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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 6: The Ageing Voluntarily Childless Woman: Madeleine Chapsal’s La Femme sans

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The Ageing Voluntarily Childless Woman: Madeleine Chapsal’s La Femme sans

And it was possible, too, that age could be her ally, turning her into somebody she didn’t know yet. She has seen the look on the faces of certain old people – marooned on islands of their own choosing, clear sighted, content.


Literature has little time for the aged. Characters who are living the energy of childhood, the discoveries of adolescence, the adventures of early adulthood and the successes of approaching middle age have long taken centre stage. When older characters appear, they rarely represent ageing as a positive experience and are instead associated with loss of beauty, charm, wit, independence or faculties. Such is the position of the ageing individual, in society as well as in literature: subjected to negative stereotypes and consigned to invisibility. Joy Charnley in her work on ageing characters in literature emphasises how our response to the aged

flows doubtless from the fact that spending time in the company of elderly people whose intellectual and bodily functions are diminished can be a sobering experience, and one which cannot fail to lead one to reflect on what it is to be old, how we ourselves will ‘be old’, and why this natural phenomenon, and inevitable consequence of failing to die sufficiently young, provokes such fear and rejection in contemporary Western societies.1

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