The Voice of the Mother: Embedded Maternal Narratives in Twentieth-Century Women's Autobiographies

Synopsis

Every woman autobiographer is a daughter who writes and establishes her identity through her autobiographical narrative. In The Voice of the Mother, Jo Malin argues that many twentieth-century autobiographies by women contain an intertext, an embedded narrative, which is a biography of the writer/daughter's mother.

Analyzing this narrative practice, Malin examines ten texts by women who seem particularly compelled to tell their mothers' stories: Virginia Woolf, Sara Suleri, Kim Chernin, Drusilla Modjeska, Joan Nestle, Carolyn Steedman, Dorothy Allison, Adrienne Rich, Cherrie Moraga, and Audre Lorde. Each author is, in fact, able to write her own autobiography only by using a narrative form that contains her mother's story at its core. These texts raise interesting questions about autobiography as a genre and about a feminist writing practice that resists and subverts the dominant literary tradition.

Malin theorizes a hybrid form of autobiographical narrative containing an embedded narrative of the mother. The textual relationship between the two narratives is unique among texts in the auto/biographical canon. This alternative practice -- in which the daughter attempts to talk both to her mother and about her -- is equally an autobiography and a biography rather than one or the other. The technique is marked by a breakdown of subject/object categories as well as auto/biographical dichotomies of genre. Each text contains a "self" that is more plural than singular, yet neither.

In addition to being a theoretical and textual analysis, Malin's book is also a mother-daughter autobiography and biography itself. She shares her own story and her mother's story as a way to connect directlywith readers and as a way to bridge the gap between theory and practice.