The writings of Marie Cardinal deal primarily with aspects of women's experiences, such as female identity, the mother-daughter relationship, writing and the body. Les mots pour le dire is considered to be the “pivotal work” in Marie Cardinal’s career to encompass all of these factors anddisplays “an intensely conflicted mother-daughter relation”, wherein the narrator’s mother conforms to religion and society, thus imposing her values and ideals upon her daughter. As Collette Hall suggests, Cardinal did come to writing in order to escape “the power of a destructive mother”, although also as “a quest for the nurturing mother” in order to search for a lost world in their existences.This differs from the relationship and interplay shown between the narrator and her mother in Annie Ernaux’s La femme gelée. Although still not completely influential and all-powerful, we can interpret the mother as more of a guiding force to her daughter in the latter novel, as opposed to “an implacable and ultimately tragic maternal figure” in Les mots pour le dire. This essay sets out todiscuss the portrayal of the mother figure in both of these novels in turn and to document, at any point, the differences or even similarities between the two works of 20th century female autobiographical literature.
Firstly, in Les mots pour le dire, we can clearly distinguish the relationship between the narrator and her mother in the scene in which the narrator is ill. This illness is a possibletechnique used in order to get attention or find a minimal display of love from her mother and she is successful in doing so, although it is the only time that her mother approves of her in any way. Everything in the scene is much ritualised, like procedure at an altar, with all of the equipment laid out perfectly, which implies a heartless, soulless action of calculation and coldness. Her motheris a professional; this is her occupation. Evidently, she is not comfortable with her maternal role and harbours much insecurity.
From this type of encounter, the narrator believes that there is a link between mental distress and her haemorrhaging as a physical display of this suffering. Lucille Cairns hypothesises, along with the support of Bettelheim, “it does appear that she alonecaused her daughter’s abnormal bleeding.” Bettelheim also infers the widespread extent of “maternal influence”, with or without intention, towards her daughter, thus causing the irregularity of bleeding. When the narrator bleeds, it is the blood that her mother was hoping for; a physical action that links the two ‘characters’. It is as if the mother is in her body, carrying out what her motherwanted to happen. As the narrator desires a cure to her illness, she realised that she can overcome it by examining her mother’s illness; “In order to find herself she must find her mother: ‘Pour me trouver, il fallait que je la trouve’.
However, Alison Rice believes that the narrator’s bleeding is a “bodily revolt not only against a stifling patriarchal system” but also “against a woman’s limitedplace within that system and the impossibility of breaking out”. In Le deuxième sexe, Simone de Beauvoir expresses the fact that women are programmed to accept what men enforce on them and that they are destined for the housewife role in marriage. Due to the institution of marriage, Beauvoir suggests that it is not possible to maintain any sense of equality. She says that history is such thatthere is no chance that there could be a change to the institution of marriage, as things would remain how they have always been. She studies further the roles of wife, mother and prostitute to show how women, instead of surpassing work and creativity, are forced into leading a monotonous life of childbirth, house-keeping and being used sexually.
The narrator receives an inherited fear of...