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Family tragedies: the death of a child in recent French literature

Citation: Rye, Gill (2004) Family tragedies: the death of a child in recent French literature. In: ‘La famille en éclats’ conference, March 2004, University of Durham. (Unpublished)

The death of a child throws a family into disorder. Parents speak of a ‘life sentence’ – of irreparable loss. But what actually happens to parenting after a child dies? This paper explores this poignant question through an analysis of four contemporary texts: Camille Laurens’s 'Philippe' (1995), Philippe Forest’s 'L’Enfant éternel' (1997), Laure Adler’s 'À ce soir' (2001) and Aline Schulman’s 'Paloma' (2001). The discussion focuses on the ways in which parenting is portrayed in the four texts as well as on their literary style, form and structure, in order to consider what they tell us about, on the one hand, parenting after loss, and, on the other, the inscription in the public arena of such private tragedy. The paper argues that these texts make an intervention into contemporary debates on trauma and loss and the management of grief and mourning, in particular calling into question dominant Western (and Freudian) models of mourning which require the bereaved to let go of the lost loved one and to move on. These texts tell us very simply that maternity and paternity do not disappear with the loss of the child; in memorialising the dead child, they both remember what it was to parent and, importantly, recreate it in the present. With reference to recent work in psychology, the paper suggests that the reader has a key role to play in the dynamic between public and private, in the social ratification and acceptance of the parents’ ‘continuing bond’ with the dead child – and with parenthood.

Additional Information: A revised version of this paper, entitled ‘Family Tragedies: Child Death in Recent French Literature’, was published in the book, Family Matters, ed. Marie-Claire Barnet and Edward Welch (Atlanta and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), pp.267-81, ISBN 978-90-420-2170-9
Creators: Rye, Gill ( and
Subjects: Culture, Language & Literature
Keywords: death of child, Camille Laurens, Laure Adler, Philippe Forest, Aline Schulman, trauma studies, mourning
Divisions: Institute of Modern Languages Research
Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women's Writing
  • 2004 ()


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