Text as Palimpsest: Gender in the Work of Agota Kristof

Simona Cutcan


This paper investigates the portrayal of gender in the work of Swiss-Hungarian writer Agota Kristof. Texts from her oeuvre that belong to different literary genres and creative periods are analyzed through a framework of materialist feminism, masculinity studies and narratology. Based on an analysis of the incidence of the female voice, two aesthetic strategies can be observed: on the one hand, Kristof’s early texts show a certain interest in women’s subjectivity, on the other, her later writings foreground male characters and their perspective. Overall, women are portrayed as homebound wives and mothers and men are dominant as narrators, writers and protagonists. While this seems to reflect the patriarchal dichotomy, other elements undermine this reading: male characters are weak and marginal, and in a few significant texts, women’s life in the family is represented as a prison from which they wish to escape. In these texts, the female character’s voice reveals the internal conflict between her aspirations and the pressures to conform to prescribed roles, which, in some instances, leads to subversion in the form of violence against her husband. Thus, though on the surface Kristof’s work seems to reinforce or merely reflect patriarchy, the deeper layers of meaning bring into succeeding focus a fundamental interrogation of gender roles.


questioning of gender roles, women’s objectification; wounded male; exile

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/ahea.2013.109

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