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Mothers Voicing Mothering?

The Representation of Motherhood in the Novels and Short Stories of Marie NDiaye


Pauline Eaton

Mothers and mothering are significant features of contemporary women’s writing in France and mothers are narrators and key protagonists in nearly all Marie NDiaye’s novels and short stories. These mothers rarely strike the reader as attractive personalities and, in their mothering role, are portrayed as inadequate, abusive or even murderous. A pattern of maternal failure is passed on from mother to daughter and the relationship between mothers and daughters is one of rejection and suppression.

This book explores what this negative representation tells us about mothers and about how mothers represent their own mothering to themselves. Close readings of text and intertext are at the centre of the analytic approach, embracing references to existing commentaries on the author and to the psychoanalytic, mythological, religious and literary background against which NDiaye’s mothers demand to be read.

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Chapter 2 The Good Mother, the Bad Mother and the Ordinary Devoted Mother


In Chapter 1, I identified and analysed the use of Medea and of the Madonna as broad but ambivalent paradigms of the good and the bad mother present in the consciousness of diegetic characters, or as intertext, within Marie NDiaye’s novels. In this chapter, I read her narratives against other figuring of good and bad mothers, and of good and bad mothering, sourced from the domain of psychoanalysis. My aim is not to psychoanalyse her fictional characters, but to set those characters against certain psychoanalytic theories about mothers and mothering, to assess whether it is possible to link their behaviour to those theories, and to ask at what point on the continuum of mothering behaviour (from devotion to abuse, where the Madonna would be seen as the extreme of perfection and the murdering Medea as the extreme of abuse) NDiaye’s mothers find themselves. Psychoanalytic theory has, from Freud onwards, been deeply interested in the development of the infant psyche and has seen the mother as playing a crucial role in the formation of that psyche and in its maturation. Mothers are a powerful force, for good or for bad.

My main focus is on two texts, Rosie Carpe and La Sorcière, which I read in the light of two key theorists. The first of these is Melanie Klein. Her thinking includes a figuration of the good mother and of the bad mother, as perceived by the infant, which echoes the idealization of the Madonna and the demonizing...

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