darrieussecq

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Author: Gill Rye
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,169 words

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[(essay date 2012) In the following essay, Rye traces the evolution of the mother characters and themes of motherhood in Darrieussecq’s work.]

Motherhood is a recurrent theme in the work of Marie Darrieussecq. All her major texts and many of her short stories include mothers as characters or narrators. While several critics have specifically engaged with Darrieussecquian mothers (for example, Shirley Jordan and Helena Chadderton, and, indeed, Catherine Rodgers and Colette Trout in this special issue), this article differs from their approaches by looking at the larger picture and tracing the trajectory that the theme of motherhood takes across Darrieussecq’s oeuvre. It focuses mainly on her novels and, of course, her autobiographical récit of motherhood, Le Bébé (2002), but it is also attentive to the theme in her short stories. The article explores the characteristics of motherhood, as portrayed by Darrieussecq—its qualities and its development across her work—and it considers how motherhood is represented and narrated in the text, via images, vocabulary, and narrative techniques. It also asks what is at stake in Darrieussecq’s representations and narratives of motherhood, by considering how it interacts with other themes in her work. And it relates Darrieussecq’s treatment of motherhood to feminist thinking, motherhood having always been—and being still—a complex and challenging topic for modern feminisms.

In Darrieussecq’s work, the theme of motherhood can be divided into two main strands. The first is the mother as an object of narration, seen most frequently from the point of view of her daughter, that is, the mother as other; this strand gives rise, above all, to reflections on mother-daughter relations. Secondly, as Darrieussecq’s oeuvre progresses, the mother herself increasingly becomes a narrative subject, a speaking/writing subject; this strand offers reflections on motherhood, on the mothering of babies and children, and on the mothering (and writing) self. The two strands also intertwine, since three generations are often involved, and in the same text women may be both mothers and daughters, and mothers both subjects and objects of narrative. I consider, first, the narratives of daughters before turning to those of mothers themselves.

M/others and Daughters

The mother-daughter relationship is one of the most frequently recurring topics in feminist work on motherhood (see, for example, Nancy Friday, Adalgisa Giorgio, Marianne Hirsch, Luce Irigaray, Janneke van Mens-Verhulst et al., Adrienne Rich). It also abounds in French literature and especially in writing by women—one only has to think of the work of Marie Cardinal, Paule Constant, Régine Detambel, Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Nancy Huston, and Marie Ndiaye, in the contemporary field. While some feminist work champions intergenerational female (matrilinear) genealogies, traditions, and connections, the majority of theorists and critics have focused on the ambivalence of the relationship. From the daughter’s perspective, Darrieussecq’s work tends to bear out this weighting. Matrilinear inheritance is addressed, but it tends to be a minor theme. For example, the short story “Penthésilée” (2004) adumbrates the matrilinear tradition of the warring amazons, while, in the collection Zoo (2006), the protagonist of “Simulatrix” (2003) is, amusingly, inspired by her...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100123434