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Empathy for Post-Abortion Grief in Louise Lambrichs's Journal d'Hannah (1993)

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If abortion as a reproductive experience continues to retain a certain 'unspeakability' that keeps it on the margins of culture, the expression of grief or mourning in its wake remains even more inexpressible; to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy, no matter how fraught the circumstances, would seem to require the forfeiture of a right to acknowledge any resulting psychic loss. In her 1993 novel Journal d'Hannah, Louise Lambrichs gives us the 'diary' of a woman whose late-term abortion during WWII results in sterility. In mourning, Hannah creates an interior dream world in her diary in which her aborted daughter grows up in real time, as she remains unable to vocalize the pain of her loss to the exterior world. In this article, I explore the novel's capacity to push our understanding of what kinds of 'parental' mourning are acceptable and representable, and the ways in which the narrative confronts the lack of a broader cultural language with which to address this specific kind of grief.
This article grounds its examination of Hannah's interiorized grief in theoretical notions of the unspeakability of trauma and feminist definitions of bodily integrity in the imaginary domain. I situate Lambrichs's work not as an anti-feminist indictment of abortion, as some have understood it, but as a challenge to open up a discursive space that enables an empathetic understanding of the diverse ways in which women deal with the voluntary termination of a pregnancy. Drawing on Barbara Johnson's (1986) exploration of the poetics of loss and abortion, I argue that the vocalization of post-abortion mourning need not result in the conclusion that taking 'the woman's feelings of guilt and loss into consideration... is to deny the right to choose the act that produced them' (33). The novel does not 'resolve' the tension of the confusing liminal space between life and death that abortion creates, but rather works to confront this liminality head on in a way that serves to question the limits of the ethics of parental mourning.
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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. Articles published within the last two years are available free online to members and may be purchased by non-members. All other articles are available on an open access basis.

    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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