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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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Maternity impacts on an individual woman’s sense of self, irrespective of whether or not she is actually a mother: social expectations that women are and want to be mothers continue to bear on commonly-held perceptions of normal womanhood.


At the conclusion of this study of narratives of voluntary childlessness, it will be clear that all of the texts explored have two common denominators. First, they are all marked by a desire to represent the decision to remain childless beyond negative stereotypes, beyond existing formulations of femininity and against the fetishisation of motherhood evident in contemporary discourse. Second, they all play with the limits of autobiography to create unique and innovative ways to inscribe their voices in narrative. From Lê’s manipulation of the epistolary form, to Sautière’s use of autofiction, to Joubert’s reformulation of personal criticism to Chapsal’s unique inscription of the ageing woman’s voice in autobiography, each author creates a new means of expressing the female self in literature. Taken together, their corpus stages a collective questioning of autobiography as a means of encapsulating the identities and life experiences of those who deviate from a norm.

There are important differences in the ways in which these authors approach the representation of voluntary childlessness in narrative, which is testament to the individual response that non-mothering necessitates. Lê’s narrator’s defiant tone contrasts to the doubtful approach of Sautière’s. Chapsal’s hyperbolic comedy differs from Joubert’s acerbic humour. Sautière’s...

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