Matriarchal voice, mythic choice in Hebert, Yourcenar, and Desvignes
Platt, Carole Brooks
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation discusses the historical and social aspects of myth to point out the earlier maternal subtexts beneath patriarchal myths. Matriarchal myth permits us to redefine an empowered "feminine" for application to literary texts. The early and persistent worship of female deities in France has led to the periodic resurgence of matriarchal consciousness in French literature; namely, in courtly love, romanticism, and surrealism. In twentieth-century women's work in French, this matriarchal choice may still exist, although in conflict with a discordant patriarchal choice. Because of the historical situation of women in Quebec, her French heritage, and strong female models in her youth, Anne Hebert produces a "mothered," matriarchal text in Kamouraska. Her overly gynocentric narrative universe leads to an unbalanced view of the feminine and gender polarization. Hebert empowers women at the expense of men. The resultant prototype of feminine dominance ultimately resembles male mythic images of witches and vampires. Marguerite Yourcenar's exclusive upbringing by her father and her family myth of the mortal danger of childbearing influence her "fathered" text: L'Oeuvre au noir. Over-identification with the father engenders a disdain for the feminine seen in reductive female portrayal. However, while rejecting the feminine and hardening his rational self, her male protagonist experiences a compensatory resurgence in matriarchal-style consciousness. Desvignes's "parented" text, Les Noeuds d'argile, derives from her balanced childhood in the harmonious landscape of her native Bourgogne, where vestiges of a "religion de la terre" still remain. The horror of the German occupation in her teens also fueled her desire for reconstruction and balance. Desvignes creates a matriarchal man with a clear, unrepressed feminine side and a need for merger with the physical female. However, he eventually succumbs to the pressures of patriarchal society and pursues an obsessive masculine ideal which eventually kills him. Each of these novels sounds a distinctive matriarchal voice arising from the woman author's personal and national origins. Whether strident and exclusivistic, camouflaged and muted, or in harmonious balance, this matriarchal voice is a mythic choice and a gauge of her vision of gender.
Romance literature; Women's studies; Religious history