Mirrors, Marriage, and Nostalgia: Mother-Daughter Relations in Writings by Isabelle de Charrière and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Katharine Ann JensenLouisiana State University
Vol. 19, No. 2 (Fall 2000), 285-313.

This article explains how Isabelle de Charrière and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun take up where seventeenth-century writers Madame de Lafayette and Madame de Sevigne left off in portraying an intense narcissistic relationship between mother and daughter in which the daughter’s heterosexual desire threatens the primary dyad by defining the daughter as separate from her mother. Moreover, pressing beyond these specific French women writers of an earlier age, the essay argues that the mother’s nostalgia for reflective unity with her daughter is not different in kind from the daughter’s nostalgia in the twentieth century. Feminists’ longing for the preoedipal mother is based on the same fantasy of past reflective unity as the early modem mothers’ longing for their heterosexually undetermined daughters. The essay concludes by urging the importance not only of producing alternative models and metaphors for coexistent maternal and filial subjectivities, but of demanding cultural recognition for alternative models to rival and, if possible, supersede early modem, Freudian, and post-Freudian elegiac and nostalgic models alike.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]