Giving a voice to female bodies: Narratives of illness in French

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


The sick body has been the focus of narratives by several contemporary francophone women writers, including Delphine de Vigan’s Jour sans faim (2001), Nicole Malinconi Hopital Silence (1985) and Nous deux (1993) or Lydia Flem’s La reine Alice (2011). Whether writing a pathography stemming from their own experiences of illness, hospitals and cure, or a narrative from the perspective of witnessing a relative going through physical or/and mental illness, or an autofiction/autobiography reflecting on the link between trauma and illness – both as a trigger for or as a result of illness – these writers put the female body to the fore. They depict various pathologies, at different stages of the lives of the patients; ranging from teenagers admitted in hospital for eating disorders to women undergoing gynaecological surgery or abortion, or from accounts of battling cancer to elderly parents treated for dementia and other ailments at the end of their lives.
Drawing on the works of Anne Hunsaker-Hawkins or Arthur W. Frank on the importance of giving a voice to the sick bodies, this paper aims to explore, through a few examples, how pathographies can be seen as key pieces of literature meant to help those reading them or producing them. Through patients putting the illness into words, or stories detailing the medical system’s dealing with the body and its various pathologies, and taking into account the human being or, conversely, treating a body but not a person, pathographies are powerful texts which can lead to a better understanding of the relationship between the body and society.
Period20 Sep 2019
Event titleThe Pathological Body From the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present: European Literary and Cultural Perspectives
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • pathography
  • Women writers
  • Belgian literature
  • illness narratives
  • Trauma
  • body
  • Delphine de Vigan
  • Nicole Malinconi
  • Lydia Flem