Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women

Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women

Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women

Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women

Synopsis

The psychoanalytic discovery of the importance of the pre-oedipal mother-daughter bond in the 1970s generated a vast amount of feminist theory attempting to identify the specificity of, and give value to, the daughter's relationship to her mother. At the same time women writers engaged in the complex task of representing this highly conflictual relationship which had been largely absent in women's narrative until then. Although much criticism has been written on individual texts, no systematic study of the development of this theme in Western European fiction exists.

This book offers the first comparative assessment of the subject-matter in England, France, Germany and Austria, Ireland, Italy, and Spain in the second half of last century. The six main chapters explore the interplay between narrative strategies, psychic structures, and socio-political and cultural processes in the textual representation of the relationship in each country, thus providing original interpretations both of classic texts by established writers and of more recent narratives by new or emerging authors. Among the writers featured are Steedman, Diski, Winterson, Tennant, de Beauvoir, Leduc, Djura, Wolf, Jelinek, Mitgutsch, Novak, Lavin, O'Brien, O'Faoláin, Morante, Sanvitale, Ramondino, Chacel, Rodoreda, Martín Gaite.

Excerpt

This book has been long in the making. My interest in the literary representation of the mother–daughter relationship was stimulated by the publication of a number of Italian novels in the 1980s, at a time in my life when I was striving to make sense of my position in the world after leaving my family and country. I discovered that the inner sense of displacement that I felt following the exciting period of adjustment to a different culture, and the ensuing reflection upon who I was, took me back again and again to my mother. When I chanced upon these Italian narratives by women, after completing my doctorate on an English (male) novelist, I realised that my reading was driven by a hunger for understanding what my mother meant in my life. The decision to turn to Italian studies, a decision which I had delayed for a long time, was thus made under the auspices of the Mother. My first publication in Italian in 1991 was devoted to the mother–daughter relationship and ever since I have worked around this theme, sustained by the intellectual as well as the emotional stimulus to understand this highly ambiguous bond within the Italian context.

This book was going to be dedicated to my mother. My parents were both alive and well while I wrote it. My father died suddenly when I was close to completing it. This event made me appreciate his legacy in my life, an aspect disregarded during years of 'maternal' perspective. As I entered the final stages of editing, my mother also died, just as suddenly and unexpectedly, only a couple of months later. Looking through her things after her death, I discovered by her bedside a passage from Saint Augustine on being reunited with one's dead. Can people will themselves to die? I had seen my father's death as an opening up of new possibilities in my relationship with her. During our adolescence, she had made my sister and I a bulwark against her vulnerability, turning us into the mother she had lost when she was only . . .

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