Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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we can pick and choose not only ou r mothers but among their
qualities!” extends “m o therhood” to a m atter o f choice. Beatrix
creates literary and religious “mo thers” by rewriting the lives
o f women who gave birth to books ra th e r than children: Emily
Dickinson, Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott, and Charlotte
Forten; as well as the Jewish matriarchs: Sara, Rivka, Lea and
Rahel. She does so to discover what she might learn from their
relationships as daughters, lovers and mothers.
B roner also extends “m o therhood” to the anonymous and
timeless realm o f folk wisdom. In a teaching style reminiscent
o f elementary school primers, she presents mo thers’ disembod­
ied advice to daugh ters th rough a recurring refrain o f a rid ­
dling dialogue, in which the form er respond to the latters’ an ­
nouncements about having their own daugh ters by mouthing
variations o f traditional patriarchal wisdom about being a wom­
an. Whatever B roner’s intent, the story that
Her Mothers
is at heart the patriarchal story o f women in conflict with each
other, competing to please men, as the harshness o f many o f
these mothers’ responses makes clear:
“ ‘Mother I ’m p regnan t with a baby girl and she’s dream ing .’
‘Don’t let her tell anyone.’
‘Her dreams are betrayed!’
‘She told someone.’”
In the world in which Beatrix grows up, ra th e r than providing
acceptance and comfort, mothers are either absent o r in conflict
with their daughters. Beatrix’s mo ther repeatedly embarrasses
her by laughing shrilly at the way she looks; Jan ice’s mo ther
could never accept her d augh te r’s size. T h a t the root o f the
conflict is competition for men is clear, for example, when Lois’s
mo ther says, “I ra th e r though t I was your p a r tn e r” to her hus­
band when he dances with his daugh ter. And when all the
daugh ters envy Pauline’s ultimate revenge: a fter firing her
mo ther at work, Pauline moves in with he r m o ther’s lover.
Beatrix’s search for o ther mothers repeats the same story:
“What do I learn from my mothers? Sister against sister, woman
betrays woman.” A lesson she had already learned when she
found her husband in bed with her best friend. And when she
discovers that all he r literary “mo thers” are — like herself, and