Annie Ernaux, author of the intimate who has become an icon of feminists

By rewarding Annie Ernaux, the Nobel committee celebrates a long-term autobiographical work but also an author who claims to be on the left and who is…

By rewarding Annie Ernaux, the Nobel committee celebrates a long-term autobiographical work but also an author who claims to be left-wing and who has become a reference for feminists.

To receive the Nobel is to receive the responsibility “to bear witness (…) to a form of fairness, of justice, in relation to the world”, reacted the author. As a reflection of her works, x-rays of the intimacy of a woman who has evolved according to the upheavals of French society since the post-war period.

In recent years, his work has retrospectively taken on a new dimension, as new generations have rediscovered it. So much so that many intellectuals, from the feminist filmmaker Céline Sciamma to the writer of “class defectors” Edouard Louis, have claimed their heritage.

An influence which she still pretended to be surprised about recently, declaring in May to AFP that she felt “woman. A woman who writes, that’s all”.

However, before the Nobel, this literature professor at the University of Cergy-Pontoise had already received the Renaudot Prize in 1984 for “La Place” and was a finalist for the prestigious international Booker Prize in 2019.

She has written about twenty stories, where she dissects the weight of class domination and amorous passion, two themes that have marked her itinerary as a woman torn because of her working-class origins.

A claimed left-wing writer, Annie Ernaux draws on Bourdieusian sociology, the discovery of which in the 1970s allows her to identify the “social malaise” that gnaws at her as soon as she enters a private school in the 1950s.

Born in 1940, she lived until she was 18 in her parents’ “dirty, filthy, ugly, disgusting” café-grocery store in Yvetot in Haute-Normandie, from which she will extract herself thanks to an aggregation of modern letters obtained by dint of intense intellectual work.

From “Empty Cabinets” (1974) to “Years” (2008), the author will go from a harsh and violent first little novel to this generous historical autobiography.

In “The Empty Cabinets”, her heroine describes with rage the two incompatible worlds in which she evolves during her adolescence: on the one hand, ignorance, filth, the vulgarity of drunken customers, the petty little habits of her grocers of parents and on the other “the facility, the lightness of the girls of the free school” resulting from the lower middle class.

“Romance of a Generation”

Over the stories all published by Gallimard, the author will repair the betrayal she believes to have committed towards her parents by devoting a reconciled portrait to them in “La Place” and “Une femme” (1988).

With “The Years”, she evokes her life to trace the novel of a whole generation, that of the children of the war marked by existentialism in the 1950s and sexual liberation.

“I consider myself very little as a singular being but as a sum of experiences, of determinations also, social, historical, sexual, of languages ​​and continually in dialogue with the world (past and present)”, she writes in “L ‘writing like a knife’.

From then on, writing becomes a means of reaching the intimate experience of her feminine condition modeled by Simone de Beauvoir: her failed deflowering in “La Honte” (1997) then in “Mémoire de fille” (2016 – BIEN 2016) , her illegal abortion experienced in 1963 as a social emancipation in “L’Evénement” (2000), the failure of her marriage in “La femme gelée” (1981) or her breast cancer in “L’usage de la photo ” (2005).

Judged by her detractors as an obscene and miserable writer, she shocked by the crude description of amorous alienation in “Simple Passion” (1992).

Installed since 1977 in Cergy-Pontoise, she has devoted many writings to this new town in the Parisian suburbs describing the life of her fellows whom she meets in supermarkets or the RER.

In “The newspaper from outside” (1993), “The outside life” (2000) or “Look at the lights my love” (2014), she brings banal subjects into literature, always with the same ethnographic rigor.

Octogenarian, she knows a strong media exposure with the adaptation to the cinema of “The Event” (Prix Lumières and Golden Lion in Venice) and “Passion simple”.


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Annie Ernaux, author of the intimate who has become an icon of feminists