Quebec Studies

Narrative Cross-Dressing and Men "Doing" Motherhood: The Case of Marie Auger/Mario G.'s Le ventre en tête

Quebec Studies (2000), 30, (1), 44–56.

Abstract

44 Narrative Cross-Dressing and Men "Doing" Motherhood: The Case of Marie Auger/Mario G.'s Le ventre en tête By Lori Saint-Martin Université du Québec à Montréal Published in 1996 under the signature Marie Auger, Le ventre en tête1 was in fact the first novel of a male writer in his thirties, Mario Girard, as journalists who contacted the author for an interview soon discovered. Paratextual play of this kind is rare and the shock effect earned the novel wider critical coverage than it might otherwise have enjoyed, with mainly favorable reviews.2 Le ventre en tête is narrated by Marie Auger, a young woman who, as the novel's title would have it, has "the womb on the brain" and would do anything to have a baby. But the novel's main event is its language, a kind of verbal free-association based on puns, reworking of popular expressions, use of paronyms, rhyme, vulgarity, and other playful elements which reminded some critics of Réjean Ducharme. The novel is of interest to feminist scholars because it purports to be the work of a female narrator, perhaps "the" archetypal Western woman, Marie, whose only desire is to bear a child. The Marie Auger/Mario Girard mise en scène is signifi­ cant in that it allows us to see what happens when the female voice is staged and appropriated, not only within the novel but also paratextually, on its cover, by a man wearing the mask of femininity.3 Le ventre en tête also questions our reading practices by highlighting the extent to which we unconsciously read literary texts as gendered and interpret them in terms of what we know (or think we know) about their authors. It is impossible to read this novel—or perhaps any novel, although the process is thrown into relief in Auger's case—without taking the writer's sex into account. If Le ventre en tête had actually been written by a woman called Marie Auger, we would not read it in the same way as if it had originally appeared under the sig­ nature Mario Girard. In the first instance, it would have been seen as a strange testimonial by an over-the-edge female; in the second, it would have been read as a male vision of what being a woman means. The actual situation—the novel was written neither by a woman nor by a man presenting himself as such, but rather by a man posing as a woman—is both more problematic and more provocative: the fact that Marie Auger is the fictional "child" of Mario Girard, is in itself an indication of "gender trouble" (Butler) and requires a complex crit­ ical response. The interest that such cases arouse shows that we read not only authors, but "men" or "women," and that a text's signature is a key element in its interpretation. It would be a mistake to assume that all men's writing uncritically repro­ duces the gender status quo while women's writing is somehow "outside" of gender ideology (Felski 27): men's writing can also challenge and play with gender identity, as I will try to show. I want to ask several questions: What does it mean today for a man to write "as a woman," not only through a female nar­ rator but also under a woman's name, in other words as a narrative cross-dresser (Kahn)? What are the textual and political consequences of staging and appro­ priating a female voice, and, in this case, what does a man gain by "doing"—or trying to do—motherhood on multiple levels? How—and why—should we read such texts as feminist critics and theorists? And finally, is the male writer's Québec Studies, Volume 30, Fall/Winter 2000

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Saint-Martin, Lori