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The Mother in the Age of Mechanical ReproductionPsychoanalysis, Photography, Deconstruction$
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Elissa Marder

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823240555

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823240555.001.0001

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The Mother Tongue in Phèdre and Frankenstein

The Mother Tongue in Phèdre and Frankenstein

(p.195) TEN The Mother Tongue in Phèdre and Frankenstein
The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Elissa Marder

Fordham University Press

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

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