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Journal Article

Matrimony: Re-Conceiving the Mother in Philip Roth's Life Writing

Tony Fong
Philip Roth Studies
Vol. 8, No. 1, Roth & Women (Spring 2012), pp. 63-80
Published by: Purdue University Press
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Page Count: 18

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Topics: Patrimony, Mothers, Writers, Sons, Poetry, Fathers, Writing, Autobiographies, Memoirs, Death
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Matrimony: Re-Conceiving the Mother in Philip Roth's Life Writing
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ABSTRACT While Philip Roth has written many “autobiographical” novels, this essay focuses on The Facts (1988) and Patrimony (1991), the novelist's two explicit works of life writing. In both texts, Roth's significant “others” make demands on him, threatening his “supremely independent” identity. In The Facts, his wife and mother repeatedly encroach upon the author's singularity. Like his father in Patrimony, Roth initially resists succumbing to the feminine. Both men desire to be hard, masculine, and self-sufficient. Roth, however, eventually accepts the influence of the maternal on his life, realizing that it is precisely the violation of the singular self that facilitates compassion. This essay argues that The Facts never quite realizes the potential of such intersubjectivity, as the novelist persists in purging those who undermine his personal boundaries even by the end of the autobiography. Ironically, it is only in Patrimony that Roth comes to masochistically luxuriate in the immanence of the maternal. In the later memoir, the author's memories of his mother catalyze his self-dissolution; by accepting Bessie's influence over both him and his art, Roth eventually breaks down the personal boundaries that isolated him in The Facts.

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