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Open Access 'Il aurait peut-être préféré avoir une autre fille': Paternal Mourning in the Work of Annie Ernaux

Annie Ernaux discovered, at the age of ten, that her sister, Ginette Marie Thérèse Duchesne, had died of diphtheria in 1938, two years prior to Ernaux's birth. Ernaux relates the circumstances of her sister's death and parents' grief in Une femme and in several subsequent texts, culminating in L'Autre fille, a letter addressed to her deceased sister. In the latter text, Ernaux poignantly describes her parents' grief and this article examines Ernaux's perception of her father's mourning processes as depicted across a range of texts. The analysis of Ernaux's writing is informed by Freudian concepts of mourning and grief. According to Freudian theory, when one enters the melancholic stage of grieving, the lost loved one causes a diminishment of the ego. Ginette's death was clearly a profound loss for her father. Ernaux's mother, Blanche, recalls Alphonse Duchesne's reaction: 'mon mari était fou quand il t'a trouvée morte en rentrant de son travail.' (L'Autre fille, p. 16). It is significant, therefore, to note that Alphonse Duchesne, as described by Ernaux, particularly in La Place and La Honte, displays many of the behavioural elements which Freud considered melancholic including a decrease in self-regard – as can be seen through many examples in Ernaux's corpus of her father's abasement, humiliation and emasculation. Our reading of Ernaux's texts will be enhanced by Cathy Caruth's conception of trauma as 'the story of a wound that cries out'. By combining both of these approaches – the melancholia of grief and the trauma of loss – this article engages in a close reading of paternal experience of the death of a child, as related by Ernaux, with a focus on how this impacts on both the physiological and physical self.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 9, 2019

More about this publication?
  • The Irish Journal of French Studies is an annual international refereed journal published by the Association des Études Françaises et Francophones d'Irlande. Articles in English, French or Irish are welcomed on any aspect of research in the area of French and Francophone culture, society, literature and thought. All articles are freely available online.

    Please note that the Print ISSN listed for the journal on this website applies to volumes 1 to 10, and part of volume 16. All other volumes are published, in their entirety, on-line only.

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