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Uneasy Possessions

The Mother-Daughter Dilemma in French WomenOs Writings, 1671-1928

Katharine A. Jensen

In Uneasy Possessions: The Mother-Daughter Dilemma in French Women's Writings, 1671-1928, Katharine Ann Jensen analyzes the work of five major French women writers, discovering a four-century pattern of mother-daughter relationships marked by domination, submission, and conflict. This groundbreaking study explores work of Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette, Marie de Sévigné, Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, George Sand, and Colette, providing a new reading of women's history and offering a new understanding of female psychology. Jensen argues that conflict between the mothers and daughters depicted in these texts was the result of two contradictory ideologies. In order to pass proper feminine behavior on to their daughters, mothers were encouraged to construe daughters as part of themselves, even as daughters were expected to adopt their mothers' wishes as their own. At the same time, a developing individualism created a conflict between the daughter's desire for autonomy and her mother's wish to be recognized for having raised a perfect daughter-alter ego.

Despite vast changes in social organization in France over the four centuries of this study, the mother-daughter ideology remained effectively the same. To keep their daughters virgins, mothers were expected to form their daughters in their own image-as a mirror reflection. Mother-daughter reflectivity extended even into the marriage bed, as daughters were taught to remain faithful and to submit to (male) authority throughout their lives. Thus, the daughter's sexuality was channeled into producing legitimate offspring while the mother's ambition was confined to working on her daughter, rather than focused on creating cultural works that might compete with men's. Mothers were rewarded with the narcissistic satisfaction of viewing their filial creations as a socially sanctioned work of art: daughters thus functioned as possessions.
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University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 456Size: 6 3/8 x 9 1/2
978-1-61149-038-1 • Hardback • January 2011 • $111.00 • (£75.00)
Katharine Ann Jensen is associate professor of French Studies at Louisiana State University, where she also teaches in the Women's and Gender Studies Program.
Chapter 1 Introduction: Sources of the Dilemma
Chapter 2 Chapter 1: Her Mother's Masterpiece? The Princesse de Clèves's Singularity and the Problem of Recognition
Chapter 3 Chapter 2: Letter Writer, Novelist Manqué: Madame de Sévigné and the Costs of Maternal Narcissism
Chapter 4 Chapter 3: The Irreproachable Mother: Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun's Self-Assertions in Painting and memoir
Chapter 5 Chapter 4: Loving as a Daughter: George Sand and the Pain of Self-Denial
Chapter 6 Chapter 5: Idealization and the Haunted Daughter in Colette's Break of Day
Chapter 7 Conclusion