Chapter

The Mother Tongue in Phèdre and Frankenstein

Elissa Marder

in The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780823240555
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823240593 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fordham/9780823240555.003.0011
The Mother Tongue in Phèdre and Frankenstein

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This chapter examines how, in two very different literary texts, Jean Racine's Phèdre and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, birth is depicted as monstrous, and the mother is associated with errancy and exile. Both texts are haunted by a conception of language that comes from the mother and which expresses itself as a foreign language that transmits an unspeakable desire. The reading of Phèdre focuses on Phèdre's maternal legacy as the monstrous source of speech itself. This mother tongue transmits the unspeakable and unresolved crimes of history, and transforms and translates them into the contaminating language of transgressive desire in which the drama of the play unfolds. Although Frankenstein can be read as an attempt to efface the figure of the mother altogether, that figure returns, strangely, through the multiple inscriptions of translation and foreign languages throughout the text. The chapter concludes by observing that, in Frankenstein, the very transmission of the narrative of the novel is impossible, as the monster only speaks French, and Walton only understands English. The novel's narrative ultimately emerges as a monstrous child, written in a foreign tongue, that takes nine months to tell.

Keywords: Phèdre; Frankenstein; translation; monster; mother; labyrinth; mother tongue; desire

Chapter.  7138 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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