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Écritures dans les Amériques au féminin

Dante Barrientos-Tecun
Anne Reynes-Delobel

Récit de soi, récit collectif

Barbara Kingsolver’s esprit de corps

Amélie Moisy


Cet article montre comment l’écriture de Barbara Kingsolver inscrit le corps féminin dans un imaginaire de l’esprit de corps pour aborder « des sujets aussi graves que la liberté, l’égalité ou la paix mondiale en les rapportant à l’échelle la plus modeste qui soit, celle de la sphère domestique » (Small Wonder 2002 : 31-40). En remontant aux sources de la subjectivité, l’écrivaine retrace le mouvement dans lequel le sujet forge son identité, soit en renégociant la relation avec son environnement social, d’abord vécu comme une contrainte, pour en faire une affaire de choix et de convictions menant vers un plus grand épanouissement. Chez Kingsolver, le corps, le désir et la corporéité (voire le monde naturel) sont ainsi les vecteurs d’un véritable message de solidarité.

Texte intégral

Group values

1Best-selling North-American writer Barbara Kingsolver often complains that she spends most interviews “defending the possibility that such thing as environmental ruin, child abuse, or the hypocrisy of US immigration policy are appropriate subjects for a novel,” while she waits in vain for the interviewer to “bring up art things, like voice and metaphor” (Kingsolver 1995: 229). The world view Kingsolver presents has attracted attention because it is coherent and promotes alternative values. Commentators, among whom Ceri Gorton in the thesis “The Things That Attach People,” have pointed out that whatever the cause she defends, she insists on community and interrelationships. In her novels, as Magali Cornier Michael has noted, “justice emerges as fluid, socially constructed” (Michael 2006: 78): characters have to fight or bend laws for what they deem just, and collaboration with others enables them to achieve their goals. French scholar Bénédicte Meillon has called Kingsolver’s style “oxymoronic” insofar as it juxtaposes diverse references and integrates various influences, thus indicating the author’s deep concern with connectedness (Meillon 2005: 2007).

2The concept of relatedness can be linked to another salient aspect of Kingsolver’s work, the stress she lays on the body and materiality. Existing work on traumatized or handicapped characters posits involvement as a healing force (De Reus 2010; Fox 2010). Yet in all of her writings, Kingsolver presents the corporeal as ultimately encouraging moral, community-sustaining values, in texts that are a sensuous communication with the reader. One can, therefore, speak of Barbara Kingsolver’s esprit de corps. In some respects, Kingsolver’s works might be body studies casebooks, for she uses the corporeal to provide exposition on her characters as embodied subjects: their modes of being stem from interaction with a given society, and their bodies are depicted in crises, but working for the good of the community and towards a form of transcendence allows them to break destructive habits, while creative solutions involving corporeity and engagement enable them to pass from fractured subjects to integrated group members. For Kingsolver, even sexual desire leads to transcendence and an esprit de corps among her subjectively deliberate characters. Finally, the interconnectedness of content and form results in a communion likely to promote group values.

From fractured to integrated corporeal subjects

3Kingsolver’s works reveal, as do body studies, that the physical environment and corporeal or intellectual habits shape us and form our desires and capacities. When she involves the character in a crisis, a basic literary device, she makes this reflect what corporeal realist Chris Shilling sees as the frequent conflict between the social and physical surroundings in which individuals live and their biological needs and bodily potentialities, which make routine ways of acting impossible or ineffective. Kingsolver typically presents characters initially diminished by interaction with the environment, who then discover the “‘horizon of possibilities’ that exists within every situation” as they “seek to re-establish an effective, workable relationship with the world around them,” and finally become what Shilling calls “integrated subjects […], feeling that they have progressed to a richer and higher relationship with their surroundings,” where there is a “coherence between the internal and external environments” consistent with individual and social morality (Shilling 2008: 16, 18, 21, 22).

4Loner Missy Greer, the narrator of Kingsolver’s first novel The Bean Trees (1988), has resisted becoming pregnant like her teenage classmates in the small Kentucky town where she and her poor white single mother were isolated, only her mother’s love giving her confidence. She changes her name to Taylor when she drives off in search of a fuller life. When Indian woman on the road foists a Cherokee child upon her, she says, “If I wanted a baby I would have stayed in Kentucky […] I could have had babies coming out of my ears by now” (Kingsolver 1988: 18) but decides to look after it when she realizes that the little girl has been abused: “I doubled up on the floor at the base of the toilet and tried not to throw up” (23). However, her confidence soon lags: “I was useless,” she feels, when she finds out that she doesn’t know how to take proper care of the child, whom she calls Turtle (45), and is further affected by her difficulty in finding a job. They move in with Lou Ann, a Southern single mother upon whom Kingsolver shows the social environment to have inculcated a lack of belief in her capacities and even in her perfectly good looks: “‘I ought to be shot for looking like this,’ she’d tell the mirror in the front hall before going out the door. ‘I look like I’ve been drug through hell backwards,’ she would say on any ordinary day” (99). When Lou Ann needs to look for a job she sobs, “Who would want to hire me? I can’t do anything” (126). Kingsolver’s starting point is to construct physically embedded characters and show that their habits and desires, shaped as a response to immediate external factors, make of them wholly or partially fractured subjects:

They find themselves, “broken off,” “discrete” and “at odds” with their surroundings[;] without the integrative force of a unified character they are unlikely to be harnessed to individual growth or to result in a more productive and harmonic relationship with the environment. (Shilling 2008: 22)

5This disconnectedness recurs in all Kingsolver’s novels. In Animal Dreams (1990) overqualified drifter Cody Nodine, who lacked affection in childhood, suffers from repressed memories and trauma, while her father, who has tried to sever ties with others, is unravelling from dementia. In Pigs in Heaven (1993), Taylor’s mother Alice, had so few choices growing up on a pig farm that she married the first man who introduced her to fresh air (Kingsolver 1993: 23-24); she is regretting that she has not set more stringent qualifications for her TV-addict of a second husband, when she has to attend to Taylor, on the run from Cherokee justice for the illegal adoption of Turtle whom she is now unable to support through unqualified labor. The wife and daughters of missionary Nathan Price who narrate The Poisonwood Bible (1998), shaped by Depression-era Georgia, World War II, and postwar conformism, are endangered and changed in the Congo Crisis, realizing their kinship with the colonized in terms of what is most material: “A wife is the earth itself, changing hands, bearing scars”; “For time and eternity there have been fathers like Nathan who can see no way to have a daughter but to own her like a plot of land” (Kingsolver 1998: 89, 191). In Prodigal Summer (2000), the bodies of Deanna Wolfe, Lusa Landowski, and Garnett Walker are likewise situated within their southern Appalachian environment. Lusa, an academic, trains and marries a farmer who “had a fine intelligence for the physical […] turning her like fresh earth toward the glory of new growth” only to be widowed at twenty-eight amid his resentful family in a farm overrun with debt until her “body [feels] crushed” and her “mind […] long[s] for death” (Kingsolver 2000: 37, 78). National Forest ranger Deanna, determined to protect coyotes but sexually stimulated by a hunter intent on killing them, is divided between “a body want[ing] one thing wholly and a mind want[ing] the opposite” (363), and grieves because she thinks she has reached menopause and will remain childless (329). Widower Garnett Walker III, a bitter retired teacher with a variety of age-related ailments either rages at his neighbor, Nannie Rawley, who does not use pesticides although he has chestnut trees to protect, or feels the “sting of salt in his eye” realizing he is cut off from others (282). In Flight Behavior (2012), southern Appalachian housewife Dellarobia Turnbow, after an underprivileged childhood and her parents’ demise, has been trapped in a marriage with a sheep farmer by a teenage pregnancy that ended in stillbirth. At the start of the novel we see her running, “Like a hunted animal” (Kingsolver 2012: 1), to meet a man and grasp at personal satisfaction. Thus, the characters are at odds with their environment until they become involved in a community of similar interests and values, which Magali Cornier Michael’s detailed presentation of The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven points out that they do from necessity as much as from personal taste (Michael 2006: 85-88).

6In The Bean Trees, Taylor needs colleague Mattie, housemate Lou-Ann and neighbors Edna and Virgie to help raise Turtle, and they become an alternative family. She becomes involved with the Sanctuary Movement, and helps to transport illegal refugees to safe haven while they help her adopt Turtle by pretending to be the real parents entrusting her to Taylor’s care, for she looks like them. In the sequel, Pigs in Heaven, when Turtle’s adoption is questioned by the Cherokee Nation, it is because Taylor’s mother, Alice, leaves Kentucky and an unhappy marriage for fulfillment with Turtle’s Cherokee grandfather, that Taylor come to see that joint rights to the child are best for all; thus her commitment to the child’s welfare continues to open onto community, and in the personal realm as well, as she admits that she cares for her boyfriend Jax enough to marry him, although initially his adoration had been “a problem” (Kingsolver 1993: 31) for she felt she didn’t need him despite sharing in his bed (40). In Animal Dreams, as Cody becomes physically closer to her native-American high-school lover, Loyd, she acts to save the town from a polluting mining company and to make future generations environmentally and sexually responsible; although revolted that her committed agronomist sister is killed by contras in Nicaragua, when her father dies she is restored by love and the community, expecting Loyd’s child, proof of her new hopeful stance. The Price women in The Poisonwood Bible finally leave Nathan Price in his Congolese village when the youngest daughter dies, and they renounce his religion for other engagements — Rachel, who reproduces the colonial ethic, is shown kissing the floor of her bar (Kingsolver 1998: 511), but the mother and two other daughters give themselves to social, political and scientific pursuits that are validated by the love that the characters recreate amongst themselves and their families and by their impact on the human community. In Prodigal Summer, ranger Deanna’s hunter lover agrees to leave her useful coyotes alone, and she comes away blissfully pregnant; widower Lusa resists planting the questionable cash crop tobacco, making a success of goat-farming instead; offering to adopt a niece and nephew and pass the farm on to them, “She felt a strange movement in the air as she said this, a lightness that grew around her” (Kingsolver 2000: 383): although she may be visited by the ghost of her husband, the sensation supports Shilling’s theory that the “feeling” that one has acted coherently with the environment is a bodily one (22), as does the simile used when Garnett Walker holds Nannie Rawley in his arms, after she has talked him out of using insecticides and given him rare surviving chestnuts needed for his genetic experiments: it feels “like a hard day’s rest” (427). The characters are linked by actions that impact a new generation, as Deanna goes back to her stepmother Nannie’s to have her child and Lusa is adopting Garnett’s grandchildren, and they are united by their engagement in nature, validated in the last chapter when a coyote female prepares for the mating season and the narrator concludes that “Every choice is a world made new for the chosen” (444). In Flight Behavior, monarch butterflies suddenly change their migratory habits to winter on the Turnbows’ family’s property, causing media hullaballoo; Dellarobia falls in love with the mature black entomologist who hires her to help compile data, learns about climate change, and warns her husband against clear-cutting. When she realizes that her marriage cannot work, she feels a physical reaction — “The sight of [her husband’s] eyes in the mirror as he brushed his teeth […] wrenched her stomach and made her turn from the light” (Kingsolver 2012: 399). But engagement with the community leads to final harmony, although flooding alerts readers to the dangers of global warming; Dellarobia, who recognizes that the entomologist is suited to his wife, will go to college, as a single working mother, to protect the environment for future generations: she, like the butterflies departing on their usual migration after what seems insurmountable odds, is on the threshold of “a new earth” (433).

7One of Kingsolver’s books does not seem to open into community: in The Lacuna (2009), homosexual writer Harrison Shepherd, after an insecure childhood, finds a place in the household of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera but must leave them to go into seclusion, traumatized by the murder of Trotsky which he witnessed in Mexico, and finds himself hounded during the 50’s communist witch hunts in the United States, until he stops writing, “lighting one cigarette off the last […]. Going mad inside a house” (Kingsolver 2009: 464). Thus the character is shown in a crisis that he does not seem to overcome by group involvement. He becomes more and more isolated, and must put an end to a writing career asserting the dignity of the working man. But the “great love” between Shepherd and his secretary Violet Brown (503) sustains him until he finally gains release from the repressive United States by pretending to take his life in Mexico, where he is reunited with his “brother” Leandro, the first man he loved, and later with Frida Kahlo (500, 504). As the secretary’s addendum has us believe that he lives among the Mexicans, whom he feels are his people, the book, like the others, ends on integration in a chosen community.

Corporeal integration within a broader entity

8Kingsolver’s characters gain a sense of fulfillment and find a new community through independent choices, but corporeity plays an important role. They solve conflicts through corporeal means; I have suggested how corporeal wellbeing often validates the message of solidarity which the author has chosen to convey, as she “celebrate[s] dependency” of a sustaining kind (Perry 1993: 146) but as the plot lines move towards attunement to the environment and community, and these creative solutions have an impact on the extended family or “the future welfare of the human community-at-large” (Shilling 2008: 24) one may speak of transcendence of the body in the validation resulting from corporeal effort.

9Concrete acts like cooking (The Lacuna), canning (Prodigal Summer), holding gatherings for family and friends (Flight Behavior), raising flowers or produce (The Poisonwood Bible), goats, sheep or children (The Bean Trees, Prodigal Summer, Flight Behavior), applying higher education in the physical or natural sciences (Animal Dreams, The Poisonwood Bible), occasionally marching for something that touches them (The Poisonwood Bible), help women and men in the novels become fulfilled and integrated individuals, intent on doing what is best for ever larger communities. Taylor goes from isolation to caring for ever-expanding surrogate and real families; Cody, for her family, the town of Grace and future generations’ environment; Adah Price fights Aids, Leah runs a cooperative in civil war-torn Angola while raising a family with her African husband, Orleana’s groups raise funds to aid developing countries; the characters of Prodigal Summer add to their real and extended families while acting for the good of future generations, and Dellarobia also commits to preserving the environment, finding a supportive community among the scientists whom she hosts. In the short stories Homeland and Other Stories (1989) there is a clear corporeal link uniting individuals. It leads to the simultaneity of feeling in “Covered Bridges,” when the wife’s life-threatening allergy makes her decide against having children as the husband, who had not wanted any, “leak[s] out pain” (Kingsolver 1989: 62). It is so apparent as the mother instinctively acts to save her daughter in the motor accident in “Islands in the Moon” that the daughter’s recriminations are quelled (147). And the poems of Another America/Otra America abound in images of the body, defiled out of convention (Kingsolver 1992: 7) or violence (19, 37) only to drive home the point that empathy for others, felt by the poet as bodily harm when they suffer, is essential “if we expect survival” (51). In what she calls writing “about the likes of liberty, equality, and world peace, on an extremely domestic scale” (Kingsolver 2002: 37), Kingsolver integrates information on real issues — the UN and US positions on asylum seekers, illegal American Indian adoptions, American intervention in Nicaragua or in Africa, chemical pollution in copper mining or clear-cutting, censorship or the causes of climate change, in the novels; the forced removal of the Cherokee Indians from their lands or trade unions in the short stories and miscarriages of justice from Sacco and Vanzetti to purposeless FBI investigations in Another America. The enabling practical solutions and pragmatic choices of characters from ordinary backgrounds, delivering them into a community that adds to the strength of the individual even as he or she is engaged in a cause, are thus invested with a political and ethical dimension taking the characters beyond their embodied selves.

  • 1 It would seem that African views on disability are harsher than Kingsolver asserts (Fox 2010).

10As Chris Shilling remarks, embodied subjects are able to transcend their purely organic being by “living in, living with, attending to and caring for” their own bodies and the bodies of others, the body itself providing the means to go beyond the limits of a biological existence, to develop wider capacities and potentialities (Shilling 2008: 163). In The Bean Trees, Taylor becomes a more loving and connected individual through caring for Turtle, and in The Poisonwood Bible Adah begins to accept her disabled body through daily living with Africans who do not reject her for her lameness and whom she does not reject for their difference, so that she can speak, envisaging a career in medicine on her return to the United States1. But for these, as for other Kingsolver characters, transcending the body and recognizing other entities also involves an awareness of what Meillon has called the numinous, stating that in the short stories rational and scientific knowledge recede and the mystery of existence is revealed, and the characters are no longer isolated in the cosmos but participate in it (Meillon 2005: 359-362). Taylor and her neighbors commune around nature, for example the night-blooming cereus — “It’s a sign. […] Something good” (Kingsolver 1988: 186). Adah grasps the deep meanings of the Congolese principles of ntu and the breath, vapour, or name that makes them exist (Kingsolver 1998: 209) and the youngest Price sister, who had a gri-gri and had made a wish to join the green mamba snakes when she died, speaks from the other world at the end of the novel, echoing the father’s baptism rites and suggesting the forgiveness the mother had been looking for — “Move on. Walk forward into the light” (543). Lusa’s dreams and visions of ghosts in Prodigal Summer are a comfort to her; in Flight Behaviour, Dellarobia, who has been aching for her first stillborn son, finds out that in Mexico, where the butterflies that have taken over her mountain come from, the monarch is believed to be “the soul of a baby that’s died,” and she confronts her husband about their marriage for the first time (Kingsolver 2012: 359, 381). But a corporeal positioning is important for Kingsolver’s characters to build an enduring community.

Positioning and subjective deliberation

11Kingsolver anchors her body of work in sensation and feelings, and to read her is to experience flashes of recognition: she renders the onset of a migraine headache, for instance, in “Stone Dreams,” or the abandonment of falling asleep in a car in “Jump-up Day” (Homeland 95, 201). She bases her characterization on concrete situations: “For example, if this character needs to be insecure I think about the insecure part of myself. How would I feel if I were moving to a town and didn’t know anybody, and what would I say, and what would I act like?” (Perry 1993: 152). She cites physical experience as a “primary source”, saying she rarely sets a fictional scene somewhere she has not been, wanting to know how “the dust feel[s] between your teeth”2. But her aim in conveying these sensations, “to remove you from your life,” is not escapism but a repositioning, for chosen values to stand out better.

12Maureen Meharg Kentoff has linked the opinions Kingsolver expresses in her essays with postmodern feminism, where agency results from recognizing the positioning of embodied identity. Kingsolver’s fictional characters, in their hesitations and development, also show “that individuals are not composed of a single set of identity traits” and that “we are often required to conceal, suppress, assert or promote the myriad parts of ourselves deemed nonnormative” (Kentoff 2010: 57). Kentoff compares Kingsolver to Linda Martin Alcoff and Judith Butler for maintaining in her essays that our socially constructed identities can be reshaped (59-60). Her characters effect change by realizing how their experience is influenced by their position in relation to normative standards, gaining awareness of their positionality through exposure to a problem or to people from different cultural backgrounds. Kingsolver encourages this awareness in her readers by writing about minorities and the “gray areas of society” (Kentoff 61). In her depictions of human communities and the natural world, she insists on “our multiple identities, limited perspectives, and infinite interconnections within and across species, systems, places, and things,” which Kentoff sums up as “interdimensionality” (63). Dellarobia perceives this in Flight Behavior by positioning herself vis-à-vis the scientists, and the rest of the world, as when she thinks of the negative impact of cheap labor and goods in a globalized economy, or when she is touched by the butterflies’ “complicated system” of making the passage to Mexico over several generations and likens it to a human organism — “not like marbles rolling from one end of a box to the other and back. This was a living flow, like a pulse through veins, with the cells bursting and renewing themselves as they went” (Kingsolver 2012: 146). Exposure to natural beauty, physical desire and the learning of the scientist she admires heighten Dellarobia’s consciousness and her critical faculties so that she takes stock of her position, and decides against “Being boxed in” (208), socially, economically and emotionally — to make a difference for the future. In Kingsolver’s works, realization of embodied position and awareness of interconnection promote agency — her characters gain “the freedom and ability to act (either individually or collectively) according to [their] own volition” (Kentoff 63), countering social oppression, discrimination, exploitation, and subordination.

13Corporeity leads to subjective deliberation as her characters gain agency through acts of solidarity with others: in Dellarobia’s case, as with Taylor and Esteban in The Bean Trees, group functions are promoted over individual sensual pleasure; indeed, what is good for the group becomes an ideal, much like Plato’s Diotima in the Symposium turns eros into agathon, the form or idea of the Good, for whether sexuality is happy or not in Kingsolver’s works it is as if the love of one body led her characters to see, as in Plato, that all bodies are similar and to recognize that the Good resides in everyone, to appreciate fair practices in institutions and laws, and learning in all disciplines (Domanski 2012: 47-48). This is true even for senior citizens Alice Stamper and Cash Stillwater, or Nannie Rawley and Garnett Walker, when they are given a renewed lease on a sex life, and truer still for the young like Taylor and Jax in the sequel to The Bean Trees, or Cody and Loyd in Animal Dreams, or Leah Price and her African husband Anatole in The Poisonwood Bible: commitment in the relationship furthers the characters’ group-minded actions. Sensual or selfish pleasures do not displace group values, which are given pride of place, in Kingsolver’s portrayal of sexually ambivalent, gay or lesbian characters, such as the misunderstood Rose-Johnny, the eponymous short-story character who fights racism as she can, having been devastated by it, or Edna Poppy and Virgie Parsons in The Bean Trees, kind and self-reliant aging neighbors; Kay-Kay who is one of a happily matched lesbian couple in Islands in the Moon is a capable professional who offers practical and moral support to her friends; and although Harrison Shepherd, the homosexual protagonist of The Lacuna, is so unhappy in love that he all but renounces sex, his childhood admiration for Leandro instilled in him a sense of justice and equality. Some characters may renounce sex altogether, satisfied with their new communities. In Prodigal Summer widow Lusa contents herself with a dream moth-lover (79) and “can’t picture” meeting another man (Kingsolver 2000: 417). In The Poisonwood Bible Orleanna Price, who “cannot believe any woman on earth has ever made more babies out of less coition” than she has (199), wishes to remain single after Nathan; and Deanna, after the intensity of a sex life with Eddy Bondo, contemplates raising his child with Nanny. Aware of their embodied positions, they seek a good which transcends the purely corporeal.

The Kingsolver corpus and esprit de corps

14Kingsolver’s presentation of protagonists who become imbued with enthusiasm, devotion, and a strong regard for justice and sustainability shows esprit de corps, in the sense that it stresses the importance of the common spirit existing among individual human beings and nature or others around them, and may inspire a heightened concern for the welfare of such newly perceived bodies. Kingsolver has shown her dedication to group concerns and to unpublished writers by founding the biennial Bellwether prize in 1999, now the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, awarded to “writers with outstanding literary skills, moral passion, and the courage to combine these strengths in unusually powerful fiction” — the largest monetary prize for an unpublished work of fiction in North America. But if we are to consider what light corporeity sheds on Kingsolver’s literary value and values, it must be recognized that variations in taste account for why reading a text will strike one person as a unified, empowering experience, yet not satisfy another; some readers may find the blend of what appeals to the senses and what appeals to the intellect in her writing uneven.

15As Mark William Roche points out, in nonliterary works one may focus on “the information to be acquired, the logical solution to a problem, the actions to be carried out” (Louise Rosenblatt, The Reader: 23, cited in Roche 2004: 29) but the literary experience is heightened by a work’s sensuousness, to which diction, syntax, imagery, metaphor, rhythm, and sound contribute (28), so that plot and problems can become vivid fantasy or concepts. Suzanne W. Jones remarks that Kingsolver best passes on a message by allowing the reader to “observe and understand interconnections” established by her detailed, metaphoric narratives, rather than “passively listening” to the characters’ orations about timely issues — the form of Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer spurring the reader to actively make “unheralded connections” (Jones 2010: 296). In her other works, too, form reinforces the positive overt message, and reading pleasure, and Bénédicte Meillon links Kingsolver’s stylistic and philosophical syncretism (Meillon 2007). Thus Kingsolver avoids the pitfall Susan Rubin Suleiman identifies in committed literature — i.e., divided between artistic creativity and over-inclusion of fact, it occasionally results in the schematization of reality rather than the evocation of its complexity: “the roman à thèse is […] a genre divided against itself, split between ‘roman’ and ‘thèse’” (Suleiman 1983: 22). Kingsolver’s aim is to promote the final cohesion of personal agency, as Kentoff stresses, “through her own act of writing political commentary via accessible and compelling personal narratives” (Kentoff 2010: 64) as a result of the metamorphosis fiction effects on the reader. She believes that “[f]iction […] can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place and time, power and vulnerability, things that influence social interaction,” concluding: “What could be more political than that?”3.

  • 4 The Poisonwood Bible won the National Book Prize of South Africa, and was shortlisted for both the (...)

16Studies on the cognitive value of literature emphasize the benefits of immersion in a parallel, unreal world where we can experiment as if we were not our embodied selves; for in addition to communicating factual knowledge, the virtual experiences of fiction yield psychological, interpersonal, emotional and moral insight (Schaeffer 79-81). In order to facilitate such emotional involvement with the text, Kingsolver says she spends her days “tasting the insides of words, breathing life into sentences that swim away under their own power, stringing together cables of poetry to hold up a narrative arc” (ibid.). Again and again in her essays, as in “How to Be Hopeful,” Kingsolver asserts the need for community and for hope, and she uses all the resources of fiction to make readers receptive to these values in the communion of reading. It may be utopic repeatedly to show the individual’s progress from corporeal distress to a measure of harmony in an elected community, but, as Michael comments on her fiction, “utopias are necessary […] to offer a sketch of what things could be like if humans were willing to rethink certain of their ideas and learn to work in more cooperative ways with one another” (Michael 2006: 109). Undoubtedly, Kingsolver’s political novels, such as The Poisonwood Bible or The Lacuna, works based on the corporeal, written in sensuous prose, and expressing the love of other bodies and of fair practices, have earned her recognition as a major writer in America today4.

17“Good art is political,” Kingsolver insists, “whether it means to be or not, insofar as it provides the chance to understand points of view alien to our own” (Kingsolver 1995: 234). In her consciousness of how she must take the body, desire and corporeity into the final community that lies beyond the corporeality of writing in the incorporeal of a myriad cognition, Kingsolver’s esprit de corps is with all serious artists. And her group ethic, based on acceptance of self and of others in their differences, should not be mistaken for political correctness. As Niki de Saint Phalle colorfully stated, “nothing that is political is correct and nothing correct is political.” Kingsolver’s work stems from and returns us, briefly or lingeringly, to the spirit that fellow artist wished to impart, and luckily, many others too: “a concept of universality — not in the head — heartfelt” (Saint Phalle 1993).

De Reus, Lee Ann, 2010, “Trauma and Memory in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams,” in Thomas Austenfeld (ed.), Critical Insights: Barbara Kingsolver, Pasadena, Salem Press, p. 123-151.

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Michael, Magali Cornier, 2006, New Visions of Community in Contemporary American Fiction, Iowa City, University of Iowa Press.

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Saint Phalle, Niki, 1993, “Temperance,” Californian Diary, Santee, Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

Schaeffer, Jean-Marie, 2008, “Quelles valeurs cognitives pour quels arts ?”, in Sandrine Darsel and Roger Pouivet (dir.), Ce que l’art nous apprend. Les valeurs cognitives dans les arts, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, p. 67-82.

Shilling, Chris, 2008, Changing Bodies. Habit, Crisis and Creativity, London, Sage Publications.

Suleiman, Susan Rubin, 1983, Authoritarian Fictions. The Ideological Novel as a Literary Genre, Princeton, Princeton University Press.


1 It would seem that African views on disability are harsher than Kingsolver asserts (Fox 2010).

2 Kingsolver website.

3 Kingsolver website.

4 The Poisonwood Bible won the National Book Prize of South Africa, and was shortlisted for both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award. The Lacuna won the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction.


Université Paris-Est Créteil, IMAGER EA 3958, Maître de conférences,

Amélie Moisy teaches American Literature at the University of Paris Est Créteil. She has authored a monograph on Tom Wolfe (2002) and several articles on American women writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Sexton, and Harriette Arnow. She is a member of the research centers TIES and FREELEA/IMAGER at the University of Paris Est Créteil, and also a member of the Thomas Wolfe Society (USA).

Amélie Moisy est maître de conférences à l’université de Paris Est Créteil. Elle est l’auteure d’une monographie sur l’œuvre de Thomas Wolfe (2002) et de plusieurs articles sur des écrivaines américaines, notamment Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Sexton et Harriette Arnow. Elle est membre des groupes de recherche TIES and FREELEA/IMAGER à l’université de Paris Est Créteil et de la Thomas Wolfe Society (USA).

Amélie Moisy es
maître de conférences en la Universidad de Paris Est Créteil. Es autora de una monografía sobre la obra de Thomas Wolfe (2002) y de varios artículos sobre escritoras estadounidenses, en particular sobre Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Sexton y Harriette Arnow. Es miembro de los grupos de investigación TIES and FREELEA/IMAGER de la Universidad de Paris Est Créteil y de la Thomas Wolfe Society (Estados Unidos).

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