Tota mulier ex utero: An Empathetic Reading of Contemporary French Abortion Narratives

Runde, Holly, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Horne, Janet, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

This dissertation analyzes various forms of fiction, life-writing, and film that put into words the historically “unspeakable” experience of abortion, taking abortion from the margins of culture, and refusing to allow the stories of women to be relegated to the abject realm of silence. Focusing on empathetic readings of these diverse narratives, my work argues for the importance of art, literature, and film as a means of imparting speak-ability and cultural coherence to a feminine reality that long lingered outside the limits of representability. The authors in my corpus draw attention to the (often off-putting) physical aspect of abortion, highlighting and forcing the reader or viewer to recognize the current deep lack of a cultural language with which to address head-on the reality of abortion. These works open up new discursive spaces whose feminine consciousness creates a linguistic space for the coherent expression of a reproductive experience whose cultural absorption has long been stifled by anti-feminist political and religious discourse.
My first and second chapters analyze auto-fiction and film by Annie Ernaux and Mariana Otero that foreground the physical body as a bearer of psychic identity, through the lens of feminist epistemology and ethics. In the third chapter, I analyze fictional and autobiographical narratives that foreground abortion-related loss and mourning, that create a space that addresses the possibility of physical and emotional loss during the procedure. By working with a broad corpus that combines literature, film, and history, I demonstrate how these works acts as a rebuke of dominant cultural attitudes and contemporary political categories continue to define abortion in the public sphere.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
French, abortion, Annie Ernaux, Mariana Otero, Louise Lambrichs, Colombe Schneck, French feminism, ethics, feminist epistemology, empathy, reproductive rights, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, France and abortion, reproductive body
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