From muse to militant: Francophone women novelists and surrealist aesthetics

by Harsh, Mary Anne

Abstract (Summary)
In 1924, André Breton launched the Surrealist movement in France with his publication of Manifeste du surréalisme. He and his group of male disciples, prompted by the horrors of World War I, searched for fresh formulas for depicting the bizarre and inhumane events of the era and for reviving the arts in Europe, notably by experimenting with innovative practices which included probing the unconscious mind. Women, if they had a role, were viewed as muses or performed only ancillary responsibilities in the movement. Their participation was usually in the graphic arts rather than in literature. In later generations, francophone women writers began to develop Surrealist strategies for enacting their own subjectivity and promoting their political agendas. Aside from casual mention, no critic has formally investigated the surreal practices of this company of francophone women authors. I examine the literary production of seven women from three geographic regions in order to document the enduring capacity of surrealist practice to express human experience in the postcolonial and postmodern era. From the Maghreb I analyze La Grotte éclatée by Yamina Mechakra and L'amour, la fantasia by Assia Djebar, and from Lebanon, L'Excisée by Evelyne Accad. These novelists represent mental and physical trauma and fragmentation of male/female relationships in times of combat. Célanire, cou-coupé by Maryse Condé and Pluie et vent sur Télumée miracle by Simone Schwarz-Bart illustrate how Antillean literature reflects the oral traditions, supernatural beliefs and heterogeneous cultural inheritance of its peoples. Both Jovette Marchessault’s visionary novel, La mère des herbes, which draws upon her autotchonous heritage and lesbian orientation, and Anne Hébert’s Les Enfants du sabbat, sabotage the paternalistic domination of the English-speaking Canadian government and the Catholic Church which relegated women to the role of reproductive automatons. This dissertation charts the evolution of francophone women’s involvement with Surrealism from its inception, when they played only the passive, objective role of Muse, to the middle of the Twentieth Century when women writers became active militants for equal rights while expanding the definition of surreal practice.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:andré breton surrealist movement surrealism francophone women writers yamina mechakra la grotte éclatée assia djebar l amour fantasia evelyne accad excisée combat trauma maryse condé célanire cou coupé


Date of Publication:01/01/2008

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