Auto/biography and Life Writing
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ItemTruth-telling: a passage to survival in Doris Brett's "Eating the Underworld. A Memoir in Three Voices".(CRINI/CEC, Université de Nantes, 2006)Doris Brett is a poet, writer and psychotherapist whose 2001 book, "Eating the Underworld. A Memoir in Three Voices", tells three concurrent stories about survival. The author survives ovarian cancer and its return; she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors whose experiences are the background to her own childhood; and she describes herself as a survivor of childhood sibling abuse. The three stories have subterranean links which Brett uncovers in ways that raise ethical and psychological questions of great complexity. Layers of understanding about family and memory are knitted together through three different narrative strategies: poetry, journal writing and fairy tales. The result is as complex as a Fair Isle sweater. This multifaceted effort at truth-telling becomes Brett's passage to survival; through the processes of negotiating and narrating she constructs an identity that enables her to make sense of her life. Brett's first story in "Eating the Underworld" is the intimately personal one of her physical and emotional experience of ovarian cancer, and its recurrence, which covers a period of several years. Her second narrative is motivated by and is a response to the writings of her sister Lily Brett. Lily, herself a well-established poet, short story writer and essayist, has written extensively as the child of Holocaust survivors. Readers of "Eating the Underworld" have no way to adjudicate between the two sisters' versions of their mother, but in choosing to write memoir rather than fiction, Doris has implicitly entered into a ‘pact’ with her readers. What part can fairy tales possibly play in such 'will to truth'? Do fairy tales lie outside any autobiographical pact in Doris's memoir? If so, why has she included them and why does she give the very last words in the book to her fairy tale characters? What kind of narrative trust can include the use of fairy tales and how are readers expected to relate them to the journal and poetry sections of "Eating the Underworld"?
ItemEthical bearings in an Inter-generational Auto/biography: writing in my mother's voice.(Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2005)"Beatrice Speaking" is an account of three years of my mother’s life (from 1945 to 1948). The narrative is written in the first-person voice of Beatrice, my mother (not, of course, her real name), and is framed by a prologue and epilogue in the first-person voice of one of her children (myself) in the present. I have struggled to find a name for the hybrid offspring that I have produced; intergenerational auto/biography is much closer than any of the alternatives. I want to explain the reason for my difficult decision to tell this story in the first-person narrating voice of Beatrice. To write in my mother’s voice raises ethical problems about appropriation and authenticity; more immediately, for years this was simply an impossibly presumptuous thing for me to do. Using the third-person ‘she’ was the only way to balance my role as writer and creator of the character Beatrice against my sense of intrusion into my mother’s private life. All the writing I did about her earlier life ("Inventing Beatrice") was done in this third-person voice. But when I came to the 1945–1948 period, I became stuck. I had writer’s block. During six months I slowly realised that I had only two choices: I could either use Beatrice’s own first-person voice (being honest and faithful to her letters) or else I would fall silent altogether. I chose the first option, to let Beatrice speak for herself, and started writing again. The biggest leap that this entailed was putting myself into her (Beatrice’s/my mother’s) moral space, living within it and accepting it at the same time as I profoundly rejected at least some of it for myself.
Item"Inventing Beatrice": Writing an Auto/biography.(Hecate Press, in association with the Centre for Women, Gender, Culture and Social Change Research, in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at the University of Queensland., 2000)'Mob' was the name adopted by a group of young women who were Arts students at Melbourne University between 1928 and 1935. They saw themselves as 'a slightly chosen race of free and original spirits', resisting the conventions of their time and place. I have written the story of one of those women, who became my mother. On the basis of extensive letters and diaries I imagine and plot what she and 'Mob' did, thought, felt and said. I also ask myself: what was untold/untellable in the lives of these particular women? In this paper I focus on lesbian love, and the self-surveillance of its boundaries amongst the women. I discuss the use and/or abuse of letters and diaries in the writing of an auto/biography. I also examine my own writing processes - the questions that came to the surface as I recreated a life story through the particular lens of the mother-daughter relationship. I want to position myself at the outset as an auto/biography writer with academic interests, rather than the reverse. This is not a theoretical paper. It deals with the process of using diaries and letters to write a biography of my mother, which simultaneously became a kind of autobiography. It is a movement from silence to narrative. It is a story about the construction of identity, and in particular about being female in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s.
ItemLetters from Dorothy Brett, 1929 to 1935.(Regents of the University of Colorado, 1999)In mid-1929 Kathleen Cooke, a third-year Arts student at Melbourne University in Australia, was given permission to write her English thesis on Katherine Mansfield who had died in 1923. Miss Cooke wrote to several people whom she hoped might help her. These were John Middleton Murry, Mansfield's husband; Walter Lehman; Lesley Moore, Mansfield's friend and girlhood lover; and Dorothy Brett, artist and friend, who had gone to Taos in New Mexico in 1923 with D.H. Lawrence and Frieda Lawrence and who continued to live there. The ten letters (seven from Brett) received by Miss Cooke between 1929 and 1935 have never been published. By the time Brett died in 1977 she had a substantial reputation as an artist. She also had her own philosophy of life which she lived with integrity. She seems to have been a significant influence on the life of Kathleen Cooke, Jill Golden's mother.