Voicing Voluntary Childlessness: Narratives of Non-Mothering in French. By Natalie Edwards.

Voicing Voluntary Childlessness: Narratives of Non-Mothering in French. By Natalie Edwards. 138 REVIEWS l’e´merveillement. C’est ainsi que Jacques Poirier e´voque l’e´merveillement de l’art primitif de Lascaux qui ne cesse de nous e´blouir. Par la pre´cision terminologique, par la finesse d’analyse et par la richesse d’ouvrages choisis, ce livre devient une re´fe´rence incontournable. VESNA ELEZ doi:10.1093/fs/knx225 UNIVERSITE DE BELGRADE (Studies in Contemporary Women’s Writing, 3.) Bern: Peter Lang, 2015.vii þ 211 pp. This study of first-person narratives of voluntary childlessness in this century is the first book-length analysis of texts in French that challenge entrenched cultural assumptions about motherhood, on the one hand, and about women who choose not to mother, on the other. In the first part of her book, Natalie Edwards explores feminist, sociological, and psychoanalytic theories on voluntary childlessness, before moving on in the second part to undertake detailed and fascinating analyses of specific texts by Linda Leˆ, Jane Sautie`re, Lucie Joubert, and Madeleine Chapsal, all loosely defined as ‘life-writing’ and all seeking (in markedly different ways) to ‘take ownership of their childless identity and to create a textual space to explore this through literature’ (pp. 15–16). It is significant that Leˆis from Vietnam, Sautie`re from Iran, and Joubert from Quebec: key to this study is a recognition of cultural differences in terms of attitudes to mothering and non-mothering — the context in France is importantly acknowledged here to be very different from that in the Anglo-American pla- ces from which the most prevalent theorizations of voluntary childlessness are derived. The study had originally planned to cover French women’s narratives of non-mothering from a range of ethnicities, races, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual orientations; the relative lack of available narratives of voluntary childlessness underscores precisely the difficulty of articulating the desire not to have children amongst French women (and the discrimination that women who are not mothers face — as shown in the texts studied here), even in this century. Leˆ’s epistolary confession, Sautie`re’s experimental autofiction, and Joubert’s interrogative ‘autocritography’, as Edwards puts it, are analysed as constitut- ing alternative textual experiments through which voluntary childlessness can be voiced and claimed; the less formally innovative La Femme sans,byChapsal (2001), is included for its doubly silenced perspective, narrated by a woman past retirement age (in her seventies) who does not regret her choice not to have children. The choice to explore both form and content in these texts is effective, highlighting the limits of traditional narrative forms — as well as language — to formulate identity as a woman who chooses childlessness. It might be helpful to interrogate further still the notion of a ‘childless identity’ (p. 16), which pre- sumably runs similar risks to an identity rooted only in maternity; if, as Edwards observes, the texts that she analyses ‘ask that society refrain from defining women according to their reproductive role’ (p. 191) then part of this shift would mean shifting away from tropes of identity and more, as indeed this study powerfully does, towards (textual) experimentation and to the voicing of hitherto silenced perspectives. This book — which is written beauti- fully, with exemplary clarity — offers a fascinating exploration of voluntary childlessness in contemporary French texts, as well as articulating a paradigm shift in the relation between maternity (refused or otherwise) and identity. KATHRYN ROBSON doi:10.1093/fs/knx254 NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/fs/article-abstract/72/1/138/4782569 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png French Studies Oxford University Press

Voicing Voluntary Childlessness: Narratives of Non-Mothering in French. By Natalie Edwards.

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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0016-1128
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1468-2931
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Abstract

138 REVIEWS l’e´merveillement. C’est ainsi que Jacques Poirier e´voque l’e´merveillement de l’art primitif de Lascaux qui ne cesse de nous e´blouir. Par la pre´cision terminologique, par la finesse d’analyse et par la richesse d’ouvrages choisis, ce livre devient une re´fe´rence incontournable. VESNA ELEZ doi:10.1093/fs/knx225 UNIVERSITE DE BELGRADE (Studies in Contemporary Women’s Writing, 3.) Bern: Peter Lang, 2015.vii þ 211 pp. This study of first-person narratives of voluntary childlessness in this century is the first book-length analysis of texts in French that challenge entrenched cultural assumptions about motherhood, on the one hand, and about women who choose not to mother, on the other. In the first part of her book, Natalie Edwards explores feminist, sociological, and psychoanalytic theories on voluntary childlessness, before moving on in the second part to undertake detailed and fascinating analyses of specific texts by Linda Leˆ, Jane Sautie`re, Lucie Joubert, and Madeleine Chapsal, all loosely defined as ‘life-writing’ and all seeking (in markedly different ways) to ‘take ownership of their childless identity and to create a textual space to explore this through literature’ (pp. 15–16). It is significant that Leˆis from Vietnam, Sautie`re from Iran, and Joubert from Quebec: key to this study is a recognition of cultural differences in terms of attitudes to mothering and non-mothering — the context in France is importantly acknowledged here to be very different from that in the Anglo-American pla- ces from which the most prevalent theorizations of voluntary childlessness are derived. The study had originally planned to cover French women’s narratives of non-mothering from a range of ethnicities, races, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual orientations; the relative lack of available narratives of voluntary childlessness underscores precisely the difficulty of articulating the desire not to have children amongst French women (and the discrimination that women who are not mothers face — as shown in the texts studied here), even in this century. Leˆ’s epistolary confession, Sautie`re’s experimental autofiction, and Joubert’s interrogative ‘autocritography’, as Edwards puts it, are analysed as constitut- ing alternative textual experiments through which voluntary childlessness can be voiced and claimed; the less formally innovative La Femme sans,byChapsal (2001), is included for its doubly silenced perspective, narrated by a woman past retirement age (in her seventies) who does not regret her choice not to have children. The choice to explore both form and content in these texts is effective, highlighting the limits of traditional narrative forms — as well as language — to formulate identity as a woman who chooses childlessness. It might be helpful to interrogate further still the notion of a ‘childless identity’ (p. 16), which pre- sumably runs similar risks to an identity rooted only in maternity; if, as Edwards observes, the texts that she analyses ‘ask that society refrain from defining women according to their reproductive role’ (p. 191) then part of this shift would mean shifting away from tropes of identity and more, as indeed this study powerfully does, towards (textual) experimentation and to the voicing of hitherto silenced perspectives. This book — which is written beauti- fully, with exemplary clarity — offers a fascinating exploration of voluntary childlessness in contemporary French texts, as well as articulating a paradigm shift in the relation between maternity (refused or otherwise) and identity. KATHRYN ROBSON doi:10.1093/fs/knx254 NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/fs/article-abstract/72/1/138/4782569 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018

Journal

French StudiesOxford University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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