Maternal Subjectivity in the Works of Stendhal

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This study examines the ways in which Stendhal’s treatment of maternal figures is both revolutionary and prophetic. It contends that Stendhal was the first French writer to give mothers the opportunity to be both maternal and sexual beings simultaneously, breaking the traditional mold of the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Approaching the question of maternal identity from a perspective of feminist psychoanalytic criticism, based on the theories of Nancy Chodorow and Julia Kristeva, among others, the study begins with an overview of maternal figures in French literature from Rabelais to Rousseau, stressing the traditional Western image of the Madonna and its corresponding psychoanalytic paradigms. It then examines maternal figures from the Stendhalian novel, including Armance, Mme. De Rênal, and Clélia Conti, concluding with a detailed analysis of Stendhal’s portrayal of mothers that marks him as a revolutionary figure in feminist literary history.


“By suggesting that Stendhal’s ‘mother envy’ functions as one of the central motivations of this great writer, she has made a convincing argument and a significant contribution to our understanding of Stendhal’s oeuvre and, indeed, of romanticism.” – Allan H. Pasco, author of Sick Heroes: French Society and Literature in the Romantic Age, 1750-1850

“I would expect to see Professor Algazi’s work become a standard on the reserve reading lists of undergraduate courses on the nineteenth-century novel. . . . Written without jargon, and striking a remarkable balance between analysis and recap – particularly for the lesser-known Stendhalian works – Professor Algazi gives her colleagues in feminism, narratology and psychoanalysis a manner in which to explain and then transcend this heretofore ‘received view’ in French literary criticism. And she does all this while providing clear and cogent insights into the works of Stendhal himself, whose personal needs and view of human happiness make him a type of feminist avant la lettre.” – Renée Kingcaid, St. Mary’s College

Table of Contents

Table of contents (main headings):
Preface: Revolutionary Mothers
Introduction: Stendhal the feminist?
1. Psychoanalysis, feminism, and motherhood
2. Maternal figures in French literature: from Renaissance to Romanticism
3. Mother Love in La Vie de Henry Brulard
4. Traditional mother figures in Stendhal: La Chartreuse de Parme; Lucien Leuwen; Armance
5. The Stendhalian anti-mother: the price of autonomy – L’Abbesse de Castro; Lamiel; Gina del Dongo; Mathilde de La Mole
6. The Revolution of Maternal Desire: Mme. De Rênal, Clélia Conti
Conclusion; Bibliography; Index

Other France/French: All Subjects Books