The Adulteress’s Children



Women in the novel of adultery are doubly mothers — first because they function in the phantasy-triangle that brings the adultery story out of the oedipal motive, and secondly, more literally but no less complicatedly, because they actually have children in the texts, through whom they suffer and sin. The texts I will look at in this essay are all written by men; in none of them are the mother-child relations casual or tangential: rather, they work within a motivated structure that is at once filial and paternal, in which the woman stands between generations and between the positions of the implied author and the intended reader, in the place where the mother stands in the oedipal triangle, at a point that has to be surpassed. How is she used by her author as a version of that textual reproduction by which he intends to evade the use of the body? How does her desire and its punishment function in his structure of desire, designed according to the masculine mode to win pleasure out of failure? What difference does it make to all this if the text is focalised upon the figure of a man or a woman, or if the desired mother in the text has a daughter or a son?1


Scarlet Fever Textual Reproduction Righteous Anger Family Romance Scarlet Letter 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

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