Laurence (Lorette) Nobécourt

Biography

Lorette Nobécourt (photo by permission of S. Nobécourt)

Lorette Nobécourt was born in 1968 in Paris. She was educated in an Ursuline convent and, before turning to writing, studied theatre, business and journalism. In 1994 Nobécourt’s first novel La Démangeaison was published by Sortilèges. The central character is a young woman who has suffered with psoriasis since early infancy. Her narration of the transformations and eruptions that the disease causes resonates with society’s rejection of others whose lives and bodies seem strange and without clear boundaries. The narrator says of herself ‘Folle, lépreuse, suicidaire, ainsi fut mon rôle, oui, mais je restais donc étrangère’. The disease, while being an individual affliction, also comes to symbolize the making visible of hidden hatreds and hypocrisies in groups related to the narrator, including her family and the wider society. Its onset is presented as ‘[l]a haine à fleur de peau, dénoncée par mon corps’, and a cypher of the relationships of family members who ‘s’accrochaient les uns aux autres, se haïssaient, se dévoraient’. She also declares ‘Ma peau avait éclaté comme le monde que l’on m’a transmis’.

In Nobécourt’s novels, this world is depicted as systematically oppressive to those who are different, as demonstrated most horrifically in Auschwitz and its subsequent forgetting, a theme explored in greater length in Horsita (1999). Her texts lay bare the ways in which unacceptable bodies are removed from society, to hospitals or ultimately to death camps. Nevertheless the narrator of La Démangeaison ultimately attempts liberation from the isolation of illness and difference through acceptance and delight in her body’s leaky boundaries, and through sexual excess with her young lover Rodolphe of whom she says, ‘il pénétra ma peau et mon sexe ensemble’. This and other attempts in La Démangeaison and La Conversation (1998) to ‘parler chair’ have led Nathalie Morello in her article ‘La Démangeaison et La Conversation de Lorette Nobécourt : Quand ‘le parler chair’ devient révolte… féministe?’ (Romance Studies, 20,1, June 2002) to raise and address the question of whether Nobécourt’s texts deploy feminist strategies similar to those advocated by Hélène Cixous and Annie Leclerc. Morello states ‘l’exploration du potential subversif de la sexualité et du corps féminins, le refus de l’ordre au profit du désordre, semblent encourager une lecture féministe’. Yet she also ultimately asserts that the texts encourage neither a feminist nor anti-feminist reading but present narrators constantly reflecting on ‘la nécessité de constamment repenser leur stratégie de résistance afin de déjouer les forces oppressives d’un système caractérisé par une puissance d’adaptation face aux évolutions sociales qui est tout aussi surprenante que pernicieuse’.

In Nobécourt’s works, individual histories as well as collective History are inscribed on the flesh itself – described in L’Equarrissage as ‘la peau sanglante de la mémoire’ – in a space where ‘la mémoire rabotée jusqu’à l’os’ (La Conversation) attempts to reveal and write itself. References to Nobécourt’s own life and the many textual echoes in her texts create a strong unity in her work, defined by a journey through body and mind. The inside of the body is sought after and ends in the revelation of splendour – going through disgust and the abject – that of the nudity of the body finally exposed. Nobécourt thus attempts to reinscribe the body to counter the disappearance of the human being as a subject, in a world where, as Irène describes it in La Conversation, ‘la négation de l’individu s’achève par la négation de son corps’. This goes as far as the creation of a mythical space in Substance (2001).

En nous la vie des morts, published in 2006, is a text that clearly marks a change in style, though still dealing with issues of life and death. Similarly to its central character, Nortatem, who leaves New York to go and live alone in the Vermont after his best friend commits suicide, Nobécourt also experienced solitude, leaving Paris for a year-long stay at the Villa Medici, before going to the Himalayas. This life experience entailed a renewal of her writing in En nous la vie des morts, as a new start in the exploration of the self, memory, life and death, revealing an inner journey. Nortatem’s interior quest leads to a new state of consciousness and appeasement, under the sign of mutation.

This is followed by a return to the autobiographical material in Nobécourt’s texts in L’Usure des jours (2009) which, as she explains in interview, interrupted her literary project that would become Grâce leur soit rendue: ‘j’ai changé de vie, j’ai traversé un épisode psychotique, et j’ai suspendu le roman pour un bref récit, L’Usure des jours, après lequel je ne pensais plus écrire’ (John Jefferson Selve: ‘Le chant libre de Lorette Nobécourt – Entretien’, Edwarda, December 2011). Nobécourt has stated the importance of L’Usure des jours as a turning point in her work: ‘L’Usure des jours est un livre très particulier pour moi, qui, pour la première fois, ne relève d’aucun processus de fiction. Il est comme le centre du chiffre huit, le point où s’achève une première boucle dans mon travail, et celui où prend naissance la deuxième boucle de ce qu’il me reste encore à écrire dans l’avenir. Je reviendrai à la fiction qui autorise une incroyable liberté, mais j’avais besoin, à ce moment-là et pour dire ces choses-là, d’être dans la plus grande rigueur et la plus grande transparence possibles’ (Yann Nicol: ‘Derrière les illusions – Entretien’, Livre & Lire, n°241, April 2009). This announced change is presented through Grâce leur soit rendue (2011), where death is accepted and with which, instead of against which, one must learn to truly live, to live life at its fullest, in a continued quest for freedom.

The importance of the sacred is obvious in Nobécourt’s texts, which was already openly stated in Substance, revealing this impetus towards life rather than death. Through biblical references, through the character of the Indian woman in En nous la vie des morts or through references to Hebraic and Vedic etymologies in L’Usure des jours, Nobécourt reveals in these two texts her various spiritual quests, which stem from an expressed need to quench a thirst for knowledge: ‘J’ai fait silence, je suis partie en pèlerinage, j’ai voulu devenir mage, apprentie kabbaliste, bouddhiste, musulmane soufie, adepte de la méditation transcendantale… J’ai eu soif. Effroyablement. Depuis l’enfance’ (L’Usure des jours). These spiritual quests are intrinsically linked to Nobécourt’s writing, leading towards what Nobécourt herself has described as ‘la vie vivante’: ‘La littérature, c’est exactement cela, ce n’est ni de la réalité, ni de la fiction, mais quelque chose qui est au-delà de l’une et de l’autre et qui a, en effet, à voir directement avec la vie ; ce que j’appelle la vie, c’est-à-dire la vie vivante, la vie habitée par le souffle de l’être. Je tends vers cela à chaque fois que j’écris’ (John Jefferson Selve: ‘Le chant libre de Lorette Nobécourt – Entretien’, Edwarda, December 2011). Patagonie intérieure – a travel diary of Nobécourt’s physical, as well as spiritual journey, to Patagonia – and La Clôture des merveilles - Une vie d’Hildegarde de Bingen – a biography of the 12th-century Saint Hildegard of Bingen – both published in 2013, are a direct continuation of this quest.

In 2016 Nobécourt published a new text, entitled Lorette, but under a different pen name: that of Laurence Nobécourt. This change in name is at the heart of Lorette, in which Nobécourt announces her decision to revert to what is actually her birth name, ‘Laurence’, as opposed to the one she has been using for the last 25 years, ‘Lorette’, both in her personal and public life, and under which she published all of her works up until now. She explains how the name ‘Lorette’ acted as a means of survival, as a protective shell for ‘Laurence’, but how it also hindered her self. Asserting her original name, Lorette is a reflection on her past, a declaration of a second, liberating birth. It reads like a new milestone in Nobécourt spiritual quest towards life itself.

Updated by Carine Fréville (Paris)

Bibliography

La Démangeaison (Paris: Sortilèges, 1994 ; republished Paris: Grasset, 2009)

L’Equarrissage, first published in the short story collection Dix [Virginie Despentes, Lorette Nobécourt, Michel Houellebecq, Caroline Lamarche, Éric Faye, Marie NDiaye, Lydie Salvayre, Stéphane Zagdanski, Dominique Meens, Marie Darrieussecq] (Paris: Grasset/Les Inrockuptibles, 1997) ; then re-published as an individual story (Paris: Mille et une nuits, 2001)

La Conversation (Paris: Grasset, 1998)

Horsita (Paris: Grasset, 1999)

Substance (Paris: Pauvert, 2001)

Nous (Paris: Pauvert, 2002)

En nous la vie des morts (Paris: Grasset, 2006)

L'Usure des jours (Paris: Grasset, 2009)

Grâce leur soit rendue (Paris: Grasset, 2011)

Patagonie intérieure (Paris: Grasset, 2013)

La Clôture des merveilles Une vie d’Hildegarde de Bingen (Paris: Grasset, 2013)

Lorette (Paris: Grasset, 2016) [as Laurence Nobécourt]

Radio Productions

Mais si ce soir, je dîne avec Fédor, Nuits magnétiques: autoportrait (First broadcast: France-Culture, 30 April 1999)

Quasar (Radio creation for children, directed by Blandine Masson; first broadcast: France-Culture, April 2003)

De l’autre côté (Radio play written in collaboration with Jean Assens; first broadcast: France-Culture, 7 September 2011)

Carnets de Patagonie (Carnets de voyage au Chili autour du roman Grâce leur soit rendue) (First broadcast: France-Culture, 14-18 November 2011)

Le Poème perdu (Reading by Laurence Nobécourt recorded on 21 April 2016 at La Maison de la Poésie, broadcast on France-Culture in ‘l’Atelier fiction’, 10 May 2016)

Other

Humbert, Colette (with Lorette Nobécourt): Chemins d’espérance (Paris: Edima Lieu Commun, 1993)

L’Avortement, 20 ans après – Des femmes témoignent, des hommes aussi (under the name of Lorette Thibout) [with a foreword by Benoîte Groult], (Paris: Albin Michel, 1995)

Martin, Christel (in collaboration with Lorette Nobécourt): La Haine n’aura pas le dernier mot – Maggy, la femme aux 10 000 enfants (Paris: Albin Michel, 2005)

Text by Lorette Nobécourt in Sujata Bajaj, L’Ordre du Monde (Paris: Albin Michel, 2007) [with also a text by Jean-Claude Carrière]

Lyon La Confluence : Mémoires en mutation, Cahier no. 2 (Paris: Editions Textuel, 2010) with photographs by Jacques Damez

‘De l’usage à l’usure’ in L’Usage des jours by Guillaume Bardet [creative project] (Paris: Bernard Chauveau Editeur, 2012)

‘La fiction comme insoumission’, foreword by Lorette Nobécourt in Manuel Puig: Le Baiser de la femme-araignée (Paris: Editions Points, 2012)

Le Son du silence by H.J. Lim with Laurence Nobécourt (Paris: Albin Michel, 2016)

‘Lettre à Marina’ (text by Lorette Nobécourt on Marina Tsvetaeva), in L’Une & l’autre, by Marianne Alphant, Gwenaëlle Aubry, Marie Desplechin, Cécile Guilbert, Camille Laurens and Lorette Nobécourt (Paris: L’Iconoclaste, 2015, pp.141-183)

German Translations of Nobécourt’s Work

Gespräch mit Anna [Translation of La Conversatioln by Holger Fock and Sabine Müller] (Munich: Liebeskind, 2001)

Romanian Translations of Nobécourt’s Work

Viaţa morţilor e în noi [Translation of En nous la vie des morts  by Mărgărita Vavi Petrescu] (Bucarest: Editura Leda, 2008)

Updated by Carine Fréville (Paris)

 

Criticism

Borgomano, Madeleine: ‘Ouvrir Hortense ou l’écorchée vive: Horsita de Lorette Nobécourt’ in Nouvelles écrivaines: nouvelles voix? ed. by Nathalie Morello and Catherine Rodgers (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002, pp. 233-251)

Cairns, Lucille: ‘Dissidences charnelles: The Female Body in Revolt’, in The Flesh in the Text ed. by Thomas Baldwin, James Fowler and Shane Weller (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007, pp. 205-225)

Czarny, Norbert: ‘Dans la langue de personne’ (La Quinzaine Littéraire, 1-15 September 1999)

Détrez, Christine and Simon, Anne: À leur Corps défendant – Les femmes à l’épreuve du nouvel ordre moral (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2006)

Feggelen, Barbara van: ‘Lorette Nobécourt’s La Conversation: A Game of Solitaire or a Jeu de Société?’ (Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 14.3, June 2010, pp. 247-256)

Filleul, François: ‘La Revendication du corps chez Lorette Nobécourt: Désir versus aliénation’ (Revista de filología 20, 2002, pp. 71-85)

Fréville, Carine: ‘Avortements et violences maternelles dans les œuvres de Lorette Nobécourt’ in Contemporary Women’s Representations of Wounded Bodies and Minds ed. by Ana de Medeiros and Carine Fréville (International Journal of Francophone Studies, 15.2 [Special issue], 2012, pp. 257-275)

Frey, Pascale: ‘Lorette Nobécourt en sa cellule’ (Lire, September 1999, p. 38)

Grenaudier-Klijn, France: ‘Le don de soi: la place de l’autre dans les romans de Lorette Nobécourt’ (Dalhousie French Studies: Hybrid Voices, Hybrid Texts: Women’s Writing at the Turn of the Millennium ed.by Gill Rye [Special issue], Autumn 2004, pp. 79-87)

Jacob, Didier: ‘Mesdames sans gêne’ (Nouvel Observateur [Hors série] 39, 1999)

Jones, Katie: Representing Repulsion: The Aesthetics of Disgust in Contemporary Women’s Writing in French and German (Oxford: Peter Lang [Studies in Contemporary Women’s Writing 2], 2013)

Jordan, Shirley Ann: ‘The Writing of Lorette Nobécourt: Body Matter(s) and Narrative Acts’, chapter 6 of Contemporary French Women’s Writing – Women’s Visions, Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives (Oxford &New York: Peter Lang, 2004, pp.219-253)

—: ‘Figuring Out the Family: Family as Everyday Practice in Contemporary French Women’s Writing’ in Affaires de famille: The Family in Contemporary French Culture and Theory ed. by Marie-Claire Barnet and Edward Welch (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2007, pp.39-58)

Ledoux-Beaugrand, Evelyne: ‘Ecriture épidermique : Symptomatologie de la filiation dans La Démangeaison de Lorette Nobécourt’ (Equinoxes, 4, Autumn/Winter 2004-2005)

Morello, Nathalie: ‘La Démangeaison et La Conversation de Lorette Nobécourt : Quand “le parler chair” devient révolte… féministe?’ (Romance Studies, 20.1, June 2002)

—: ‘La culpabilité dans la fiction de Lorette Nobécourt’ (Dalhousie French Studies, 66, Spring 2004, pp. 89-99)

—: ‘Un coupable peut en cacher une autre : Lutte “à mort” avec la mère dans trois romans de Lorette Nobécourt – La Démangeaison, La Conversation et Horsita’ (Nottingham French Studies, 43.3, 2004, pp.70-82)

— : ‘Maudire, dire les maux ou chercher les mots pour le dire? L’écriture du souvenir dans la fiction de Lorette Nobécourt’ in Affaires de famille: The Family in Contemporary French Culture and Theory ed. by Marie-Claire Barnet and Edward Welch (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2007, pp.59-79)

— : ‘Avortement/accouchement de soi/ de l’autre: Le douloureux apprentissage de l’être femme dans la fiction de Nobécourt’ (Australian Journal of French Studies 2005, pp. 122-135)

Robson, Kathryn: ‘L’Ecriture de peau: The Body as Witness in Lorette Nobecourt’s La Demangeaison’ (Nottingham French Studies, 45.3, Autumn 2006, pp.66-77)

Simon, Anne: ‘Tota mulier in utero? Réorientations de la maïeutique chez les romancières contemporaines’ in Simon, Anne: ‘Tota mulier in utero? Réorientations de la maïeutique chez les romancières contemporaines’ in Voyages intérieurs ed. by Hugues Marchal and Anne Simon (FRE 2332 ‘Écritures de la modernité’, Université de Paris 3 – CNRS, 2004, pp. 32–43)

—: ‘Embryon, femme, médecin: accouchement et avortement chez les romancières contemporaines’ in The Resilient Female Body – Health and Malaise in Twentieth-Century France ed. by Maggie Allison and Yvette Rocheron (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007, pp. 115–132)

—: ‘Vénus ouvertes: procréation et avortement chez les romancières contemporaines’ in Guerre et paix des sexes ed. by Julia Kristeva (Paris: Hachette, 2009, pp. 242–250)

Updated by Carine Fréville (Paris) with Dominique Carlini-Versini (Kent)

 

Interviews

Barillé, Elisabeth: ‘Lorette Nobécourt : le livre d’une renaissance’ (Atmosphère, 2001)

Chabrol, Anne: ‘Dimanche matin avec… Lorette Nobécourt’ (Cosmopolitain, September 1999)

Detandt, Michel: ‘Cinq questions à Lorette Nobécourt’ (Ciné-Revue, 1 June 1998, p. 24)

Eder, Alexis: ‘Lorette Nobécourt’ (Repérages, November 2001)

Guichard, Thierry: ‘Quête romanesque – Entretien’ (Le Matricule des Anges, September 2011)

Kaprièlian, Nelly: ‘Démons ou merveilles’ (Les Inrockuptibles, 561, 29 August 2006)

Kelly, Marie: ‘Une œuvre grattée jusqu’au sang’ (Polystyrène, n°46, October 2001)

Lortholary, Isabelle: ‘Interview Lorette Nobécourt : L’écrit du cœur’ (Elle, 23 September 2011)

—: ‘Lorette Nobécourt : “Ecrire, c’est être libre”’ (L’Express Styles, 26 June 2013, pp. 64-65)

Nicol, Yann: ‘Derrière les illusions – Entretien’ (Livre & Lire, 241, April 2009, p. 2)

Selve, John Jefferson: ‘Le chant libre de Lorette Nobécourt – Entretien’ (Edwarda, December 2011)

Compiled by Carine Fréville (Paris)