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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 4 Counterpoint: Joy, Ambivalence and Success


I have mentioned already that Mon cœur à l’étroit and subsequent novels and short stories by Marie NDiaye offer the reader the option of accepting something akin to a happy ending. We can choose to see Nadia, the central character in that novel, as reconciled to her mother and content in her role as grandmother, we can see Ladivine Sylla as about to be accepted into her murdered daughter’s family at the end of Ladivine, and we can rejoice that at the end of her life Gabrielle of La Cheffe, roman d’une cuisinière has finally realized what is for her the perfect meal. Significantly, each of the novellas in Trois femmes puissantes ends with a brief section entitled contrepoint [counterpoint] which looks forward to a future which incorporates reconciliation and the hope of positive progress – Norah joins her father in the flamboyant tree, Fanta, perhaps achieving acceptance of the changes the move to France has brought upon her, waves to her neighbour, and Lamine registers Khady Demba, whose money he stole and who then perished in her attempt to reach Europe, as a protective and perhaps forgiving presence in the form of a bird. Jordan sees this as a growing tendency on the part of NDiaye to ‘endow her darkly pessimistic stories with glimmers of redemptive potential’ and Asibong suggests that this more positive note, a move ‘in the direction of emotional recognition and healing’, has crept into NDiaye’s works in response to public recognition of her writing...

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