Mother’s Pain, Mother’s Voice: Gabriela Mistral, Julia Kristeva, and the Mater Dolorosa

Margaret Bruzelius, Harvard University
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall 1999), 215-233.

This essay addresses the figure of the Virgin Mary as a uniquely powerful emblem of agonized motherhood that pervades Western consciousness. Taking as central examples, on the one hand, the early twentieth-century Chilean poet (and Nobel Prize winner) Gabriela Mistral’s poetry and, on the other hand, French theorist Julia Kristeva’s discussions of maternity, this essay probes the ways in which both writers locate the source of Mary’s power in her passive maternal suffering, even as each uses the Marian tradition to create a powerful female voice. The essay critiques the profoundly entrenched association of motherhood and suffering, a legacy of Mariolatry that identifies “true” maternity with suffering.

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]