Being impossible: narratives of mothering

Jane Messer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter offers selected readings of contemporary memoirs and novels that engage broadly with mothering, death, abuse and failure. It examines the ways that 1970s Second Wave feminisms inhibited this literary subject area. It reflects on statements and writings by Adrienne Rich, Kate Jennings and Margaret Atwood as examples of that period, about feminism, motherhood and writing. Rich's comment that writing about mothering requires 'treading over ground mined with false namings' is used as a pathway to analyse why writing might avoid the lethal or socially divisive aspects of mothering (reading Charmian Clift, Louise Erdrich). The author locates her own writing praxis within her mothering of her children, and suggests that the experience of caring for and socialising children as citizens can inhibit a writing praxis. This work of socialisation and protection can disable imaginative and critical engagements with mothering as a subject of literature. However, when writers embrace the possibility of 'bad' mothering and place that within the social and cultural forces that intersect and frame the mothering experience (reading Susan Johnson, Toni Morrison, Lionel Shriver), their literature then fully engages with the complexity of mothering, including the lethal aspects of particular interest to this collection.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOf mothers and death
Subtitle of host publicationfrom procreation to creation
EditorsÉlizabeth Lamonthe, Pascale Sardin, Julie Sauvage
Place of PublicationPessac, France
PublisherPresses Universitaires de Bordeaux
ISBN (Print)9782867814938
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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