'Corpses in the church and mouths of men' : mothers, daughters and the maternal in selected novels of Michele Roberts
Taking as a starting point Luce Irigaray's assertion that women require a female genealogy in order to become subjects, I trace the flow of the maternal throughout nine novels of Michele Roberts. This maternal inheritance is necessary if women are not to be left in the state described by Irigaray as dereliction, a lack of mother, God and language. These novels present the love, experience and loss of the maternal, as body, biology and metaphor. Beginning with the daughter's quest for love and identity in A Piece of the Night and The Visitation, I identify the movement from realist constructions of the mother/daughter relationship to a widening of the notion of the maternal genealogy with the re-negotiation of the patriarchal virgin/mother women of the Catholic church in The Wild Girl, The Book of Mrs Noah, Daughters of the House and Impossible Saints. The interest in re-configuration of myth and history is further explored in readings of In the Red Kitchen, Fair Exchange and The Looking Glass. These novels explicitly work with historical times and figures to suggest the possibility of an alternative to linear conceptions of time and language. In the gaps exposed in this linear history, cyclical and monumental times of spirituality, domesticity and maternity are fleetingly inscribed. In a patriarchal symbolic founded upon the repression of the mother and the maternal inheritance, the voice of the mother and the relationship between mother and daughter are buried under the weight of the virgin and the whore. Attempting to unearth this voice, without re-presenting the mother as object, requires textual strategies that are complex and not always ultimately successful. Nevertheless, fleeting and uncertain voices are better than silence and acceptance.