Blood Ties: a Case-Study of Mother-Daughter Relationships in Anita Brookner, Sara Maitland and Rosetta Loy

Giuliana Giobbi
Rome University

Deep South v.1 n.3 (Spring, 1995)

Copyright (c) 1995 by Giuliana Giobbi, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the New Zealand Copyright Act 1962. It may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the journal is notified. This consent does not extend to other kinds of copying, such as copying for general distribution, for advertising or promotional purposes, for creating new collective works, or for resale. For such uses, written permission of the author and the notification of the journal are required. Write to Deep South, Department of English, University of Otago, P. O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.

There is nothing malicious or wrong in what they say or do to each other, but there is no comfort either. The bond between them -- natural, unnoticed over the years -- is now like a tense, visible string in rooms, up stairs, across the table. It stretches, this love between them, strong and thin as an aerialist's wire[1]

It is difficult to deny the psychological and human relevance of the relationship between mother and daughter. Challenging, ambivalent, discontinuous, ungraspable as it may appear in its infinite variations, this central bond is fascinating for writers, scholars and feminists alike.[2]

We are going to analyze a few instances of this theme as is treated by some contemporary women authors as diverse in temperament and style as Anita Brookner, Sara Maitland and Rosetta Loy, all the while exploring the significance of the choice of topic both on the psychological and on the literary levels.

. . . A woman's sense of identity, as well as her view of her place in society, is likely to be largely shaped in response to her relationship with the woman who has served as her earliest model, be it mother, grandmother, or another woman. Yet the bond is often fraught with danger.[3]

The first binding relationship between mother and daughter becomes the model for much of women's adult relationships: behaviour, attitude, independence and the very selfhood of a woman come -- more or less overtly -- from the example set by her mother. Whether they like it or not, women remain attached to their mothers, even when their relationship is difficult, ambiguous or impossible. A mother can be good or bad, but children, being totally dependent from her, cannot afford to hate their mother. Thence comes the impossibility of ever knowing one's mother completely, with her shortcomings and her problems. It is usually the case that daughters prefer to think their mothers are perfect, often turning anger, doubt, guilt, against themselves. As Nancy Friday remarks, "Our mutual refusal to show our true selves, good and bad, to each other does not allow either woman to explore her separate life, her own identity".[4] The wrong basis of such an important relationship can often lead to distortions such as dependency, symbiosis, incomprehension, hostility.

In order to try and understand one's mother, thus discovering one's own identity, Victoria Secunda has indicated a typology of mothers and daughters, to help us solve the possible cases of mother-daughter conflicts.[5] Thus we may have a critical, stifling, passive, vindictive or absent mother. On the other hand, a daughter may be an angel, a nullity, a super-efficient person, an instigator or a runaway. We shall discover the usefulness of these categories when analyzing the different types of mothers and daughters described by our three contemporary women writers.

"The pact had been kept. Each played a not inconsiderable part: how could they relate their experience to the rest of the world? They had an impression of triumph, of constancy rewarded. Odd and archaic as their bond might have been, their anachronistic and exclusive closeness had somehow seen them through"[6]

This quotation is fully representative of the extraordinary case of mother-daughter relationship with which Anita Brookner presents the reader in her recent novel, Fraud (1992). The protagonist of this novel, Anna Durrant, spends most of her uneventful life nursing her frail mother, whose death finally frees her from a situation of psychological dependency and falsity. In fact, Anna finally realizes that she has become only what others expect her to be, and she decides to disappear, thus starting a new life in Paris.

A similar symbiotic relationship between mother and daughter, where the latter always appears the weaker of the two, had already been portrayed by Anita Brookner in Lewis Percy (1989), whose eponymous hero is the victim of such an indissoluble female couple.

She had remained young, "jeune fille" as if the years had no purchase on her . . . She never betrayed any interest in the character of anyone but her mother, whom she pitied for her hard life, yet this pity held something unexamined, a mixture of incuriosity and rivalry, all disguised as a need for her mother's company, as if her mother could not properly exist without her"[7]

Tissy, like Anna, seems to be permanently attached to her mother: her agoraphobia, her apparent frailty, the return to her home after a ten-year marriage are all indicators of her morbid dependency on a possessive mother. Unlike Tissy, however, Anna slowly becomes stronger than her mother -- because of the latter's disastrous love-affair with George Ainsworth -- and finally escapes the cell in which everyone had put her, thus revealing the hidden strength of her character.

The thriller-like structure of Fraud and the many different viewpoints from which it is told, through flashbacks and multiple versions of the same events, provide as many layers of significance to the plot, and contribute to exalt the plight and the final, unexpected victory of the daughter-heroine.

An even more complicated structure lies at the heart of Sara Maitland's Three Times Table (1990), since the story involves three generations of women -- Rachel, Phoebe and Maggie -- who share the same house but inhabit different worlds. After examining their past, the writer leads them to a strange, epiphanic night where all the illusions and the limitations of their mutual bond are cleared up and solved.

Maggie knew all about Phoebe's restless unhappiness, her discontent. She did not know if she herself were a part, a cause of it. She wanted Phoebe to concentrate on her. She wanted Phoebe's long bold stare, so different from Rachel's serene regard -- more dangerous, more challenging. She wanted Phoebe to feel passionate about her. She needed Rachel to stay alive, but she needed Phoebe to be alive[8]

The tripartite mould of the story involves the creation of three different heroines tied to one another not only through blood but also through affection and mutual knowledge. Unlike Brookner's Anna, the female characters portrayed by Sara Maitland are all strong, in different ways, from the very start. Each of them faces life's challenges alone, to find an ally in her mother -- or daughter -- only after flights and misunderstandings. Thus, Phoebe abandons her mother Rachel after her father's death, and when they are reunited and Maggie is born, the old rivalry flares up again, so that the adolescent Maggie is forced to create a phantasy world of her own, while trying to hold the attention of both her mother and grandmother. The ambivalence of filial bonds is stressed in a different way from Brookner's novel. There is no claustrophobic tie between the females, even though the male characters are still on the margins of the story. Maitland introduces more signs of the time through the tempestuous past of Phoebe, so that the novel is given a larger scope in comparison with the grey London suburbia so dear to Brookner. At the same time, the magical element represented by Maggie's imaginary dragon, Fenna, pushes the story to the limits of science-fiction while emphasizing the fabulous side of the science in which Rachel is so well versed, namely, palaeontology.

A different atmosphere is created in the novel by Rosetta Loy, Sogni d'Inverno (Winter Dreams, 1992), set in Italy in the Fifties and dominated by the two powerful figures of mother and daughter of Russian origins, Daria and Asia. The one, constantly prey of fleeting lovers and passion, the other too proud and thoughtful to be happy. Extraneous to each other, they involuntarily influence their respective lives and commit similar mistakes in their choices. The absence of a real mother shapes Asia's failure in life.

Paesaggio familiare ma anche a volte feroce per quanto loro sono LORO e lei invece è Asia. L'occasionale, forse il nulla, la figlia di due nomi fantasma che evocano tradimenti e litigi, separazioni[9] [It was a familiar landscape, which also appeared, at times, a cruel one, insomuch as they were THEMSELVES, and Asia was herself. She was a chance, a nullity perhaps, the daughter of two ghostly names which only evoke betrayals, quarrels and separations]

Asia, like her mother, is a victim of her own beauty and of her pride: she loses Federico, the only man who really loves her, only to suffer for the indifference of Sebastian and the inconsistency of a marriage made for money. Years and events slip away like water, and Asia becomes a liar like her mother, indifferent to her own daughter just like Daria who had neglected her.

The daughter is for the mother at once her double and another person, the mother is at once overweeningly affectionate and hostile towards her daughter; she saddles her child with her own destiny: a way of proudly laying claim to her own femininity and also a way of revenging herself for it[11] Self-recognition, mixed feelings of guilt and of solidarity battle within a mother's heart with regard to her daughter. The complete symbiosis between mother and little daughter is therefore dense and dramatic; as the daughter grows older and needs more independence from her mother, the process of separation may become more or less difficult according to the character and the self-realization of the mother herself. Most women demand and detest at the same time their feminine condition: the more a mother is well-balanced and has a good relationship with herself, her husband, her past and society at large, the easier it will be to give daughters the best possible start in life. As Simone de Beauvoir beautifully sums up:

"The woman who enjoys the richest individual life will have the most to give her children and will demand the least from them: she who acquires in effort and struggle a sense of true human values will be best able to bring them up properly" (op. cit., p. 540)

When applying these psychological truths to the novels we are analyzing, it is evident that the mother-images created by these three women novelists, besides having possible similarities with their own mothers, assume an important role in the shaping of the daughter's character and in the "deroulement" of the story itself. In fact, the "angel" daughter Anna Durrant would not be conceivable without a suffering mother to take care of, while the triangle of emotions, resentments and rivalries among Rachel, Phoebe and Maggie would be unthinkable without blood ties. In the same way, finally, the sad destiny of Asia could not be explained without the erratic, dreamt-of presence of the passionate, very feminine Daria. Thus, the novelists' choice of focussing their stories on a complex mother-daughter relationship can be justified by a particular attention to the psychological roots of actions and by a certain intention to unearth the motives for female ambiguities and behaviour.

You must allow, he told Emily, that parents are not always the best judge of their child's aptitudes. You may very well -- with the best of intentions, naturally -- be confusing Sarah's best interests with your own unfulfilled ambitions[12]

As it transpires from this quotation, taken from A. S. Byatt's short story, "Racine and the Tablecloth" (1987), the mother may hope to realize her own youthful dreams through her daughter, thus winning a battle which she had already lost in her own youth. Here Emily tries to have her daughter Sarah educated for University, because she, in her turn, had renounced to the chances given by her degree through a mediocre middle-class marriage. The narrator does not seem to take a stand against Emily, since higher education is certainly a feasible and necessary goal for today's women. But the mother's attempt to have a "second chance" through her daughter may produce negative side-effects. Not only does the mother usually influence her daughter's way of behaving, thinking and being female: sometimes, she also tries to make choices for her career and for her future. Thus, for example, the idealized mother in Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows (1957) educates her three daughters to be musical because her career as a professional pianist had broken under a cruel strain. In a similar way, the passive mother of Maureen Howard's Grace Abounding (1982) finds her daughter Elizabeth ungrateful when she marries a Jewish lawyer while she had spent time and money to build up a musical career for her, trying to find a "revanche" to her own uneventful existence ("I had made a world for her").[13] Only when the mother realizes the separate identity of her daughter and accepts her as "other", and not as a mere "alter ego" or a younger self, can an understanding be found between the two women. This sort of recognition is difficult to achieve, and the epiphanic moment can be traumatic if the mother has a problematic relationship with her own feminine role. In the ironic, tightly-structured short story by Fay Weldon, "Weekend" (1981), the unbearable burden of being a middle-class housewife with children becomes an obsession for the protagonist, Martha, when she discovers that her daughter Jenny, having started her period, is going to begin her own career, full of strain, frustrations, and hard work ("Her daughter Jenny: wife, mother, friend").[14]

On another level, Maitland's Rachel, the grandmother of Three Times Table, needs the shock of Phoebe running away from home to recognize the independent personality of her daughter, so as to learn, through years of patient waiting and thinking, how to regain her when she finally comes back.

Suddenly Rachel was looking at Phoebe . . . She saw all the impossibility of apologising for vanishing as a child and coming back as a grown woman. She saw that they would fight again, because Phoebe needed to define herself as the negative image of her mother, as she herself had done, as they all did[15]

In fact, Rachel herself, we are told, had gone up against the conventional expectations of her own mother when she had chosen to cultivate the same studies in which her father had excelled. Both Rachel and Phoebe, in a way, are "Dad's girls" inasmuch as they showed, during childhood, an unexpected talent for "masculine" fields of study such as, respectively, paleontology and mathematics, and found an ally in their fathers. However, Phoebe gives up the abstract world of numbers after her father's death and takes up gardening instead, still retaining the strength of character which she -- willy-nilly -- inherited from her own mother.

She had become the mother. She had not started out as the mother; she had never chosen to be the mother. These two women, Rachel and Maggie so differently, so craftily, had sneaked into her life, her flesh, parasites of love. She wanted to escape and could imagine no escape.(ibid., Book One, Three, p. 47)

Though in different ways and with different solutions, the daughters portrayed by the three novelists find life a struggle, and the example set by their mothers -- be it negative or positive -- is somehow a starting point for their individual battles, even though their story is their own, and sometimes their mothers represent physical or psychological obstacles in the way towards self-realization.

The generation-gap is an indispensable stage of the confrontation between mother and daughter. With adolescence comes the need for individuation and rebellion to given standards. The daughter usually starts to question the validity of her mother's standards of value and beliefs; she may feel that her mother cannot understand her at all. Thence possible solutions may be running away -- like Phoebe; finding a substitute-mother in another woman -- like Asia with her governess Ulpiana; or confining the rebellion to one's own mind and going on with a symbiotic life -- like Anna Durrant. In all three cases, the process of separation has started, but the psychological consequences for both mothers and daughters differ according to the personality of the women concerned. The scholarly Rachel finally pays attention to the daughter whom she had never properly considered as a person before; egocentric Daria follows her latest lover and abandons a daughter who shall be even more dispersive than herself; finally, hopelessly old-fashioned Amy Durrant is actually dominated by her affectionate daughter, who has still not forgiven her for the unfortunate episode of Ainsworth. Somehow, the daughter-figures seem to be defeating the imperfect models set by their respective mothers. Let us not forget, however, that Phoebe has to compromise with Rachel over Maggie; that Asia cannot cancel the legacy left by Daria from her face and from her personality as "femme fatale"; that Anna can only re-awaken to real, independent life after caring for her mother during half of her life. The balance between the two generations is difficult to reach, and the novelists themselves seem to retain an ambivalent alliance now with the mothers, now with the daughters. In the case of Maitland's Phoebe, for instance, we reach the climax of ambiguity in that she is a daughter and a mother at the same time, and has a difficult time in trying to conciliate the two functions. "Caring", indeed, seems to represent the key-word for women in any generation, the main moral credo inculcated in females for centuries and by now rooted in their way of life. As Carol Gilligan remarks to this regard,[16] women are defined in their capacity to create relationship, to care for other people, while action and competition is left to the males. Thence comes the conflict between love and work, between career and family, between boundaries and evasion. The myth of Persephone recalled by Gilligan clearly indicates the distortion of the female development, since it shows that narcissism leads to death, whereas the fertility of the earth is bound up with the mother-daughter relationship and the life-cycle alternates between male and female world.[17]

She had a horror of compassion, both her own and that of others. She was determined never to be perceived as a victim. All her life she had outfaced those who offered her their sympathy, for what they supposed was her hard life, bound to her mother as she was, and had simply smiled by way of an answer[18]

If it is very difficult to be a mother, it is certainly not easier to be a daughter, as Brookner seems to be suggesting through the example of Anna Durrant. The agonizing torture of social life -- see her evening at Mrs.Marsh's party and the dinner with the Hallidays -- while being humiliated and embarassing for her, contribute to make her stronger and cunning, and finally push her to choose freedom. On the other hand, the ironic portrait of old Mrs.Marsh, who is attached to her son more than to her daughter, and is actually more comfortable when alone because fundamentally egocentric and lazy, shows us the ultimate reduction of a mother to an old, tyrannic woman who cannot bear being surrounded by the alacrity of Anna's caring or by the concerns of the younger generation.

The stereotype of an uncomprehending mother, who constantly nags her daughter and criticizes her habits and her values while remaining her old-fashioned self, is handled ironically in a short story by Michelene Wandor, "Meet My Mother" (1986), where the daughter-narrator actually regrets the change wrought in her mother by the sudden interest in feminism and socialism and the abandoning of the old patterns of conflict -- the "bourgeois blackmail job" in the colourful language of the writer.

And I think, once upon a time I had a mother who was just what she should be. Manipulative, bigoted, a pain in the neck, didn't understand me, didn't want to understand me, wanted me to be all the things she thought that I should be. . . . Once upon a time I had a mother. Now she's gone. And I don't know what I'm going to do[19]

The writer seems to suggest that the hostility between mother and daughter is indispensable in order to create a dialectic, a sort of dialogue -- which is more discussion than proper dialogue -- between two women who do not want to understand each other. Similarly, we witness, in "Three Times Table", to the constant conflict between Rachel and Phoebe about important matters such as Phoebe's choice of career and Maggie's education. Each of them is too proud to lose ground or seek a reconciliation. Only when Maggie is in danger -- as the attic glass roof collapses on top of her -- do Rachel and Phoebe finally realize their true priorities and take up vital decisions which had long been postponed.

No true dialogue is possible either for Anna and Amy Durrant or for Asia and Daria. For the latter pair, distance and egocentrism prevents them from ever trying to understand or love each other. As for Amy, she dares not confess her shame and guilt to her daughter until after her death, and the years of complicity and silence have thus been full of hypocrisy and reticence. The apparent closeness within their "claustrophobic bower" is finally revealed to be nothing but hidden, terrible hatred.

Her mother knew that her vigilance was part love, part revenge. Of such harsh truths does the emotional life consist. At the end they were as one again . . . This would be the final confrontation with a mother whom in life she had never reproached but had refused to understand" (op. cit., Ch. 4, pp. 43-44)

In the rancour of Anna, as in the melancholy resentment of Asia, we find the worst results of an ambiguous relationship between mother and daughter, which death abruptly concludes without a possible making-up. In this sense, "Sogni d'Inverno" appears as a more pessimistic work, as there is no hope for change and the two women never meet again. In all three novels, however, there is a marked attention to the upheaval created by the appearance of men, who somehow disrupt the mother-daughter symbiosis and represent a turning-point in the development of the all-female relationship.

Daria's divorcing her husband Luciano, her tormented affairs with Pit and Tadeus represent as many motives of neglect to the child Asia, who, as a grown woman, will become even more unhappy than her mother as far as men and love are concerned. Asia lacks certainties, fills her life with phantasies, so that she finally loses track of reality in order to avoid the nightmare of a sad existence and the challenges of social life.

Questo voleva Asia, la pioggia e il lago e sentirsi al centro del mondo in un punto infinitesimale, fisso e eterno . . . I sogni delle donne coprono archi di tempo lunghissimi, possono nascere nell'infanzia e tornare e ritornare come una clessidra continuamente rivoltata (op. cit., p. 231) [This is what Asia wanted: the rain and the lake, and the sensation to be at the centre of the world in an infinitesimal point, which is fixed and eternal . . . Women's dreams cover long spaces of time; they may start during their childhood and come back again and again, just like a sand-glass which is constantly being turned upside-down]

Naturally, it is because of a man, the "fortune-hunter" George Ainsworth, that the quiet existence of Amy and Anna Durrant had been disrupted and destroyed, never to be the same again. A defenceless widow, a tortoise unable to compete in the market-place with the "hares", that is, the more hard-headed and enlightened women -- according to the distinction which Brookner first made in Hotel du Lac (1985) -- Amy Durrant lets Ainsworth enter their female world. After a two-year affair, the man disappears, provoking Amy's heart-attack and the start of her decline into invalidism, as well as a permanent change in the relationship between mother and daughter. On the other hand, the young doctor Lawrence Halliday -- a passive male figure similar to Lewis Percy -- represents for some time the only possible chance for Anna, but he deserts her by marrying a pretty, silly, egocentric "hare" like Vicky. It is important that Anna lets her mother cherish this last faint hope before dying. Both women are reticent about the men who deserted them. The final humiliation caused by a man comes for Anna through the well-meant intervention of Mrs.Marsh, who had hoped that her divorced, sour middle-aged son Nick might take an interest in Anna. Their conversation at Mrs.Marsh's party and the one during the drive home is reported first in an Austen-like letter which Anna writes to her Paris friend Marie-France, then by the narrator, and finally by Nick himself to his mother. Apparently defeated, Anna emerges dignified and tactful, though hurt inside.

Within that carapace she was an adult woman, but one who had no voice because of her lifelong concealment, which no one else would question. She was represented by an exterior manner which she herself found burdensome, as if she were only just learning what other women had always known, so that she made too many efforts, and all of them inept. . . . She hated Nick Marsh, hated his cruelty, and was determined that he should notice her, that he should acknowledge her in some way (op. cit., Ch. 6, pp. 66-67)

The complex character of Anna, her "double personality" and the richness of her self-analysis emphasize her role as a typical Brookner heroine, apparently pitiable and spinsterly, but actually critical of the society around her and sparkling with intelligence and subtle nuances of feeling. Male characters, on the other hand, are usually passive, often resentful and unreliable. Here, as in other Brookner novels, outright scoundrels like Ainsworth are balanced by passive, childish creatures like Halliday: both types are bound to make women suffer.

Different tones are used by Sara Maitland to characterize male figures in "Three Times Table". Once again, no male protagonist is offered, and we are only told fleetingly of Rachel's husband -- who had been a wonderful father to Phoebe -- and of Phoebe's lovers, among whom rude and aggressive Jim, Maggie's father. All of them, however, disappear from the scene, and the only true "lover" left to musing Phoebe in the end seems to be her breast cancer, which she will fight in the end for Maggie's and Rachel's sake. Unlike Brookner, male characters do not appear entirely disappointing in Maitland's novel. Martin, Rachel's husband, had shown love and understanding both for his wife and for his clever daughter. Bill, Phoebe's latest lover, is tempted to leave his wife because he is really in love with Phoebe. But Maitland's women are too hard-headed and unconventional to suffer conjugal bonds, and the most important relationships in their lives seem to be all within the female world -- see Phoebe's best friend Lisa. Both Rachel and Phoebe appear to find self-fulfilment in their work, which takes up most of their time, and men only float like small islands in the current of their past.

Intelligence, she told herself, intelligence and will-power. She had enough of the former and at least some of the latter. She placed herself -- with considerable maternal firmness, as though she was, to herself too, a small child who had to be cared for with both affection and discipline -- back in her bed (op. cit., Book Two, Two, p. 122)

The strength of character of both Rachel and Phoebe is at least partially justified by their attachment to their respective fathers. As it recurs with remarkable frequency in the lives of many a Victorian woman writer,[20] there is identification with, and dependence upon, the father. The Brontës, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning had all lost their mothers. As most middle-class mothers at the time were more narrow-minded and more conventional than the fathers, we may imagine the additional strains in the relationships which would have been created between such daughters and their mothers. As the psychologist Judith Bardwick remarks:

If the daughter rejects the maternal role, or if her mother is more rejecting than supportive, or if her relationship with her father is the only source of love and support, she may well identify with his role activities[21]

And yet, even if the father takes pride in the achievement of his clever daughter, she remains his child for him, not a woman. The female role is still to be learnt on the maternal example, even though daughters may not accept it. As Nancy Friday remarks,[22] "Father may be the spice of life, but mother is the bread and butter. The relationship to mother was formed earlier, and runs deeper, than anything the daughter has with her father".

Hence the attention, in women's literature, for the timeless bond between mother and daughter, which is also a link within the chain of matriarchy. Not by chance, the controlling literary consciousness is at times to be identified with the daughter, the subject of maternal authority, its enraged victim, its adoring slave.[23]

The literary heritage of Victorian women novelists can be best detected in Anita Brookner's novels. The author herself admits that she uses her own loneliness, her own family ("Mine's a dreary Victorian story; I nursed my parents till they died").[24] As Olga Kenyon remarks:

"She sees a Victorian inheritance as creating the dilemmas of her protagonists. They are imbued with nineteenth century values of seriousness, self-control, rectitude -- but living in the twentieth-century, which no longer values them"[25]

The close connection between the author's life and her literary production reinforces the thesis that the fact of choosing as the starting point of a novel the mother-daughter relationship is a significant choice which may have a cathartic justification for the author herself. Besides, if the writer has experienced a difficult, symbiotic relationship with her own mother, this can make her heroines psychologically more credible. On the other hand, the richness of the narrator's insight, which is a common factor for all three writers, testifies of the deep knowledge of this absorbing relationship.

The author's involvement in the story, however, is difficult to evaluate: if Brookner's Anna -- rather like Frances Hinton in Look at Me (1982) and Kitty Maule in Providence (1983) -- is clearly a prototype of the novelist's favourite anti-heroines, it is not easy to say that Sara Maitland prefers Rachel to Phoebe or indeed to Maggie. Nor is there a completely negative portrait of Daria in Loy's novel, even though her mistakes are stressed through the "vie manqué" of Asia. It is probably this very ambiguity or -- better said -- impartiality of the author-narrator (who, in Brookner's novel, is a multiple one) which makes the mother-daughter relationship more realistic and more interesting to the reader. In all three cases, we are not given ready answers and easy explanations; rather, the writers provide us with the psychological engines provoking the protagonists' actions. The attention is focussed, especially in the case of both Brookner and Maitland, on the thoughts and the motivation of the women involved in the story. However, while in Fraud we are slowly led to the solution of the "mystery" (i.e. Anna's disappearance) through jumps in time, space and narrating voice, in "Three Times Table" we witness a crescendo of suspence up to the climactic night of Maggie's re-awakening to "real" life after having been told each woman's story. On the other hand, Sogni d'Inverno is structured on a sequence of images and episodes, which are not necessarily in chronological order but finally contribute to the portrait not only of two female generations but also of a historical age in Italy. The main source of interest, however, constantly lies in the changeable, complex relationship between two women bound to each other through blood, love, rivalry and habit.

. . . Mothers and daughters provide a challenge for one another. The challenge is a two-way process, essentially life-giving, bringing necessary and inevitable change. . . . Just what a mother is to hand down to a daughter, and what a daughter has a right to expect of her mother, have become subjects for excited debate[26]

As we have seen so far, there are many relevant points issuing from the thematic choice of a mother-daughter relationship. In fact, this "leitmotif" is one of the central problem areas in the life of a woman. Naturally, in the post-feminist age, women writers are led to examine themes which are more closely related to their experiences and to their own psychology, once acquired the gender difference as a determined distinction. In this sense, the fact that Anita Brookner comes back again and again to the world of all-female relationships testifies to her intention of writing for today's women while at the same time meditating upon her own experiences. On a larger scale, both Maitland and Loy choose an historical age for their stories, in that the Fifties in Italy and the Sixties in Britain somehow justify the daughter-heroines' experiences and choices. The connection between women and society, the careers -- or lack of careers -- of the female characters are as many signs of the time and constitute points of contact between the perpetuation of matriarchy and the contemporary social situation. Anna's final going into clothes design, Phoebe's passion for gardening, Rachel's conscientiousness in her scientific theories represent as many forms of victory of the grown-up self of the daughter.

On the other hand, Asia's madness is the tragic outcome of her following the wrong path of her mother, a seducer and a love-object, but also, essentially, a creature devoid of feelings and compassion.

The mother-daughter relationship is not -- or, at least, it should not be -- a battle, with winners and losers. Rather, it is a vital blood-tie where both women must try to reach an independent self and a mutual understanding, even if this happens after years of mistakes and discussions. Over and above individual characters and clashes of personality, therefore, there should remain the consciousness of an important female bond, whose chances should not be missed in one's life. These three novels -- in different, compelling ways -- all prove the validity of this goal and show us the results of a wrong use of our possibilities, either as mothers or as daughters.

I believed my mother, who told me I'd be happy in due course, that the best things in life are worth waiting for. And I waited. That was the fraud . . . I've grown up at last, Do you know how long it takes some of us? And now I'm free. Free of the old self, Free of expectations[27]


N.B. All the translations from Rosetta Loy are mine. G.G. 1995

  1. Maureen Howard, Grace Abounding (Little, Brown and Co, 1982) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983), I, "SI", p. 20 [Back]
  2. For a selection of short stories focussing on the mother-daughter relationship, see: Christine Park -- Caroline Heaton (Eds.),Close Company, Stories of Mothers and Daughters (London: Virago Press, 1987, repr. 1993); Susan Cahill, (eds.), Mothers: Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Literary Daughters (New York: New American Library, 1988). For classical psychological studies, see: Jessie Bernard, The Future of Motherhood (New York: Dial Press, 1975); Bruno Bettelheim, The Problems of Generation, in E. Erikson, (ed.), The Challenge of Youth (New York: Doubleday, 1965); Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psycholoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); Helene Deutsch, The Psychology of Women, Vol .2, "Motherhood" (New York: Bantam Editions, 1973); L. Terman -- L. Tyler, "Psychological Sex Differences", in L. Carmichael, (ed.), Manual of Child Psychology (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1954); D. W. Winnicott, The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment, (New York: International University Press, 1965). For feminist approaches, see: Jane, B. Abramson, Mothermania: a Psychological Study of Mother-Daughter Conflict (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1987); Grace Baruch -- Rosalind Barnett -- Caryl Rivers, Lifeprints: New Patterns of Love and Work for Today's Women, (New York: New American Library, 1984); Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxieme Sexe, (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), English transl. by H. M. Parshley, The Second Sex, (London: Pan Books -- Picador Classics, 1988); Lucy Rose Fischer, Linked Lives: Adult Daughters and their Mothers,(New York: Harper & Row, 1986); Nancy Friday, My Mother/My Self -- The Daughter's Search for Identity, (New York: Delacorte Press, 1977) (London: Fontana Books, 1979); Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982); Harriet Goldhor Lerner, The Dance of Anger: a Woman's Guide to change the Patterns of Intimate Relationships (New York: Harper and Row - Perennial Library, 1985); Maxine, I. Margolis, Mothers and Such: Views of American Women and Why They Changed (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, (New York: Vintage, 1974); Adrienne Rich, Of Woman's Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (New York: Norton, 1976); Victoria Secunda, When You and Your Mother Can't be Friends, (New York, 1990); Liz Smith, The Mother Book: A Compendium of Trivia and Grandeur concerning Mothers, Motherhood and Maternity, (New York: Crow, 1984); Jane Swigart, The Myth of the Bad Mother, (New York: Doubleday, 1980). [Back]
  3. Christine Park -- Caroline Heaton (eds.), Close Company, cit., Introduction, p. xi [Back]
  4. Nancy Friday, op. cit., Ch. I, Mother Love, p. 33 [Back]
  5. Victoria Secunda, op. cit., Italian transl. by M.L. Bertorelle and P. Merla, Amiche Nemiche, (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1991), Introduction, pp. 4-5 [Back]
  6. Anita Brookner, Fraud, (Jonathan Cape, 1992) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993), Ch. 10, p. 112. Anita Brookner was born in London in 1928 and, apart from three postgraduate years in Paris, has lived there all her life. She trained as an Art historian and taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art until 1988, when she abandoned her title of Reader in the History of Art at the University of London for the privacy of a small flat in Chelsea. She won the Booker prize with her fourth novel, Hotel du Lac in 1985. [Back]
  7. Anita Brookner, Lewis Percy, (Jonathan Cape, 1989) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1990), Ch. 11, p. 161 [Back]
  8. Sara Maitland, Three Times Table, (Chatto and Windus, 1990) (London: Virago Press, 1991), Ch. Three, p. 172. Sara Maitland was born in 1950, was brought up in Scotland and now lives in London. Her first novel, Daughter of Jerusalem, won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1979. [Back]
  9. Rosetta Loy, Sogni d'Inverno, (Winter Dreams, Milano: Mondadori, 1992); Il Soldato Inglese, p. 87. Rosetta Loy was born in Rome of a Piedmontese father and a Roman mother. Her first novel, La Bicicletta, (The Bicycle, Torino: Einaudi, 1974), won the Viareggio Prize; her fifth novel, Le Strade di Polvere, (Streets of Dust, Torino: Einaudi, 1987) won the Supercampiello, the Rapallo, the Viareggio and the Catanzaro Prizes in 1988. [Back]
  10. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, ed. cit., Book Two: "Woman's Life Today" -- Part IV, "The Formative Years", Ch. 1, "Childhood", pp. 295-350; p. 309. [Back]
  11. Ibid., Part V, "Situation", Ch. 2, "The Mother", p. 532 ff. [Back]
  12. A.S. Byatt, "Racine and the Tablecloth", (1987), in Sugar and other Stories (1987) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1988, repr.1990), pp. 1-32; p. 31 [Back]
  13. Maureen Howard, Grace Abounding, ed. cit., Minor Chalazion, p. 155 [Back]
  14. Fay Weldon, "Weekend" (first published in the Collection Watching Me, Watching You, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981), repr. in Close Company, cit., pp.165-180; p. 180 [Back]
  15. Sara Maitland, Three Times Table, ed. cit., Book Two, One, p. 95 [Back]
  16. Carol Gilligan, op. cit., Italian transl. by Adriana Bottini, Con Voce di Donna: Etica e Formazione della Personalità, (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1987, 2nd ed. 1991), Ch. I, "Il Posto della Donna nel Ciclo della Vita Umana", pp.13-31, passim. [Back]
  17. Ibid., p. 31. According to the myth, Persephone, daughter of Demetra -- the Goddess of fertility -- while bending to pick up a narcissus, is taken away by Ades down to his underworld. Deemetra makes the earth sterile because of her sorrow for the loss of her daughter. Finally, Zeus allows Persephone to spend half year on earth and half underground. For the interpretation of this myth as a metaphor for power, see David, C. McClelland, Il Potere: Processi e Strutture: Analisi dall'Interno (1975), Italian ed. (Roma: Armando, 1983) [Back]
  18. Anita Brookner, Fraud, ed. cit., Ch. 14, p. 167 [Back]
  19. Michelene Wandor, "Meet My Mother", in Guests in the Body, (London: Virago Press, 1986), repr. in Close Company, cit., pp. 28-36; p. 36 [Back]
  20. To this regard, see Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own -- British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (1977), (London: Virago Press, 1978, repr. 1979, rev. ed. 1982), especially Ch. II, "The Feminine Novelists and the Will to Write", pp. 61-64; Ellen Moers, "Literary Women, (1976), Intr. by Helen Taylor, (London: The Women's Press, 1978, repr.1986), Ch.10, "Educating Heroinism", pp. 216-239, passim [Back]
  21. Judith Bardwick, Psychology of Women, (London, 1971), p.138 [Back]
  22. Nancy Friday, op. cit., Ch. 5, "Competition", p. 171 [Back]
  23. See Ellen Moers, op. cit., p. 233; Moers takes as examples of hostility towards mother-figures the novels My Mortal Enemy (1926) by Willa Cather, and The Voyage Out (1915) by Virginia Woolf. [Back]
  24. Interview with Hermione Lee, Channel 4, Sept. 1985, quoted in Olga Kenyon, Women Novelists Today -- A Survey of English Writing in the Seventies and Eighties, (Brighton-Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1988), Ch. 6, "Anita Brookner" pp. 144-165; p. 151 [Back]
  25. Olga Kenyon, op. cit., p. 151. For further Brookner criticism, see: article by Gerda Charles in Contemporary Novelists, ed. D.L. Kirkpatrick, consulting Editor: J. Vinson,(London/Chicago: St. James Press, 1972, 4th ed. 1986), p.142; Harper's (April 1981; July 1983); London Review of Books (Sept. 6, 1984; Sept. 5, 1985); Ms (June 1985); Saturday Review (March/April, 1985; May/June 1985); Interview with John Haffenden in The Literary Review, (Sept. 1984, pp. 25-30); Interview with Richard Mayne in Kaleidoscope, Radio 4 (Oct.1984); Talk on Radio 3, printed in Extra, No.1 (1985) [Back]
  26. Christine Park -- Caroline Heaton, (Eds.), Close Company, cit., "Introduction", p. xii [Back]
  27. Anita Brookner, Fraud, ed. cit., Ch. 17, pp. 222-223 [Back]

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