Mourning, melancholia and melodrama in contemporary women's grief fiction: Kim Edwards's 'the memory keeper's daughter'

    Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review

    Abstract

    This essay examines the genre of women's grief fiction through the lens of psychoanalytic theories of mourning and melancholia. It concentrates on the family melodrama as an instance of popular, 'middlebrow' women's fiction, which addresses and sometimes exploits women's vulnerability as mothers and their anxieties around mothering. I will focus on the American writer Kim Edwards's The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which explores the consequences to a family of concealing from the mother the live birth of a baby with Down's syndrome. This was her first novel, published in 2005 when she was 47. Written in an emotive and powerful fashion from the perspective of various family members, the novel explores the imbrication of the psychic and the social in its depiction of personal betrayal, family breakdown, and conventional attitudes to grieving and the disabled. Following analysis of critical reviews of the novel and a consideration of the reasons for its commercial success, I provide a psychoanalytic reading of the novel's representation of grief and loss, arguing that while it engages the classic Freudian model of mourning as consolatory substitution, it also adopts the more ambivalent model of 'endless mourning' proposed in Freud's later work and subsequently developed by feminist theorists. Making use of Julia Kristeva's concept of narcissistic melancholy, I read The Memory Keeper's Daughter as an attempt to represent 'the real that does not lend itself to signification' (13), showing how it represents grief as a turning away from the realm of signs, a disintegration of bonds, and a retreat into asymbolia. Finally, I utilize Kristeva's concept of poetic language as a 'counter-depressant', which ameliorates the pain of loss without repudiating it, to suggest that this and other examples of women's grief fiction attempt to 'transform the woeful darkness into lyrical song' (162).;Following analysis of critical reviews of the novel and a consideration of the reasons for its commercial success, I provide a psychoanalytic reading of the novel's representation of grief and loss, arguing that while it engages the classic Freudian model of mourning as consolatory substitution,2 it also adopts the more ambivalent model of 'endless mourning' proposed in Freud's later work3 and subsequently developed by feminist theorists. [..] I utilize Kristeva's concept of poetic language as a 'counter-depressant', which ameliorates the pain of loss without repudiating it, to suggest that this and other examples of women's grief fiction attempt to 'transform the woeful darkness into lyrical song' (162).;
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHecate
    Place of PublicationSt. Lucia
    PublisherHecate Press
    Pages27-45
    Number of pages19
    Volume37
    Edition1
    ISBN (Print)0311-4198
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

    Publication series

    NameHecate
    Volume37

    Keywords

    • Books
    • Custody of children
    • Families & family life
    • Grief in women
    • Memory
    • Novels
    • Parent and child
    • Reading
    • Separation (Psychology)
    • Women
    • Writing

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