• María Victoria Ramírez Martínez

Annie Ernaux, the unpresentable

By: María Victoria Ramírez


I must admit that I have not read Annie Ernaux, but promising myself that I will, and soon, I cannot let this moment pass to talk about what it means for a woman, especially one like her, to have won the Nobel Prize for literature. Annie Thérèse Blanche Ernaux is the first French woman to receive the distinction, since 1901, the sixteenth French writer, eight years after Patrick Modiano, and the seventeenth woman [1].


Among all that has been published as a result of the award, I found out that a young Colombian woman, Manuela Eusse Ruiz, a writer graduated from the Javeriana University and a Master in Literature, Art and Contemporary Thought from the Paris Diderot University, is an expert in Annie Ernaux, because she did her master's thesis on the work of this author.


In an interview conducted by the Colombian journalist Yolanda Ruiz, Manuela describes Annie Ernaux's writing as very particular. She began writing autobiographical fiction novels, but in her fourth book, The place, she made a break, since this work is a non-fiction autobiographical about her father's life, written in a very simple, austere and refined language. In this case, the conscious decision to reject the use of rhetorical figures is observed, to the elaborate language to use a language that, according to the author, could hear their parents, people of humble extraction. Her parents were owners of a small shop in a small French town who had been workers; so Annie is an example of what is known as a class turncoat [2].


It is interesting that the Nobel should be awarded to a woman who places herself and her work beyond literature or outside of literature, who feels much more about sociology, history or ethnology than the language of fiction. This was reported by the New York Times, citing Ernaux: For decades, the French writer Annie Ernaux has dissected the most humiliating, private and scandalous moments from her past with almost clinical precision: “I shall carry out an ethnological study of myself,” she wrote in her 1997 memoir “Shame.”


Likewise, in statements to ABC culture, the author assured: “On a personal note, I am not sure that many of my books are novels. Fictions? Not always. It is not clear. I limit myself to remembering, observing, looking, and trying to tell, objectively, without interfering beyond what is essential to be able to count clearly”.


But Annie Ernaux is not just a laureate writer at 82 years old. She is a committed feminist and a woman with left-wing political positions who publicly supported the different candidacies of Jean-Luc Mélenchon for the presidency of France and in the last presidential election she stated, in a statement of political pragmatism: “In France, politics is macho from an almost institutional point of view. It all started with the institutions of the Fifth Republic, General de Gaulle, the providential man. It's all about men, very virile. All my life, those confrontations, those duels, have seemed unbearable to me. From the first audiovisual duels between Giscard and Mitterrand. Men thing. In the last presidential election, for the first time, it was a duel between a man and a woman, Macron against Le Pen. How awful. I had voted for Mélenchon, in the first round. But I decided to vote for Macron in the second, holding my nose. What happened to Marine Le Pen would have been too much, a catastrophe”. [3].


Annie Ernaux has addressed in her work core issues of the feminist struggle such as abortion and contraception. In her book The Event, published in 2000, which was also made into a film, the author recounts her abortion in the 1960s, as a university student, when it was still illegal in France [4].


After five decades of defending feminist ideals, Ernaux affirms “it does not seem to me that women have been equal in freedom, in power”, and strongly defended the rights of women to abortion and contraception. “I will fight until the last breath so that women can choose to be a mother or not to be. It is a fundamental right ” [5].


This award has been given to a woman who goes beyond the canons of literature, who also does not hide her political positions and who defends sexual and reproductive rights and all freedoms; Ernaux is well aware that her award is not liked by many. It seemed impossible to her, but it happened. “I am very surprised, are you sure that they have granted it to me?” She asked the Swedish Press Agency TT.


According to Manuela Eusse Ruiz, this Nobel Prize is also a triumph for the feminist movement because narrative and activism overlap in Ernaux's work. Ernaux has raised the flags against class domination, against sexism and has combated racism [2]. One could assure that with this prize the Swedish Academy also makes a political declaration of support for the causes that Ernaux embodies and distances itself from those who claim political neutrality in the prize and from those who aspired to have it awarded to another French writer whom accused of Islamophobic positions, Michel Houellebecq.


As a woman, as a feminist, I cannot hide my joy that a woman like Annie has been recognized. When a woman succeeds, we all advance. That her way of seeing and living the world and narrating it is worthy of the award, shows that little by little we have been transforming the world.


Annie is also a direct woman; This is how she replyed to the question about one of the movements that has shaken different spheres of patriarchal power “Mee too? Feminism, politics? Something very profound changed that movement. It was a positive cataclysm. The proof: the enthusiasm with which the gentlemen who previously considered me unpresentable applaud me today”.

References [1] Le Monde, «Annie Ernaux, une Nobel dont le « je » dit l’expérience commune,» Raphaëlle Leyris, 7 octubre 2022. [En línea]. Available: https://www.lemonde.fr/livres/article/2022/10/07/avec-annie-ernaux-le-prix-nobel-recompense-une-uvre-constante-tranchante-et-intense-qui-a-fait-evoluer-la-litterature-francaise_6144757_3260.html. [Último acceso: 12 octubre 2022].

[2] Yolanda Ruiz, «Annie Ernaux, Premio Nobel de Literatura,» 8 octubre 2022. [En línea]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnIxD2najv4. [Último acceso: 12 octubre 2022]. [3] ABC cultura, «Annie Ernaux, premio Nobel de Literatura 2022: «En Francia la política es machista»,» 6 octubre 2022. [En línea]. Available: https://www.abc.es/cultura/annie-ernaux-premio-nobel-literatura-2022-francia-20221006191243-nt.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.abc.es%2Fcultura%2Fannie-ernaux-premio-nobel-literatura-2022-francia-20221006191243-nt.html. [Último acceso: 12 octubre 2022]. [4] ABC Cultura, «Cuatro libros fundamentales de Annie Ernaux, premio Nobel de Literatura 2022,» 6 octubre 2022. [En línea]. Available: https://www.abc.es/cultura/libros/cuatro-libros-fundamentales-annie-ernaux-premio-nobel-20221006141152-nt.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.abc.es%2Fcultura%2Flibros%2Fcuatro-libros-fundamentales-annie-ernaux-premio-nobel-20221006141152-nt.html. [Último acceso: 12 octubre 2022]. [5] Dailly News, «Annie Ernaux strongly defends feminist ideas,» 8 octubre 2022. [En línea]. Available: https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/annie-ernaux-strongly-defends-feminist-ideas-177537. [Último acceso: 12 octubre 2022].