Professor Gill Rye

Contact details

Professor Gill Rye
Professor Emerita
Institute of Languages Cultures and Societies
Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies University of London Senate House Malet Street London WC1E 7HU
Email address:

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Gender studies, Language and Literature (French)
Summary of research interests and expertise:

Research interests: Contemporary French Literature, especially late 20th and early 21st century women's writing, in particular themes of motherhood, new reproductive technologies, mourning, trauma, reading

Expertise: Editing, rewriting/correcting English expression, translation French to English

Publication Details

Related publications/articles:

Date Details
01-Aug-2013 No Dialogue? Mothers and Mothering in the Work of Marie Darrieussecq


In Marie Darrieussecq, ed. Helena Chadderton and Gill Rye, special issue of Dalhousie French Studies 97

01-Aug-2013 Marie Darrieussecq

Edited Book

Co-edited (with Helena Chadderton) special issue of Dalhousie French Studies 97

01-Jul-2013 Marginal Identities and New Kinship Paradigms: Surrogate Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Writing in France


In Experience and Experiment: Women’s Writing in France 2000-2010, edited by Gill Rye with Amaleena Damlé, Studies in Contemporary Women’s Writing (Oxford: Peter Lang)

01-Jul-2013 Experience and Experiment: Women’s Writing in France 2000-2010

Edited Book

Edited by Gill Rye with Amaleena Damlé, Studies in Contemporary Women’s Writing (Oxford: Peter Lang)

01-May-2013 Writing Childhood in Post-War Women’s Writing

Edited Book

Edited special issue of Forum for Modern Language Studies

01-Apr-2013 ‘Women’s Writing in Twenty-First-Century France: Introduction’


by Amaleena Damle and Gill Rye, in Women’s Writing in Twenty-First-Century France: Life as Literature, co-edited with Amaleena Damlé (Cardiff: University of Wales Press)

01-Apr-2013 Women’s Writing in Twenty-First-Century France: Life as Literature

Edited Book

Co-edited with Amaleena Damlé (Cardiff: University of Wales Press)

01-Jan-2013 In Defence of Books: Literature, Publishing and Reading in Contemporary Women’s Writing in French


In Les Femmes et la lecture, ed. Catherine Montfort, special issue of Women in French Studies

01-May-2012 New Representations and Politics of Procreation: Surrogate Motherhood, Artificial Insemination and Human Cloning in Contemporary Women’s Writing in France


In Women, Genre and Circumstance: Essays in Memory of Elizabeth Fallaize, ed. Margaret Atack, Diana Holmes, Diana Knight and Judith Still (Oxford: Legenda), pp. 109-21.

01-Oct-2011 ‘When familiar meanings dissolve…’: Essays in memory of Malcolm Bowie (1943-2007)

Edited Book

Co-edited with Naomi Segal (Oxford: Peter Lang)

01-Jul-2011 Contemporary Women’s Writing in French: Future Perspectives in Formal and Informal Research Networks


In French Studies in and for the Twenty-first Century, ed. Philippe Lane and Michael Worton (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press), pp. 86-94.

01-Nov-2010 Public Places, Intimate Spaces: Christine Angot’s Incest Narratives

Journal articles

In Women and Space, ed. Marie-Claire Barnet and Shirley Jordan, special issue of Dalhousie French Studies 93 (Winter), pp. 63-73

01-Jan-2010 Lesbian Mothering in Contemporary French Literature


In Textual Mothers/ Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women's Literatures, ed. Elizabeth Podnieks and Andrea O’Reilly (Toronto: Wilfred Laurier Press), pp. 227-40.

01-Jan-2010 Christine Angot et l'ecriture de soi


In Le Roman français de l’extrême contemporain: écritures, engagements, énonciations, ed. Barbara Havercroft, Pascal Michelucci and Pascal Riendeau (Quebec: Nota Bene), pp. 423-39.

01-Dec-2009 The Witness and the Text, special issue of Journal of Romance Studies

Edited Book

Co-edited (with Debra Kelly) special issue of Journal of Romance Studies 9.3, Berghahn Books in association with IGRS

01-Dec-2009 The Ethics of Aesthetics in Trauma Fiction: Memory, Guilt and Responsibility in Louise L. Lambrichs’s Journal d’Hannah

Journal articles

In The Witness and the Text, ed. Debra Kelly and Gill Rye, special issue of Journal of Romance Studies 9.3 (Winter), pp.48-59

01-Jun-2009 Narratives of Mothering: Women’s Writing in Contemporary France


(Newark DE: University of Delaware Press)

01-Jan-2009 Marie Darrieussecq’s Le Pays: Threshold Worlds


In Redefining the Real: The Fantastic in Contemporary French and Francophone Women’s Writing, ed. Margaret-Anne Hutton (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang), pp.31-44

01-Jul-2007 “Maternité rendue, maternité perdue”: The Return of/to the Past in Le Jour où je n’étais pas là

Journal articles

In Before the Book - Hélène Cixous, ed. Eric Prenowitz, special issue of Parallax 44 (July-September), pp.104-11

01-Jan-2007 Family Tragedies: Child Death in Recent French Literature


In Family Matters, ed. Marie-Claire Barnet and Edward Welch (Atlanta and Amsterdam: Rodopi), pp.267-81

01-Dec-2006 Maternal Genealogies: The Figure of the Mother in/and Literature

Journal articles

Journal of Romance Studies 6.3 (Winter), pp.117-26

01-Oct-2006 Registering Trauma: The Body in Childbirth in Contemporary French Women’s Writing

Journal articles

In Focalizing the Body in Contemporary Women’s Writing and Filmmaking in France, ed. Gill Rye and Carrie Tarr, special issue of Nottingham French Studies 45.3 (Autumn), pp.92-104

01-Oct-2006 Focalizing the Body in Contemporary Women’s Writing and Filmmaking in France

Edited Book

Co-edited (with Carrie Tarr) special issue of Nottingham French Studies 45.3 (Autumn)

01-Apr-2005 A New Generation: Sex, Gender and Creativity in Contemporary Women’s Writing in French

Edited Book

Edited special issue of L’Esprit Créateur 45.1 (Spring)

01-Oct-2004 Hybrid Voices, Hybrid Texts: Women’s Writing at the Turn of the Millennium

Edited Book

Edited special issue of Dalhousie French Studies 68 (Fall)

01-Jan-2003 Women’s Writing in Contemporary France: New Writers, New Literatures in the 1990s

Edited Book

Co-edited with Michael Worton (Manchester: Manchester University Press)

01-Apr-2002 Contemporary Women’s Writing in French

Edited Book

Edited special issue of Journal of Romance Studies 2.1 (Spring)

01-Jan-2001 Reading for Change: Interactions between Text and Identity in Contemporary French Women’s Writing (Baroche, Cixous, Constant)


(Bern: Peter Lang)

01-Nov-2000 Revisiting the Scene of Writing: New Readings of Cixous

Edited Book

co-edited (with Julia Dobson) special issue of Paragraph 23.3 (November)

Publications available on SAS-space:

Date Details
May-2006 À contre silence: the violation of women’s bodies in Leïla Marouane’s 'Le Châtiment des hypocrites'


An unpublished paper by Dr Gill Rye given at the Women In French conference, Leeds, UK, May 2006. A revised version was incorporated in her book 'Narratives of Mothering: Women's Writing in Contemporary France' (University of Delaware Press, 2009).

Apr-2004 Christine Angot by Christine Angot et al.


A paper exploring 'le regard de l’autre’ in the work of Christine Angot, which was presented as part of a panel entitled 'Écrire le regard de l’autre'.

Nov-2007 ‘Maternité rendue, maternité perdue’: the return of/to the past in Le Jour où jen’étais pas là


This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in PARALLAX (2007).

Apr-2004 L’histoire d’amour chez Christine Angot: romance or betrayal?


An unpublished paper presented at ‘Diversity and Difference in France and the Francophone World’ conference, 20th-21st century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium, April 1-3 2004, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida (Panel: Gender/Genre Difference and the Love Story).

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


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.

La prise de la parole de la mère: Marie Ndiaye’s "La Sorcière" (1996)


The relationship between mother and text is, overwhelmingly, one in which the mother is figured as object rather than subject of narration (Hirsch, 1989) – the mother-figure, whether metaphorical or literal, being portrayed from others’ perspectives – a son, a daughter, an omniscient narrator… Examples of mothers as subjects of narration do exist – Mme de Sévigné’s letters to her daughter (17th century), Marie Cardinal’s 'La Clé sur la porte' (1972), Annie Ernaux’s 'La Femme gêlée' (1981) – but, since the beginning of the 1990s, the mother as narrative subject is increasingly to be found in women-authored literature (for example, Camille Laurens’s autobiographical 'Philippe' (1995), Christine Angot’s autofictional 'Léonore, toujours' (1994), Marie Darrieussecq’s ‘récit’ 'Le Bébé' (2002) Véronique Olmi’s novel 'Bord de mer' (2001) etc.)). So what are the implications of this 'prise de la parole de la mère' for the relationship between mother and text, between the mother and creativity that is the concern of this conference? A striking number of such maternal narratives evoke loss of different kinds. In the way that much literature is haunted by the loss of or separation from the mother, separation from the child would, in turn, seem to be a constant of mothers’ own narratives (fear or fantasy, inevitable reality…). This paper considers Marie Ndiaye’s novel 'La Sorcière' (1996), a particularly striking narrative of mother-child separation. Emblematic of Ndiaye’s trademark fantastic/realism mix, this novel portrays the mother as a witch, and her twin daughters fly the nest, literally, by transforming themselves into crows. 'La Sorcière' has perplexed feminist analysts, in particular because of the narrator-protagonist-mother’s (self-perceived) mediocrity. Through a close reading of the text which analyses its internal dynamics, I will show how Ndiaye’s exceptional/unexceptional mother-witch-narrator embodies, on a number of different levels, the complex tensions of mothers as subjects, indeed of mothers as narrative subjects.

Lesbian mothering and the family in France


Family demographics in France are currently undergoing a process of change, as they are in other Western cultures. The conventional nuclear family is in decline, and different arrangements are taking its place: single-parent families, post-divorce blended families, homosexual family groupings. Élisabeth Roudinesco (2002) suggests that same-sex parenting – or homoparentalité to use the term increasingly in use in France – may be the source of new models of the family of the future. Yet Roudinesco, among others, also points to the dynamics between sameness and difference, normality and transgression, operating on same-sex parenting. In wanting to have children, to what extent do gay men and lesbians (wish to) integrate themselves into society as ‘normal’, or how far do they desire to assert their difference? Are same-sex families simply part of a general evolution in the family or are they forging new social formations? Questions such as these take on particular resonance in the French context, given the eschewal of identity politics and the hetero-normative family laws of the French Republic. This paper engages with these debates, drawing on a group of narratives of lesbian mothering, both autobiographical témoignages and novels, which, between them, cover a variety of family arrangements and projets d’enfants: Claire Altman’s 'Deux femmes et un couffin' (2005), Myriam Blanc’s 'et elles eurent beaucoup d’enfants…' (2005), Laurence Cinq-Fraix’s 'Family Pride' (2006) and Éliane Girard’s 'Mais qui va garder le chat?' (2005). The discussion interrogates key issues – the question of the father, reproductive technologies, the role of the ‘second’ mother – and evaluates to what extent these narratives of lesbian mothering uphold new paradigms of parenthood.

Threshold worlds: Marie Darrieussecq’s 'Le Pays' (2005)


From bodily metamorphoses to fleshy holograms, from ghosts to clones, the fantastic is a constant element of Marie Darrieussecq’s fiction but, as Shirley Jordan (2004) notes, this aspect of the author’s writing remains open for study. My paper focuses on one of Darrieussecq’s later texts, 'Le Pays' (2005), in order to explore the author’s use of a particular mode of the fantastic that I call the 'future present'. This relates to the novels’ settings at a point in the future, which is on the threshold of the present. This technique was also used in Darrieussecq’s first novels, 'Truismes' (1996) and 'Naissances de fantômes' (1998), and likewise features in two short stories on cloning, republished in 'Zoo' (2006). In situating the analysis of this novel in the context of theories of the fantastic, the paper discusses how its mobilisation of the 'future present' engages with the questions about absence and presence, memory and the past, which run through – or haunt – Darrieussecq’s oeuvre and, it is argued, contribute to a particularly gendered form of the fantastic.

Limits and boundaries in contemporary women’s life writing: the politics of reading Christine Angot


Contemporary life writing in France highlights the issue of limits and borders. Testimonies, confessions, autofictions and autobiographical fictions of varying degrees all work at the threshold of the intimate and the public, and, in doing so, they establish – or disrupt – a range of reading expectations and pacts. The jury is still out on the case of Christine Angot. Since her first novel was published in 1990, she has become a prolific mainstay of the French literary scene, but her work continues to be controversial and receives widely differing responses from scholars and media critics alike. Limits and boundaries lie at the heart of Angot’s experimental oeuvre. She works both at and on literary and social borders, transgressing boundaries, challenging norms, provoking her readers. Her particular brand of life writing carries echoes of performance art, reality shows, video diaries, web blogs. This paper engages with the dynamics of the border in Angot’s work on a number of different levels. While some boundaries are clearly being transgressed, to what extent, and how, are limits also being set? What is at stake in Angot’s precarious treatment of the borderlands between text and life? What issues does her work raise, and what does it have to say about contemporary culture and society? Discussion of these questions draws on examples from across the range of Angot’s work, and addresses the aesthetics of her writing as well as the politics of reading them.

Narratives of mothering in contemporary French women’s writing


This paper presents an overview of a recent research project focusing on narratives of mothering - where the mother is the narrative subject - in contemporary women's writing in France. It considers the various themes that these narratives cluster around, briefly highlights examples of texts in each thematic area, and reflects on the findings. It also reflects on why, at this period in time - the turn of the new millennium - so many texts where the mother is the narrative subject or where her perspective is foregrounded have appeared.

New representations and politics of procreation: surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination and human cloning in contemporary women’s writing in France


This paper focuses on an emerging trend in recent women’s writing in French of literary texts dealing with new reproductive technologies and arrangements and their impact on contemporary parenting patterns. It considers especially the themes of cloning, surrogate mothering and artificial insemination and offers an overview of the texts portraying them. My analysis consider how these texts engage with and contribute to feminist and so-called post-feminist debates on the family, on motherhood and parenting, and on questions of gender and sexuality, identity and difference. These issues will be addressed in relation to the particular cultural, political and legal context of France, during a time of the review of its bioethical laws.

Nov-2000 Agony or ecstasy? Reading Cixous’s recent fiction


Since Cixous’s work was first published over thirty years ago, her fiction has met with extreme reactions. It all depends, it seems, on whether her complex, poetical writing speaks to the reader/critic, or not. At one end of the spectrum, aficionados celebrate her work with their own Cixousian readings of her texts; at the other, her writing is met with accusations of elitism, utopianism, her polysemic fiction just too difficult, too demanding of the reader, untranslatable, unteachable, even unreadable. This polarity in the responses to Cixous’s work deserves further examination, especially given the implications of her polemical feminist-oriented essays of the 1970s which argue for the liberating and transformative power of literature: reading and the reader (thus Cixous’s own readers) must be significant players in the processes of socio-political and psychological change that she envisages, although her small readership and the marginal status of her work means that the impact of her own writing will be limited. In the first instance, this article considers how and why Cixous’s fiction continues to provoke such extreme reactions; it then goes on to engage more specifically with the idea that literature can bring about change by exploring the nature of the interaction between text and reader in Cixous’s work through an analysis of 'Beethoven à jamais ou l’existence de Dieu' (1993). The article is structured around the terms agony and ecstasy, which are not only indicative of the polarity in responses to her texts. Rather, ‘agony’ also carries the sense of struggle from the Greek 'agon', a contest - here, the agon of reading. The Greek root of 'ecstasy', ekstasis, literally means standing outside, beyond one’s normal state of mind or self - here, in the way the reader is encouraged to go beyond, beyond the text, beyond the text/reader agon, beyond even the self.

Oct-2000 Uncertain Readings and Meaningful Dialogues: Language and Sexual Identity in Anne Garréta’s 'Sphinx' and Tahar Ben Jelloun’s 'L’Enfant de sable' and 'La Nuit sacrée'


This article is concerned both with the role of language in the construction and de-construction of sexual identity and with the effects of reading fiction in which the first person narrator is of ambiguous or uncertain gender. Positing reading as a dialogue between text and reader, it shows how the use of language in Garréta’s 'Sphinx' (1986) withholds from the reader knowledge about sexual identity whereas the way language is employed in Ben Jelloun’s two novels, 'L’Enfant de sable' (1985) and 'La Nuit sacrée' (1987), encourages the very notion of sexual identity to be called into question. The article goes on to suggest that the reader’s own identity may well be implicated in the uncertainty which is fostered in the texts, and that, in order to fill the ensuing void, an active, interrogative and creative reading is thus generated. The conclusion emphasises the positive nature of such reading effects, arguing that the process of questioning (our own) knowledge, and thus of the systems which underpin it, is just the first step on the path towards change.

Dec-2006 Maternal Genealogies: the figure of the Mother in/and literature


This is a review article of five volumes on representations of the mother in French, French-Canadian, Caribbean and Western European literatures. It situates them in a feminist theoretical framework and evaluates their contribution to debates on mothers and motherhood.

Dec-2009 The ethics of aesthetics in trauma fiction: memory, guilt and responsibility in Louise L. Lambrichs’s 'Journal d’Hannah'


This article engages with two themes which are key to the special issue, 'The Witness and the Text': (i) the relations between the individual and history, between the private and the public in relation to traumatic events; and (ii) the ethics and aesthetics of testimony and bearing witness, and the role of fiction in this respect. These themes are addressed through analysis of Louise L. Lambrichs's 'Journal d'Hannah' (1993), a fascinating novel, in diary format, about the psychological effects of an abortion, set against the backdrop of the Holocaust. The Jewish woman who reluctantly aborts her second child is in her own mind at once victim, perpetrator and survivor, and consumed by guilt. First, the article considers the mirroring structure of the novel, which arguably invites a comparison between the trauma of the abortion and the trauma of the Holocaust. It then examines the historical context of the setting and the writing of the novel. Finally, it identifies the ethical impetus of the text in its treatment of guilt and responsibility, with particular regard to contemporary France's troubled relationship with its wartime past.

Narratives of mothering


The first introductory chapter to Gill Rye, 'Narratives of Mothering: Women's Writing in Contemporary France' (Newark DE: University of Delaware Press, 2009). Chapter 1 sets out the rationale for the book, including the broad socio-cultural context and the issues it raises in relation to contemporary mothering in France. It outlines the structure of the book and its methodology, and introduces both the themes covered and the corpus of study. The following thematic chapters explore the phenomenon via case studies of texts published after 1990.

Mothering in context


This is the second introductory chapter to Gill Rye, 'Narratives of Mothering: Women's Writing in Contemporary France' (Newark DE: University of Delaware Press, 2009). The first section of Chapter 2 situates the study in the context of feminist theorisations of and debates about mothers and motherhood from Simone de Beauvoir’s 'Le Deuxième Sexe' through to the present, from both French/European and Anglo-American contexts. It ends with an interrogation of the key terms and concepts of analysis. The second section places Narratives of Mothering in a literary context, briefly tracing an intermittent tradition of mothers’ narratives (i.e. from the perspectives of mothers themselves), which the new narratives call up and revitalise. It then reflects on the phenomenon of the recent emergence of significant numbers of narratives of mothering in French literature, and compares it to the situation in other national literatures. The following thematic chapters explore the phenomenon via case studies of texts published after 1990.

In uncertain terms: mothering without guilt in Marie Darrieussecq’s 'Le Mal de mer' and Christine Angot’s 'Léonore, toujours'


This article addresses the issue of maternal guilt, by focusing on contemporary French literature - 'Le Mal de mer' (1999) by Marie Darrieussecq and 'Léonore, toujours' (1994) by Christine Angot, in which mothers refuse to compromise their own needs. It argues that, in their respective expressions of what is arguably guilt-free mothering, both texts using uncertainty tempt the readers’ judgement of the mothers’ mothering, on the one hand, while, on the other, they work against the formulation of a negative judgement. Thus they confront readers with their own prejudices and invite a productive interrogation of mothering itself.

Publications available on SAS-space

Research Projects & Supervisions

Research projects:

Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network

AHRC-funded Network, 29 February 2012-30 November 2013
This project aims to explore, in a specifically European context, cross-cultural, transnational and interdisciplinary dialogue on motherhood, in which the study of literature is integrated. It brings together researchers engaged in studying motherhood in individual contemporary European literatures with researchers and practitioners working on motherhood from philosophy, psychoanalysis, sociology, ethnography, politics and law, as well as art and film studies. By means of a series of workshops, online resources and activities, readings and a major conference and exhibition, the Network explores how representations and narratives of motherhood in contemporary women's writing engage with current discourses from other disciplines.

Professional Affiliations

Professional affiliations:

Name Activity
Society for French Studies French Studies
Women in French Studies US French Studies
Women in French UK French Studies
Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) Interdisciplinary association for the study of motherhood
MaMSIE (Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics) Interdisciplinary network for the study of motherhood


Name Type Activity Start date End date
Contemporary Women's Writing in French Seminar Convenor Events, networking, on-line resources, monthly e-mail newsletter, publications
Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women's Writing Director Events, networking, on-line resources, publications
Relevant Events

Related events:

Date Details
24-Oct-2013 Motherhood in post-1968 European Women's Writing: Cross-Cultural and Interdisciplinary Dialogues

This conference is the culmination of the AHRC-funded Motherhood in post-1968 European Literature Network, and follows five thematic workshops held between May 2012 and June 2013. The main aim of the Network is to raise the profile of contemporary literature as a field of study of motherhood in an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural forum, and to explore how insights from literary studies might contribute to studies of motherhood in other disciplines. The conference aims to continue the cross-cultural and interdisciplinary dialogue of the workshops around representations and narratives of motherhood in women’s writing from across Europe, and to open it up to a larger group of participants. A small number of digital exhibits will supplement the conference.

01-Jan-2010 A Decade of Women’s Writing in France: Trends and Horizons 2000-2010

International conference, 14-16 October 2010, held at the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies,
University of London to mark ten years of the Contemporary Women's Writing in French seminar

Other editing/publishing activities:

Date Details
Studies in Contemporary Women's Writing

General editor of Book series published by Peter Lang

Women in French Studies

Member of Editorial Board

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