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La mère, la fille - une femme: Annie Ernaux and the mother daughter relationship

La mère, la fille - une femme: Annie Ernaux and the mother daughter relationship

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Noeleen McManus. Originally submitted for French Literature at Institute of Technology Tallaght, with lecturer Angela Feeney in the category of Languages & Linguistics
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Noeleen McManus. Originally submitted for French Literature at Institute of Technology Tallaght, with lecturer Angela Feeney in the category of Languages & Linguistics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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01/19/2014

 
 La mère, la fille - une femme: Annie Ernaux and the mother daughter relationship
Annie Ernaux’s title
Une femme
is deceptive in its simplicity. By wrapping the story of her grand-mother and herself around the life of her mother, Ernaux fuses the threegenerations into a social history of women in France over the past hundred years. Thefact that Annie never gives her mother her proper name – Blanche
1
– adds to its sense of universality: always it is « ma mère ».Her approach, though, is very different to academic studies such as
Writing Mothers and  Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women
2
.
First published in 2002, this collection of essays, each written by an expert in that particular field, analyses the mother/daughter literature produced in Western Europe over the previous thirty years. Editor, Adalgisa Giorgio, describes the history of this period of feminist writing as first putting the mother “on trial for her complicity with patriachalnorms” before producing “the germs of the reappraisal of the maternal figure thatcharacterised the 1980s and the 1990s.” This ‘reappraisal’ she had earlier defined as portraying “daughters who attempt to unravel their feelings towards their mothers and
1
Darryl Morris, “Trio: Three by Annie Ernaux”,
 Belletrista
, 10 November 2010,<http://www.belletrista.com/2010/issue3/features_5.php>, [accessed 31 October 2010]
2
Adalgisa Giorgio, ‘Introduction: Mapping the Territory’,
Writing Mothers and  Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women
 
 French Literature : Une Femme by Annie Ernaux
.attempt to make sense of a highly conflictual relationship in which, however, their identity is grounded”.2That is exactly what Ernaux does in
Une Femme
, but in a starkly different style. Thesparse phrases of its opening are those of the aftermath of a great personal shock.Through the implicit guilt of « Ma mère est morte .… à la maison de retraite de l’hôpitalde Pontoise,
où je l’avais placée
… »
3
and its desolate closure « Tout a été vraimentfini»
4
,women everywhere are immediately drawn into Annie Ernaux’s grief.It is a writing style whose accessibility, according to Dr. Siobhan McIlvanney
5
, hasdenied Ernaux complete academic acceptance in her own country, yet has earned her a place on British school and university syllabi – and has made her books consistent best-sellers both at home and in the Anglophone world.When Annie Ernaux describes her mother in
Une Femme
as wanting a better life for herself than her own mother had had – and an even more comfortable life for her daughter - she describes a truth that crosses cultural boundaries. Blanche Ernauxachieved both her ambitions by becoming a business woman as well as a wife and mother in an age when the woman’s place was definitely within the home. Yet, despite her modern attitude to a career, she still found it difficult to talk openly with Annie about becoming a woman, and, despite her feistiness, she still felt she had to justify herself in
3
Annie Ernaux,
Une Femme
, (Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 1987), p. 11
4
Ibid, p. 19
5
Siobhán McIlvanney, ‘Introduction: Con/textualising the Corpus’,
 Annie Ernaux: the Return to Origins
,(Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2001), p. 1
 page 2 of 14
 
 French Literature : Une Femme by Annie Ernaux
.her daughter’s world. Finally, when she had travelled the full circle of life, themother/daughter roles were reversed.What grown woman cannot identify with the knowledge – and the fear – of thoseexperiences?Blanche Ernaux was born in 1906 in a house on ‘the other side of the tracks6’ in Yvetot
6 
in Haut Normandie. She was eight when WWI began and twelve when it ended. A year later, her adored father died
7
, so that her mother - Annie’s grand-mother - became moreand more impoverished, always « sur le qui-vive »7.This woman had been « première du canton au certificat », and so could have become a primary school teacher if her parents had allowed her to move away from their village
8
.Instead she became a weaver at home6, and, when this industry had disappeared, she took in washing and cleaned other people’s homes and offices.
9
 Through it she achieved « une dignité permettante de vivre sans se sentir des manants »7,  but Blanche remembered a hunger never truly satisfied; a bedroom shared by sixchildren; a bed shared with her sister; dresses and shoes passed down from one sister toanother; a chiffon doll at Christmas; teeth damaged by cider 
.Based on that past, thefuture threatened certain poverty and possible alcoholism
. 
6
Annie Ernaux,
Une Femme
, (Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 1987), p. 24
7
Ibid, p. 26
8
Ibid, p. 25
9
Ibid, p. 27
10
Ibid, pp. 27/28.
11
Ibid, p. 34
 page 3 of 14

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