Annie Ernaux, Nobel Prize for Literature 2022: “I saw myself become a mother and a servant of my husband, forced to write in secret”

“My goal in life is that my body, my sensations and my thoughts become writing, that my existence is completely dissolved in the minds and lives of others,” he assured us.
annie ernaux (Lillebonne, France, 1940) before receiving the
Nobel Prize for Literature 2022.

Given the sense of commitment by which it has been governed for over half a century -with the
feminism, with progressive ideas, against class inequality – his election is incredibly relevant at this time. However, it would be unfair to explain the award exclusively in those terms.

Annie Ernaux, the pioneer of autofiction (although she doesn’t want to)

Through more than twenty essentially autobiographical stories, she has perfected a unique literary form – many consider her to be a pioneer of the subgenre known as
autofictionbut that is a label that she denies–, in which intimacy, sociology, politics and memory reach the perfect fusion, and that works as
modern society seismograph.

“I consider myself a sum of cultural and sexual experiences and postulates that remain in dialogue with the world,” she explains about her method. his is the sixteenth
Nobel Prize for Literature that goes to France –the previous 15 were won by men–, and the seventeenth that a woman receives in the history of the awards.

The Swedish Academy, responsible for granting them, has highlighted his work for “the courage and clinical acuity with which he discovers the roots, the distances and the collective restrictions of personal memory”, and none of his works makes these qualities as clear as ‘
The years‘ (2008), an epic portrait of six decades of his life, and of everyone’s, which gave him international recognition.

His first film, at 80

And, given his persistent interest in the art of reminiscing, it makes perfect sense that he should have a sizeable collection of home movies from which he has created
His first movie. Ernaux has made his debut in the cinema, over 80, with a medium-length film, which comes shortly after the premiere of the screen adaptations of two of his best books, ‘Pure passion’ (1992) and ‘The event’ (2000 ).

The Super 8 Years‘ recovers fragments of family recordings shot between 1972 and 1981 by her husband, Philippe Ernaux, and illustrates them with a text written and read by herself as a sober, precise and moving chronicle,
about the slow dissolution of a marriage.

“Those 10 years are the most important of my life, because in their course I decided to attend to my need to write, and I managed to conquer my freedom,” he comments about the film, which
directed with his son David Ernaux-Briot. Throughout his footage we attend birthday parties, Christmas celebrations and snow escapes; also to trips to Salvador Allende’s Chile, to Spain and Portugal after their respective dictatorships, to communist Albania and Russia. “At that time, we believed that the world was going to expand endlessly, that it would open up to cultural and political progress.
How naive we were!“, remember.

A woman out of place

Through his sad blue eyes and a forced smile, Ernaux reveals himself as
a woman out of place, unable to explain what he is doing there. «I, who had been a strong and independent young woman, saw myself become a mother and a servant and cook for my husband,
forced to write secretly».

His first book, ‘
the empty cabinets‘, was published in France in 1974. “I turned to him to get away from Philippe and the world he and my in-laws represented.” The writer was born in Normandy, within
a family “exploited by the systemwith an illiterate grandfather and parents who had started working in a factory as children.

Until he left home to study, his life was spent in the family business, a “dirty, ugly and disgusting” place, half cafeteria, half grocery store. “What prompted me to write was just that: the
awareness of being a class dropout, and the need to understand how I came to become a bourgeois”, she acknowledges. “A deserter remains forever as someone who does not belong to any world, neither the one from which he comes nor the one in which he lives.”

A play based on his most traumatic and humiliating moments

For her, language is like a scalpel.
His style is austere, devoid of lyricism and metaphors or pretty phrases; Using such flourishes, she argues, would mean betraying her social class, to make her acceptable to bourgeois publishers and readers, and also betraying “all women to make their bodies and sex lives palatable to the patriarchy.”

She defines her work as an ethnological study of herself, a succession of
traumatic and humiliating moments of his past: in ‘The Event’ he talked about the
clandestine abortion to which he underwent in 1963; in ‘Memory of girl’ (2016) he remembered his
first sexual intercourse, at the age of 18, whose brutality left him with deep psychological scars; ‘El uso de la foto’ (2005) served to relive his experience with the
breast cancer; and in ‘I haven’t left my night’ (1997) she reflected on the
senile dementia of his mother. And Shame (1997), begins like this: «My father tried to kill my mother one Sunday in June, early in the afternoon».

Her stark prose has led her to be judged as
“obscene” and “miserable” by his detractors, and his response to criticism was always the same: “I have never let it get to me, because I know it comes from those who fear social justice and cling to ancient hierarchies.”

He unleashed the scandal with the publication of ‘Pure passion’, whose pages describe his torrid
sexual intercourse with a married manand returned to address a taboo in ‘The young man’, the story about his romantic relationship with
a man 30 years younger which he published in France in the spring. “Mature women continue to be ostracized. As soon as we stop being fertile, society takes away our sensuality and our erotic power.

Criticism after the Nobel

The award of the Nobel has been criticized for the explicit support of the writer to
Unsubmissive France, the left-wing group led by Jen-Luc Mélenchon. “I am infuriated by the inequality of styles, conditions and life expectancies that two different babies can have at birth, and that has increased dramatically in the last 30 years,” he told us about his political commitment.

“It is unacceptable that today’s societies remain more focused on perpetuating differences of religion and race than on making progress in education, health, feminism and environmentalism. Y
I can’t stay quiet about it, because anyone who has the power to be heard has a duty to speak.”

In any case, for her, literature responds to a very personal need. «Sometimes I have so little impression of living reality that putting it in writing helps me to experience it. That’s why
I need to write every day, because a day without doing it is a day wasted. Sometimes I wonder if spending so much time on it has caused me to miss out on other important things, but then I think of all the letters I get from people claiming that a book of mine has saved their lives. Then I understand that I was born for this.

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Annie Ernaux, Nobel Prize for Literature 2022: “I saw myself become a mother and a servant of my husband, forced to write in secret”