Motherhood Makes You Obscene


Best of 2019

We’re away until January 6, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2019. Enjoy your holiday!

Marguerite Duras.

My mother had green eyes. Black hair. Her name was Marie Augustine Adeline Legrand. She was born a peasant, daughter of farmers, near Dunkirk. She had one sister and seven brothers. She went to teachers college, on a scholarship, and she taught in Dunkirk. The day after an inspection, the inspector who had visited her class asked for her hand in marriage. Love at first sight. They got married and left for Indochina. Between 1900 and 1903. A sort of commitment, adventure, a sort of desire, too, not for fortune but for success. They left like heroes, pioneers, they visited the schools in oxcarts, they brought everything, quills, paper, ink. They had succumbed to the posters of the era urging, as if they were soldiers: “Enlist.”

She was beautiful, my mother, she was very charming. Many men wanted her over the years, but as far as I know, nothing ever happened outside of her marriages. She was brilliant, and had an incredible way with words. I remember her being fought over at parties. She was one of a kind, very funny, often laughing, wholeheartedly. She was not coquettish, all she did was wash herself, she was always extremely clean. She had a sewing machine but she didn’t know what to have it make. I, too, until I was fourteen or fifteen, dressed like her, in sack dresses. When I started to become interested in men, I picked out my outfits more carefully. Then my mother had me sew incredible dresses, with frills, that made me look like a lampshade. I wore it all.

I’ve written so much about my mother. I can say that I owe her everything. In my everyday life, I don’t do anything that she didn’t do. For example, my way of cooking, of preparing a navarin of lamb, blanquettes. My love of ingredients, she had, too. I bore everyone at home with that. When there’s no extra bottle of oil on hand, it’s a problem. That’s normal. What’s abnormal is buying only one bottle of oil. What can you do with just one bottle of oil? What a disaster! What I’ve also inherited from my mother is fear, the fear of germs, along with the constant need to disinfect. This stems from my colonial childhood. Although my mother was very smart about practical things, she didn’t concern herself at all with the domestic realm. As if it didn’t exist. As if the house were a temporary thing, a waiting room. But the floors were washed every day. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more clean than my mother.