Annie Ernaux

French writer Annie Ernaux was born in 1940 in Lillebonne and grew up in Normandy. In the early 21st century, Ernaux was considered one of the most commercially successful writers in France.

From 1977 to 2000, Ernaux was a professor at the Centre National d'Enseignement par Correspondence. In 1977, she published her first book. La Honte almost immediately soared to the top of newspaper and magazine bestseller lists, and sales reached 68,000 copies within a few months. Ernaux was featured in media outlets ranging from Elle to Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Point, L'Express, and Aujourd'hui Le Parisien. She won the Prix Renaudot Award in 1984 for La Place, which was translated into 16 languages over the next few years.

Ernaux has earned widespread academic recognition in French language departments of universities outside of France, most prominently those in the United States and Canada, and to a lesser degree in the United Kingdom and Ireland. She is a regular visiting lecturer at numerous British schools and universities. In France, Ernaux's literary works have aroused a good deal of controversy and have not been accorded due regard within French academic circles. Nonetheless, she is a frequent guest on literary arts programs such as Bouillon de Culture, previously known as Apostrophes, and some reviews of her work have begun to appear in the field of literary analysis.

A primary feature of Ernaux's writings is her use of the autobiographical voice, which provides both a realistic stance and a feminist orientation. Ernaux's work has been placed within the realm of existential literature, offering an analysis of the social context of women. Many of her works are set in the 1940s and 1950s as the timeframe for her early experiences.

Key themes in her work include issues relating to gender, sexuality and class, as well as psychoanalytical representations of identity, femininity and loss. Another area she explores in works like La Honte is the notion of boundaries, as she examines lines and meeting points between self and the other, and between writer and reader. Les Annees, a social history of women and society published in 2008, was her first book written in the third person.

La Place emphasizes the significance of place in Ernaux's works. She delves into the positions occupied by members of different classes within French society. Her own sense of place is depicted as a movement within and from working-class to middle-class culture, from place of origin to acquired position. Ernaux investigates, through her writing, the possibility of unifying these two cultures. Her writing is both a social commentary and a vehicle for literary communication.

Ernaux grapples with previously taboo subjects head-on and often in a disturbing manner. Her adolescence is featured in Ce Qu'ils Disent Ou Rien and her teenage awakening and marriage in La Femme Gelee. She writes about her experience of abortion in L'Evenement (2000), and about her mother in Une Femme. Alzheimer's disease is addressed in Je Ne Suis Pas Sortie De Ma Nuit, while L'Usage De La Photo (2005) deals with breast cancer.

Her writing appears to consist of simple and straightforward descriptions of everyday life, masking the complexities that lie beneath the surface. The loyalty she commands among her large lay readership has been attributed largely to the accessibility of her writing style and her depiction of ordinary experiences. English translations of her work appear under the titles A Man's Place (1992); A Frozen Woman (1996); Exteriors (1996); Happening (2001); A Simple Passion (2003); A Woman's Story (2003); and The Possession (2008).

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Annie Ernaux: An Introduction to the Writer and Her Audience
Lyn Thomas.
Berg, 1999
Annie Ernaux: The Return to Origins
Siobhán McIlvanney.
Liverpool University Press, 2001
Small Worlds: Minimalism in Contemporary French Literature
Warren Motte.
University of Nebraska Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Annie Ernaux's Understatement"
Female Journeys: Autobiographical Expressions by French and Italian Women
Claire Marrone.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Annie Ernaux's Auto/Biographies: Unfinished Stories?"
Challenging Autobiography: Lost Object and Aesthetic Object in Ernaux's 'Une Femme.' (Author Annie Ernaux)
Hutton, M. -A.
Journal of European Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3, September 1998
Untangling the Trauma Knot: Autoethnography and Annie Ernaux's Shame
Ellerby, Janet Mason.
Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 38, No. 3, September 2005
Annie Ernaux's Shameful Narration
Willging, Jennifer.
French Forum, Vol. 26, No. 1, Annual 2001
Women on Women and the Middle Man: Narrative Structures in Duras and Ernaux
Marson, Susan.
French Forum, Vol. 26, No. 1, Annual 2001
Bequest & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent's Death
Nancy K. Miller.
Oxford University Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Ernaux's A Woman's Story begins on p. 78
But Enough about Me: Why We Read Other People's Lives
Nancy K. Miller.
Columbia University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Annie Ernaux begins on p. 112
Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women
Adalgisa Giorgio.
Berghahn Books, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Ernaux's A Woman's Story begins on p. 176
The Feminist Encyclopedia of French Literature
Eva Martin Sartori; Colette H. Winn; Perry Gethner; Samia I. Spencer; Juliette Parnell-Smith; Mary Rice-DeFosse; Susan Ireland; Patrice J. Proulx.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Ernaux, Annie (1940- )" begins on p. 183
Search for more books and articles on Annie Ernaux