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Voicing Voluntary Childlessness

Narratives of Non-Mothering in French


Natalie Edwards

The decision to reject motherhood is the subject of several key works of literature in French since the new millennium. This book looks at first-person accounts of voluntary childlessness by women writing in French. The book explores how women narrate their decision not to mother, the issues that they face in doing so and the narrative techniques that they employ to justify their stories. It asks how these authors challenge stereotypes of the childless woman by claiming their own identity in narrative, publicly proclaiming their right to choose and writing a femininity that is not connected to motherhood.
Using feminist, sociological and psychoanalytic theories to interrogate non-mothering, this work is the first book-length study of narratives that counter this long-standing taboo. It brings together authors who stake out a new terrain, creating a textual space in which to take ownership of their childlessness and call for new understandings of female identity beyond maternity.
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CHAPTER 3: Linda Lê’s Epistolary Innovation: À l’enfant que je n’aurai pas

← 74 | 75 →CHAPTER 3


Linda Lê’s Epistolary Innovation: À l’enfant que je n’aurai pas

Mother love is a sacred concept in our culture and, like all things sacred, it has a mythology of its own.

–PEG STREEP, Mean Mothers

In À l’enfant que je n’aurai pas [To the Child I Will Never Have], Lê’s narrator writes a letter to her phantom child in which she explains her reasons for not wanting to become a mother.1 This text strikes a note of departure in Lê’s corpus, which consists largely of longer fictional pieces. She has achieved fame for her novels and short stories, beginning with Un si tendre vampire [Such a Tender Vampire] published in 1987, when she was just twenty-three years old. Her lyrical prose has garnered the attention of literary critics who praise her subtle evocations of psychological and emotional states. Her writing has won a series of prizes, including the Prix Fénéon (1997), the Prix Wepler (2010) and the Prix Renaudot Poche (2011), and has been nominated for the Goncourt. She is also one of the few writers from Vietnam who write in French, thus her texts uncover aspects of the former colony and engage in debates over the signification of la Francophonie in a post-colonial era. Lê refutes any assertion that her ← 75 | 76 →writing is representative of Vietnamese culture, however.2 Instead, her highly metaphorical work is concerned with delving into the psychological aspects of human experience. As Sabine Loucif resumes, ‘from...

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