Autobiographical intentions and interpretations : Marie Cardinal, Annie Leclerc.
This thesis seeks to provide new readings of the autobiographical fictions of l\ larie
Cardinal and Annie Leclerc. The study has three central aims. Firstly, to present a
comparative overview of Cardinal's Les Mots pour Ie dire and Leclerc's Exercices de
memoire; secondly, to explore the significance of the texts in relationship to
developments within feminist theory and practice; thirdly, to develop a mode of reading
which ackl0wledges the importance of autobiographical intention, social context and
critical reception. My study will make a claim for the importance of considering the
situated experience of the author and the reader.
My methodological approach is informed by autobigraphical and literary theory,
feminist theory and reception studies. The thesis explores a number of themes in the
writing of Cardinal and Leclerc including the construction of autobiographical identity
in relationship to the reader, the social function of the autobiographical sub-genres of
confessional and testimonial writing, the impact of theories of the 'death of the author'
on experiential writing and its significance for a feminist agenda. The manner in which
gender influences the shape and tone of the autobiographical pact and the relationship
between gender and critical reception are further themes under consideration.
A further concern will be to explore the feminist claim that traditional theories
of the genre, authored by male critics, fail to account for the 'difference' of women's
writing. It will also be argued that early forays into the genre by Anglo/American
feminist critics have tended either to essentialise female identity or to erase the self from
the text altogether. Acknowledging the shift of interest- in autobiographical criticism
from the 'autos' (self) to the 'graphe' (text), I align myself with those theorists \\ho
have argued for the need to reinstate the 'bios' (life) back into autobiographical
While acknowledging the impact of deconstructionist perspectives, this thesis
proposes the value of experiential writing as a means of challenging exclusionar:
identity politics and raising consciousness among readers. I examine Cardinal's Les
J\fo/s pour Ie dire as an exemplary text of the 1970s \\hich illustrates the feminist
interest in the communal '1,' and Leclerc's E\crcices de memoire as a more cautious text of the 1990s which nonetheless demonstrates a continuing interest in communal
identity, mediated by an awareness of difference. I engage with criticisms of
confessional writers for holding naive assumptions about 'agency." 'communal
identity,' and the transparency of language. I argue that Cardinal's confessional and
Leclerc's testimonial writing demonstrate an awareness of both the constructed nature
of identity and the importance of situated experience. Furthermore, both writers avoid
'speaking for other women' by presenting authorial identity in relationship to the Other.
I argue that the gaze of the Other plays an essential role in the construction of
autobiographical identity whether it be the imagined critical gaze of the literary critic or
the sympathetic identification which the author solicits from her readers.
I conclude that while there are no essential qualities to women's self-writing
there is a need for reading with gender awareness. The identities constructed in Les
Mots pour dire and Exercices de memoire are shaped by the social conditions of the
time and the constraints of the genre. I argue for situated reading of each women's
writing, concluding my discussion with my own personal reading of Les Mots pour le