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'A Compound Fenced Off From the Rest of the World': Motherhood as the Stripping of One's Self in Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work

Abstract : Society and the media would have us believe that giving birth to a child and the first months of motherhood are the happiest moments in a woman’s life. In a controversial memoir about the birth of her first child, entitled A Life’s Work, Rachel Cusk shattered the myth of the blissful mother and the idyllic relationship with her first child, which attracted a lot of resentment from readers and reviewers, especially mothers. ‘I was only being honest’, she replied in a Guardian article in which she tried to make sense of all the hostile reviews which were published when her book came out. The outpour of vitriol, it seems to her, was a reaction to her betrayal of a well-kept secret: young mothers are not as happy as we would like to believe they are. Cusk’s memoir is an intensely personal account of an experience all mothers have shared, but which is almost never represented in literature: the young mother is stripped of her social self and enslaved to the survival of her baby, whose existence is at this stage in her life limited to bare life. The mother then, finds herself imprisoned in ‘a compound fenced off from the rest of the world’, with other mothers, midwives, doctors and social workers as her jailers, in a totalitarian world ruled by the ideology of parenting books. The mother needs to let go of her social self, of her ‘qualified political life’ to quote Agamben, and accept to reduce her activities to the bare necessities of her child’s wellbeing in the concentration camp that her own house has become. In this paper, I would like to show that by resorting mainly to images of imprisonment and authoritarianism, Cusk is tackling the representation of motherhood as the stripping of one’s social self and thus offers her readers a provocative reflection on the great unthought of literature: motherhood.
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Submitted on : Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 4:30:29 PM
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Alice Braun. 'A Compound Fenced Off From the Rest of the World': Motherhood as the Stripping of One's Self in Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work. Études britanniques contemporaines - Revue de la Société dʼétudes anglaises contemporaines, Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2016, Bare Lives/Virginia Woolf: Becoming Photographic, 53, ⟨10.4000/ebc.3802⟩. ⟨hal-01656829⟩



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