Mothers inside, in literature and in life

Culture is sexist because it reflects the experiences, interests, point of view.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 10:37
7 Reads
Mothers inside, in literature and in life

Culture is sexist because it reflects the experiences, interests, point of view... of men much more than those of women. The statement may seem broad; Of course, there would be much to clarify; But there is a very simple example that demonstrates it clearly: comparing war with motherhood

War has always been considered a subject worthy of art and literature. From the Iliad to Saving Private Ryan, passing through the famous Dying Galata or the novel Journey to the End of the Night, culture in all its forms, times and places has not stopped representing it. But on the other hand, how many births have we seen in cinema, in sculpture, in painting, or read about in poems or novels?...

Also in philosophy – observed the writer Virginia Held in an influential 1989 article, Birth and death – death has been the object of infinite reflection, while birth has been overlooked, thus contributing to the narcissistic fiction of man as a be “self-made”.

This, fortunately, is changing. An entire generation, or several generations now, of writers, philosophers, painters, filmmakers... take the floor, participate in artistic creation, and although they are still very far from doing so in numerical equality (they are the work of women, here and now, only thirty percent of novels and twenty percent of movies, in round numbers), are already leaving their mark. They contribute new voices, tell new experiences, reflect on new topics. And motherhood – from within, as a mother's experience – is one of them, perhaps the main one.

Hasn't mothers been talked about before? Yes, of course, but almost always from outside. Noemí Trujillo Giacomelli's book Maternity was this offers us a whole gallery of these characters: it examines, in as many short chapters, the mothers who appear in 51 literary works of the 20th century. It is an original and enriching exercise, which parallels novels as diverse as In Search of Lost Time, Ulysses, To the Lighthouse, The Metamorphosis, Peter Pan, The Catcher in the Rye, Plaça del Diamant or The Fifth Son of Doris Lessing, at the same time that it reveals other less known ones, such as Memories of Mama Blanca by Teresa de la Parra.

Trujillo's thesis, its common thread, is that the representation of mothers continues to repeat some classic stereotypes: Penelope (the obedient wife and mother), Medea (the destructive mother), the Virgin Mary (angelic mother and mater dolorous)... and other modern ones, like Nora (the woman who opens her eyes and rebels, protagonist of Ibsen's A Doll's House) or Mrs. Darling (distant mother, in Peter Pan). There are, however, new categories: the single mother, the absent mother, the lesbian, the stepmother, the non-mother...

Motherhood Was This is an extremely interesting book, a new and unusual look at 20th century literature. But we miss more developed conclusions, which would show, for example, how – globally – literature written by men has tended to present mothers seen by their adult children, while female writers have contributed, as we said, a theme new: the point of view of the interested party, of the woman as a potential or actual mother. This is the case of some of the books reviewed in Trujillo: The Maternal Knot by Jane Lazarre, Nacemos de mujer by Adrienne Rich... and many others not included in it. Books by writers who address experiences that have until now been quite hidden, such as voluntary abortion (The Event by Annie Ernaux, Impossible Motherhood by Irene Vilar...), unhappy motherhood (Repent Mothers by Orna Donath), lesbian motherhood (Boulder, by Eva Baltasar) or the vicissitudes of the desire to be a mother, the subject of two recent books by Mariela Michelena and Alaine Agirre.

In What I managed to tell you, the writer and psychoanalyst Mariela Michelena (Caracas, 1955-Madrid, 2023) reviews her life with the desire for motherhood as its axis. It is a painful story, but, as she herself points out, “to write it is essential to have cracks.” In fact, each of her books, she also says, “sutured some wound”: in Last night I dreamed that I had breasts she recounts her cancer, in Bad Women, although it is not an autobiography, she reflects on her own experience.

“There are sorrows that have no consolation,” she acknowledges, with the same sincerity with which she confesses her envy and feeling of injustice towards women who have been able to be mothers. But with the same equanimity, she points out that when she looks at her partner, “it seems incredible to me that I have been so lucky,” and she tries to apply the principle of living “attentive to what I have and not to what I lack.”

The desire for motherhood is also the common thread of Placenta, by the Basque writer Alaine Agirre (Bermeo, 1990). It is a deep novel, full of intelligence and lyricism, surprisingly mature for such a young author, which she covers, through short chapters with more reflection than action, moments and experiences around motherhood.

The protagonist wants to be a mother, she wonders why, she distances herself from her partner (woman), she undergoes treatments, she wonders if she would be a good mother, she has an abortion, she wonders if she will regret not having children or if she would regret it. to have them... But this is not a mere testimony, nor a first-person journalistic report. It goes much further: the theme, deep down, is not so much motherhood as desire. Any desire, with everything that desire entails: the pleasure of dreaming, the fear of not fulfilling the dream, the fear, also, of fulfilling it and it being disappointing, uncertainty, renunciation, grief... (the page is beautiful which begins: "What is grief? A scream that deafens you but that no one else can hear...").

Noemí Trujillo Adventure that the theme of motherhood “is destined to be the great meta-narrative of our century.” Maybe yes, maybe not. But in the meantime, it is bringing wonderful novelty and richness to literature.