In recent years, public debate has raged over the issue of maternal choice. While personal testimony and political argument have received widespread attention, artistic representations of birth and abortion have been submerged. Judith Wilt offers the first look at how contemporary writers tell and retell the stories that shape our perceptions about abortion. She reveals that the struggle to plot these painful, complex narratives of choice, control, guilt, loss, and liberation has preoccupied an astonishing number of our most distinguished novelists, male and female alike. Readers of twentieth-century novels are more likely to encounter plots centered on maternal choice than those dealing with the more traditional problems of courtship and marriage.
In the opening of the book, Wilt discusses real case histories of several women. After studying the ambiguities of their decisions, she turns to their counterpoints depicted in contemporary fiction. Working from a feminist perspective, Wilt traces the theme of maternal choice in works by Margaret Atwood, Margaret Drabble, Joan Didion, Mary Gordon, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Marge Piercy, Thomas Keneally, Graham Swift, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Barth, John Irving, and others.
Behind the political, medical, and moral debates on abortion, Wilt argues, is a profound psychocultural shock at the recognition that maternity is passing from the domain of instinct to that of conscious choice. Although never wholly instinctual, maternity's potential capture by consciousness raises complex questions. The novels Wilt discusses portray worlds in which principles are endangered by sexual inequality, male power and hidden male fear of abandonment, impotence, female submission, and covert rage, and, in the case of black maternity, the hideous aftermath of slavery.
Wilt provides a resonant new context for debates—whether political or personal—on the issue of abortion and maternal choice. Ultimately she enables us to rethink how we shape our own identities and lives.
Throughout human history, motherhood and maternal experience have been largely defined and written by patriarchal culture. Religion, art, medicine, psychoanalysis, and other bastions of male power have objectified the maternal and have disregarded female subjectivity. As a result, maternal perspectives have been ignored and the mother’s voice silenced. In recent literary texts, however, more substantial attention has been given to motherhood and to the physical, psychological, social, and cultural dynamics affecting maternal experience. In Maternal Body and Voice in Toni Morrison, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Lee Smith, Paula Gallant Eckard examines how maternal experience is depicted in selected novels by three American writers, emphasizing how they focus on the body and the voice of the mother. These novels include: The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved by Morrison; In Country, Spence + Lila, and Feather Crowns by Mason; and Oral History, Fair and Tender Ladies, and Saving Grace by Smith.
By employing this focus, these writers lessen the objectification the maternal has received and restore a rich subjectivity that foregrounds the mother’s perspective. Moreover, their fiction reflects a deep concern for history and culture and for a woman’s experience of her world. They challenge the traditional representations of black and white motherhood that have appeared in southern literature and society, rendering complex portrayals of motherhood that defy cultural stereotypes.
Eckard incorporates historical perspectives on African American and southern motherhood, utilizing the works of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Sally McMillen, Deborah White, Jacqueline Jones, and others. She draws upon the feminist criticism of Adrienne Rich, Elaine Showalter, Naomi Schor, Tillie Olsen, Karla F. C. Holloway, Barbara Christian, and others, and the linguistic and psychoanalytic theories of Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, and Luce Irigaray. The author also addresses the cross-cultural connections shared by Morrison, Mason, and Smith, showing that, despite their racial and cultural differences, striking similarities can be found in their renderings of maternity.
The three women writers employ related image patterns, metaphors, and symbols involving the maternal body. By centering maternity so strongly in their novels, Morrison, Mason, and Smith establish the primacy of the mother and obviate the neglect to which maternal perspectives have been subjected. They restore the mother’s lost voice and her diminished subjectivity. Together they depict the maternal as a powerful force that shapes human lives and communities.
Stendhal, George Sand, Rachilde, Georges Bataille: Forgoing the patronym, with its weight of meaning, these modern French writers renamed themselves in their work. Their use of pseudonyms, as Maryline Lukacher demonstrates in this provocative study, is part of a process to subvert the name of the father and explore the suppressed relation to the figure of the mother. Combining psychoanalytic criticism, feminist theory, and literary analysis, Maternal Fictions offers a complex psychological portrait of these writers who managed at once to challenge patriarchal authority and at the same time attempt to return to the maternal. Through readings of Armance, Le Rouge et le noir, La Vie de Henry Brulard, and Les Cenci, Lukacher exposes Stendhal's preoccupation with his dead mother, who is obsessively retrieved throughout his work. George Sand's identity is, in effect, divided between two mothers, her biological mother and her grandmother, and in Histoire de ma vie,Indiana, and Mauprat, we see the writer's efforts to break the impasse created by this divided identity. In the extraordinary but too little known work of Rachilde (Marguerite Eymery), Lukacher finds the maternal figure identified as the secret inner force of patriarchal oppression. This resistance to feminism continues in the pseudonymous work of Georges Bataille. In Ma mère, Le coupable, and L’Expérience intérieure Lukacher traces Bataille’s representation of the mother as a menacing, ever subversive figure who threatens basic social configurations. Maternal Fictions establishes a new pseudonymous genealogy in modern French writing that will inform and advance our understanding of the act of self-creation that occurs in fiction.
Focusing on specific texts by Jamaica Kincaid, Maryse Condé, and Paule Marshall, this fascinating study explores the intricate trichotomous relationship between the mother (biological or surrogate), the motherlands Africa and the Caribbean, and the mothercountry represented by England, France, and/or North America. The mother-daughter relationships in the works discussed address the complex, conflicting notions of motherhood that exist within this trichotomy. Although mothering is usually socialized as a welcoming, nurturing notion, Alexander argues that alongside this nurturing notion there exists much conflict. Specifically, she argues that the mother-daughter relationship, plagued with ambivalence, is often further conflicted by colonialism or colonial intervention from the "other," the colonial mothercountry.
Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women offers an overview of Caribbean women's writings from the 1990s, focusing on the personal relationships these three authors have had with their mothers and/or motherlands to highlight links, despite social, cultural, geographical, and political differences, among Afro-Caribbean women and their writings. Alexander traces acts of resistance, which facilitate the (re)writing/righting of the literary canon and the conception of a "newly created genre" and a "womanist" tradition through fictional narratives with autobiographical components.
Exploring the complex and ambiguous mother-daughter relationship, she examines the connection between the mother and the mother's land. In addition, Alexander addresses the ways in which the absence of a mother can send an individual on a desperate quest for selfhood and a home space. This quest forces and forges the creation of an imagined homeland and the re-validation of "old ways and cultures" preserved by the mother. Creating such an imagined homeland enables the individual to acquire "wholeness," which permits a spiritual return to the motherland, Africa via the Caribbean. This spiritual return or homecoming, through the living and practicing of the old culture, makes possible the acceptance and celebration of the mother's land.
Alexander concludes that the mothers created by these authors are the source of diasporic connections and continuities. Writing/righting black women's histories as Kincaid, Condé, and Marshall have done provides a clearing, a space, a mother's land, for black women. Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women will be of great interest to all teachers and students of women's studies, African American studies, Caribbean literature, and diasporic literatures.
Other Mothers, edited by Ellen Bayuk Rosenman and Claudia C. Klaver, offers a range of essays that open a conversation about Victorian motherhood as a wide-ranging, distinctive experience and idea. In spite of its importance, however, it is one of the least-studied aspects of the Victorian era, subsumed under discussions of femininity and domesticity.
This collection addresses this void, revealing the extraordinary diversity of Victorian motherhood. Exploring diaries, novels, and court cases, with contexts ranging from London to Egypt to Australia, these varied accounts take the collection “beyond the maternal ideal” to consider the multiple, unpredictable ways in which motherhood was experienced and imagined in this formative historical period.
Other Mothers joins revisionist approaches to femininity that now characterize Victorian studies. Its contents trace intersections among gender, race, and class; question the power of separate spheres ideology; and insist on the context-specific nature of social roles. The fifteen essays in this volume contribute to the fields of literary criticism, history, cultural studies, and history.
Raising the Dust identifies a heretofore-overlooked literary phenomenon that author Beth Sutton-Ramspeck calls “literary housekeeping.” The three writers she examines rejected turn-of-the-century aestheticism and modernism in favor of a literature that is practical, even ostensibly mundane, designed to “set the human household in order.”
To Mary Augusta Ward, Sarah Grand, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, housekeeping represented public responsibilities: making the food supply safe, reforming politics, and improving the human race itself. Raising the Dust places their writing in the context of the late-Victorian era, in particular the eugenics movement, the proliferation of household conveniences, the home economics movement, and decreased reliance on servants. These changes affected relationships between the domestic sphere and the public sphere, and hence shaped the portrayal of domesticity in the era's fiction and nonfiction.
Moreover, Ward, Grand, and Gilman articulated a domestic aesthetic that swept away boundaries. Sutton-Ramspeck uncovers a new paradigm here: literature as engaging the public realm through the devices and perspectives of the domestic. Her innovative and ambitious book also connects fixations on cleaning with the discovery of germs (the first bacterium discovered was anthrax, and knowledge of its properties increased fears of dust); analyzes advertising cards for soap; and links the mental illness in Gilman's “The Yellow Wall-Paper” to fears during the period of arsenic poisoning from wallpaper.
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, Cherríe 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 narrative 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 directly with readers and as a way to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
Winner, 2014 AWSS Best Book in Slavic/East European/Eurasian Women's Studies
In Russian culture, the archetypal mother is noble and self-sacrificing. In Women with a Thirst for Destruction, however, Jenny Kaminer shows how this image is destabilized during periods of dramatic rupture in Russian society, examining in detail the aftermath of three key moments in the country’s history: the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. She explores works both familiar and relatively unexamined: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlev Family, Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement, and Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s The Time: Night, as well as a late Soviet film (Vyacheslav Krishtofovich’s Adam’s Rib, 1990) and media coverage of the Chechen conflict. Kaminer’s book speaks broadly to the mutability of seemingly established cultural norms in the face of political and social upheaval.