The Silence of the Mothers: Art Spiegelman's Maus and Philippe Claudel's Brodeck

Helena Duffy

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Spiegelman’s Maus and Claudel’s Brodeck both retell the Holocaust using potentially controversial postmodern narrative strategies. Namely, while simultaneously inscribing and subverting the conventions of a beast fable and survivor’s testimony, they offer a metafictional meditation on the representational difficulties posed by their subject. While keeping their postmodern character in mind, here I will, however, focus on the two novels’ efforts to foreground the Jewish mother’s predicament, which until very recently was glossed over by Holocaust historians. Behind this marginalisation was the assumption that both men and women suffered in essentially the same way, and the correlated fear of displacing attention from racism to misogyny, or of tarnishing the victims’ memory with discussions of rape, abortion, amenorrhea, or infanticide. Much attention has already been given to the double silencing of the story of Anja Spiegelman (Marianne Hirsch 1997; Michael Rothberg, 1994; Charles Hatfield, 2005), whose diaries are first lost in wartime Poland and then, after her suicide in postwar America, destroyed by her husband, Vladek. Anja’s loss of her first child, Richieu, is therefore necessarily mediated by her husband and then by her writer-son. The criticism of Maus will provide the starting point for my analysis of Brodeck where Émelia’s rape is narrated by her husband, a concentration camp survivor. In Claudel’s novel the woman’s voicelessness is actualised through the aphasia Émelia succumbs to as a result of the sexual violence she suffers. Unable to verbalise her ordeal, she narrates it with her body when she gives birth to a child conceived during the rape and when, some time later, Brodeck hides his narrative of wartime violence by wrapping his manuscript around his wife’s belly. Hence, although the novel seemingly perpetuates the dominance of the male perspective, it gives the woman a voice by making her the co-author of Brodeck’s indictment of his executioners. The novel further integrates Émelia’s experience into the history of the Holocaust by softening the border between the gender-related categories of writing and weaving, Émelia’s profession as embroiderer being reflected in Brodeck’s name (‘broder’ in French means ‘to embroider’). While framing my analysis with Hélène Cixous’s and Luce Irigaray’s theory on the corporeality of l’écriture feminine, and with Nancy K. Miller’s ‘arachnologies’, I will decipher the double-voicedness of Claudel’s novel as a typically postmodern inscription and critique of the male survivor’s testimony that typically sidelines the female experience of the Nazi persecution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-154
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Holocaust Research
Issue number2
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Apr 2020


  • Motherhood
  • holocaust

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