1. Central Issues and Questions for Discussion

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Mother-Daughter Plots 2005 Spring

Theories on Mother-Daughter Relationship (1):

Marian Hirsch’s Mother-Daughter Plot

– Introduction, Parts I & II

1. Central Issues and Questions for Discussion:

1) How would you define Hirsch’s methodologies?

-- treating both theories and novels as narrative plots;

2) Do you find any exceptions to the ways she describes the Victorian Female Family Romance and the Modernist Female Artists’ Plots?

-- Some of their general analysis (e.g. the impossibility of mother and daughter to be mature women of sexuality at the same time, there being only contradictory plots of oscillation in the Modernist period) are sweeping generalizations.

* We need to be aware, however, that in a way, theories are allegories, or metaphoric descriptions of reality--and this is especially true to some early American feminists (who talked about women with metaphors such as Madwoman and Female Eunuch) , and Freudian psychoanalysis (which is organized around some central narratives). 

2. Summary:

Mother-Daughter Plot:

I. Introduction:

Focus and Aim:

Focus -- novels by 19th-and 20th-century women writers from the Western European and the North American traditions.

Perspectives: psychoanalytic theories of subject-formation in the context of the narrative conventions of realism, modernism, and post-modernism.

-- Freud's notion of a "Familienroman"—a "family romance"—as a controlling figure in the analyses


-- “to reframe the familial structures basic to traditional narrative, and the narrative structures basic to traditional conceptions of family, from the perspectives of the feminine and, more controversially, the maternal.” p. 2

-- “ My book traces the transformations, within narrative conventions, psychoanalytic theories, and feminist thinking, which enable the silent Jocasta gradually to give way to the vocal Sethe. Through the voices of daughters, speaking for their mothers, through the voices of mothers speaking for themselves and their daughters, and, eventually perhaps, through the voices of mothers and daughters speaking to each other, oedipal frameworks are modified by other psychological and narrative economies. Thus the plots of mothers and daughters do not remain unspeakable.” (8).
II. Mothers, Daughters, and Narrative

Freud’s Family Romance: p. 9

In Freud's terms, the family romance is an imaginary interrogation of origins, an interrogation which embeds the engenderment of narrative within the experience of family. Through fantasy, the developing individual liberates himself from the constraints of family by imagining himself to be an orphan or a bastard and his "real" parents to be more noble than the "foster'' family in which he is growing up. The essence of the Freudian family romance is the imaginative act of replacing the parent (for boys clearly the father) with another, superior figure.

. . . My aim is to focus at once on the discursive and imaginative role that the family plays in our narratives and the particular shape and nature of familial structures in particular narratives and social contexts. [. . . ]The family romance is a structure of fantasy—the imaginary construction of plots according to principles of wish fulfilment. The notion of family romance can thus accommodate the discrepancies between social reality and fantasy construction, which are basic to the experience and the institution of family.
III. Mother-Daughter Plots p. 10 // the plot of ‘en-genderment’; of women’s ‘consent to’ and dissernt from femininity.

--19th century: female family romance the desire for the heroine's singularity based on a disidentification from the fate of other women, especially mothers.

p. 14 – 1) Mothers tend to be “absent, silent, or devalued” in novels by Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, George Sand, the Brontës, George Eliot, and Kate Chopin. 2) realism’s repression of the maternal perspectives and experiences. 3) women writers’ and fictional heroines’ constructions of the "female family romance," based on fraternal rather than maternal attachments.

p. 28 -- Models: Electra and Antigone*

-- In modernist plots: this wish is supplemented by the heroines' artistic ambitions and the desire for distinction which now, however, needs to include affiliations with both male and female models.

p. 15.-- These novels conjoin, uneasily, the narrative of mother-daughter attachment and the plot of heterosexual romance.

p. 28 models: the story of Demeter and Persephone

-- In post-modernist plots: other fantasies of a more multiple relational identity emerge, including the stories of mothers who by definition are entangled in relations which define and circumscribe all further desire.

p. 15 -- "feminist family romance" – 1) psychoanalytic re-visions of Freudian paradigms, which highlight mother-daughter bonding as a basis for a vision of gender difference and female specificity. 2) more specifically contextualized and historical situations in fictional texts

p. 29 Jocasta, Clytemnestra, and Demeter—suggest reasons for the absence of the mothers.
Mothers’ role -- the targets of this process of disidentification –with mothers and women as increasingly the alternate target of desire  Mothers can finally speak.

Issues in the discussion of mothers’ roles: 1) different positions of mothers’ and daughters’; 2) body and reproduction; 3) differences among mothers or definitions of motherhood and mothering.

What is a mother and what is the maternal? e.g. the Baby M case.

4) The ideology of motherhood –As Ann Dally argues: "There have always been mothers, but motherhood was invented." 26 She cites 1597 as the first entry for "motherhood" in the Oxford English Dictionary, and then only as fact rather than ideology. The ideology of motherhood as the ideal of femininity coincides with the institutionalization of childhood during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As representations of the child's vulnerability and need for nurturing and protection became more prominent, motherhood became an "instinct," a "natural'' role and form of human connection, as well as a practice. As the private sphere was isolated from the public under industrial capitalism, and as women became identified with and enclosed within the private sphere, motherhood elevated middle-class and upper-class women into a position of increased personal status, if decreased social power.

[Ann Dally, Inventing Motherhood: The Consequences of an Ideal (New York: Schocken, 1983), p. 17.]


Chapter I: Female Family Romances

  • Monstrous Mothers and Motherless Daughters

  • Female Family Romances and the "Old Dream of Symmetry"

  • Emma and the "Man-Who-Would-Understand"

  • The Avoidance of Maternity in Emma and The Awakening

Chap II: Fraternal Plots:

Daniel Deronda – 1) the mother’s importance; 2) The novel's double plot—Gwendolen's attempt to construct a life that is different from that of her mother's and other women's, and Daniel's search for his origins and the discovery of his mission—allows us literally to see the fraternal structure at work, as fictional "brother" and "sister" battle over textual ground, over the legitimacy of different versions of the family romance pattern.
Quotes and Summaries--

Female Family Romances and the "Old Dream of Symmetry"

(Note: p. 54 “My argument here is that nineteenth-century women writers' resistance to those plots existed but was limited, indeed, that they, like Freud, saw the woman's story through what Luce Irigaray has called "the blind spot of an old dream of symmetry," that is, through a fundamentally male economy of desire in which the woman is other but cannot be different.” In note 31, Hirsch points out that according to Irigaray, Freud fails to posit just such a primary femininity, characterized by vulval, vaginal or uterine stages, in addition to phallic ones. This failure renders Freud guilty of the "blind spot of an old dream of symmetry," she claims. Presence/Absence & Power/Lack)
p. 43 (Chap 1) – [a] “break in female genealogy” determines both the realist heroines and the nineteenth-century women writers'. P. 50 Maternal repression stands at the very basis of the structure of plot.

p. 44: examples:

dead mothers-- Emma, Persuasion, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette;

trivialized comic mothers -- Pride and Prejudice and The Mill on the Floss;

the malevolent yet inconsequential mother in Valentine;

the miniaturized maternal portrait—Frankenstein;

ineffectual, silenced mothers -- Mansfield Park, Shirley, and Daniel Deronda.

“Only at the end of the century, in The Awakening, do we encounter a protagonist who is herself a mother, who begins to act out in relation to her children the maternal absences other protagonists have experienced only as daughters.”

Different interpretations:1) motherlessness = powerlessness, or freedom;

2) contradictions between motherhood and authorship.

3) M. Homan: the daughters speak two languages.

 To what extent do women writers, having on the one hand to conform to the forms of nineteenth-century realism, and attempting on the other to imagine alternate plots for their heroines, find that they have to sacrifice the mother in this vacillation between resistance and compliance?

4) Narrative Theories—gender-blind: p. 50 e.g. George Levine-- realist novelists in the Victorian period "wrote against the very indeterminacy they tended to reveal."

p. 53

Peter Brooks: 1) Plot as a form of desire; 2) repetition as the basic of plot dynamic; plot movement as the movement "from passivity to mastery' which has to be delayed; 3) fort/da game, “in which the subject learns to cope with lack, namely the lack of the mother, in an elaborate process of substitution which is basic both to language and to the process of narration.”

p. 54

Freud's 1908 essay "Family Romances."—escape from family authority: 'Family Romance' (an excerpt here: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adoption/archive/FreudFR.htm )


1. The meaning of "pater semper incertus est, whereas the mother is certissima"--> The father is always uncertain, whereas the mother is certain, meaning that in question of birth, we can hardly be sure of the father's identity, but the mother's certain.  (Maybe the recent technology of DNA 比對 can solve this problem.) 


2.  Freud's Family Romance as fantasy:

The above factor triggers children's imaginary family romance.  Here family romance is specifically defined as post-Oedipal  children's  dream of having better parents.  This fantasy satisfies or explains their need/desire to shift their objects of admiration from their parents to somebody else.  In other words, to avoid feeling guilty, they imagine two plots (that of foundling and of bastard).   It is also "an expression of the child’s longing for the happy, vanished days when his father seemed to him the noblest and strongest of men and mother the dearest and loveliest of women."

Freud first found this fantasy in patients, but at the time he wrote the article 'Family Romance' he sees it as a universal wish fulfillment.  

  • two stages:

1) “foundling plot”; First, the child, feeling slighted and in competition with siblings, and seeing that his parents are not as unique and incomparable/as he had at first supposed, imagines that he might be a step-child or an adopted child.

2) “bastard plot”; At the second stage of the family romance all children's play and daydreaming is governed by the desire to replace the biological parents with others of higher social standing.

3. Hirsch's discussion of Family Romance on pp. 54-57:

1) She uses Marthe Robert's Origins of the Novel to extend the implications of Freud's family romance, and argues that neither of them pays attention to gender difference, assuming that 'child' is definitely a male child.  Therefore, on p. 56, she's points out the necessity--for the daughter--of the "death" of the mother, who can be an object of fantasy for the boys but has always been 'a part of reality' for the girls and impossible for girls to fantasize over. 

2)  Hirsch's revisionist interpretation of Female Family romance starts on p. 57, where she says that the maternal repression "engenders" the plot of female growth. 
p. 57 Thus the "female family romance" implied in Freud's essay is founded on the elimination of the mother and the attachment to a husband/father.35 According to Freud's essay on "Negation," however, the elimination of the mother is only a recognition and corroboration of her overwhelming importance. Freud illustrates negation, the "intellectual acceptance of what is repressed" by quoting a patient who says: "'You ask who this person in the dream may have been. It was not my mother.' We emend this," Freud explains, "so it was his mother.''
Women’s revision: 1. maternal repression engenders the plot; 2. paternal alliance happens usually with another man, instead of the father-- in Adrienne Rich's terms it involves the female fantasy of "the-man-who-would-understand." This man would combine maternal nurturance with paternal power; or it is a brother whose “his fraternal/incestuous status can protect the heroine from becoming a mother and can thereby help her, in spite of the closure of marriage, to remain a subject.”

 3. [W]hereas the male foundling and bastard fantasies revolve around the self and guarantee the hero's agency, the revisionary fantasy of "the-man-who-would-understand" revolves around the attachment to another person and can at best promise only a mediated access to plotting.

The Darkest Plots

Narration And Compulsory Heterosexuality

Parables of Exclusion

A Fictional World Where Boy Never Meets Girl

Discovering The Pre-Oedipus

"An Open and Unending Book": Colette's Break of Day

Dreadful Passages: Woolf's To the Lighthouse

Plots and Modernisms

From Daughter to Mother? Wharton's The Mother's Recompense

--focus: “It interrogates the intersection of the sex-gender system of the woman writer, the narrative strategies she chooses, and the distinctive shift in cultural images of femininity which marks the modernist moment and which can be gleaned from psychoanalytic narratives emerging during the same period.”(93)

-- main argument: “I would argue that for Woolf and Colette, and for female modernists more generally, those "dark places" contain the hidden narrative of the passionate attachment between mother and daughter. Moreover, modernist writing strategies, characterized by increased room for subjective representations of consciousness, allow this previously hidden narrative to come to the surface of women's fiction.” (97)

In this period, then, the mother-daughter narrative tries to displace the narrative of heterosexual romance, tries to find its own language and expressive medium, but it cannot do so entirely. Mother-daughter narratives are still subject to what Adrienne Rich has termed the institution of "compulsory heterosexuality." 22 The term "oscillation" may serve here as well, to describe the complicated plots that emerge out of these shifting rivalries and competing affiliations.(98)

Quotes and Summaries--

  1. Parable of Exclusion: “A Room of One’s Own”: 1) as Woolf's parable of interruption, exclusion, and writing—her marginal position in Oxbridge—it “illuminates the locus of femininity and women's discourse at the particular moment of her narration, the 1920s.”p. 92; 2) a position of oscillation—between the British Museum and the dining room in a women's college; also between her argument that female difference should be articulated, and that there should be a "some marriage of opposites": "It is fatal to be a man or a woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly" (p. 108).

p. 95 Both solutions—androgyny and male identification, on the one hand, and the act of "thinking back through our mothers," on the other—are frought with contradiction and ambivalence.

 Double consciousness in feminist criticism too

p. 95 “Although the language of darkness and concealment is still used, the fictions themselves bring the "submerged'' plots to the surface, thereby creating dual, sometimes multiple plots in which contradictory elements rival one another.”
2. Discovering the Pre-Oedipus –examples of contradictions

A. Freud’s views of the repressed "pre-historical," pre-oedipal mother-daughter attachment.

1.. the girl's shift [from the mother-daughter bond]

-- is utterly crucial for Freud inasmuch as the very idea of heterosexuality and his definition of adult femininity in culture depend on its successful completion; in his words, it demonstrates "how a woman develops out of a child with a bi-sexual disposition" ("Femininity" (1933), vol 21:116).

-- she transforms her sexuality from an active (masculine) to a passive (feminine) one.

-- the attachment to the mother is the root of her latent neurosis.

2. Viewed from the Oedipal perspective;

3. Freud later acknowledges that his female colleagues have better access to female psychology.

B. Klein, Karen Horney and Helene Deutsch’s focus on the pre-Oedipal and female sexuality

1. Klein – sees the development away from mother as “motivated through a "natural" and innate tendency toward heterosexuality. This hypothesis divorces sexuality from reproduction and grants women a primary sexual impulse.” (p. 100)

2. Horney – “primary femininity”, marked by “vaginal sensations, genital anxiety, and reproductive pleasure.” Horney's essay begins with a brief discussion of female pleasure, but it then moves to a long discussion of the "flight from womanhood." “She embraces for women a passionate heterosexual orientation and an androgynous male identification.”

3. Although she firmly upholds the Freudian telos, Deutsch's term "oscillation" adumbrates the forces of female identification and maternal attachment which continually undermine it.

C. On narrative structure:

If the female Oedipus is perceived to take a different, more complicated, circuitous form, then narrative structures adopted by women writers should reflect some of these complications.

Narrative elements of oscillation: the oscillations between maternal and paternal attachments as well as the multiple repressions of the female developmental course. Pre-oedipal closeness to the mother, oedipal separation and attachment to the father, the subsequent transfer of that attachment to another male love object and the wish for a child
D. Mythic prototype: The Demeter myth illustrates well the complicated intersections of gender and plot raised by these texts

-- Persephone's allegiance is split between mother and husband, her posture is dual.

-- The repeated cycle relies not on reconciliation, but on continued opposition to sustain and perpetuate it.

* Some Names of Greek mythology:

ORESTES, son of Agamemnon and CLYTEMNESTRA

Jocasta (Oedipus’ mother + queen)

daughters of Oedipus:


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