Fantastic Elements in Djebar's La Femme sans sépulture

Ana M Medeiros


Fantastic Elements in Djebar’s La Femme sans sépulture

Todorov famously defined the fantastic genre as comprising texts set in a recognisably ‘real’ world that involve the possibility, but only the possibility, of a supernatural explanation underlying the events of the story related. Where the supernatural and the natural co-exist as hypotheses within the text, the reader enters a state of hesitation concerning the status of the story-events set before her (Todorov, 1975). If this hesitation is sustained to the end, according to Todorov the text can usefully be classified as belonging to the (pure) fantastic genre.
Is La Femme sans sépulture an example of the fantastic genre? Certainly the author plays with the conventions of that genre, skilfully juxtaposing two types of explanation for the events recounted and fostering a hesitation on the part of the reader. But this is not an end in itself for Djebar. Rather, the possibility of the supernatural seems to function as a metaphor; if the ghost of Zoulikha ‘haunts’ those who live on after her disappearance (her daughters and former comrades, the narrator herself, and all those for whose freedom she fought), this means that we all owe a duty to the past. Only once she has done her duty to Zoulikha in this way can the author-narrator feel that she has truly returned home. And it is entirely appropriate to represent this relationship to the past as a kind of haunting. This is the use to which Djebar puts the idea of the supernatural; whilst celebrating and continuing Zoulikha’s struggle for the liberation of Algeria and its women, she uses the possibility of the fantastic to convey the uncanny experience of a constant return to her own (cultural) self.


Resistance, Fantastic, Assia Djebar, Orality, Colonialism

Full Text:



Barthes, B.1982, Littrature et ralit [Literature and Reality], Seuil, Paris, 81-89.

Bensmaa, R. 1996, 'La Nouba des femmes du mont Chenoua: Introduction l'uvre fragmentale cinmatographique' [The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua: Introduction to the Fragmental Cinematographic Work], in Littrature et cinma en Afrique francophone: Ousmane Sembne et Assia Djebar [Literature and Cinema in Francophone Africa: Ousmane Sembne and Assia Djebar], ed. S. Niang, L'Harmattan, Paris, 161-188.

Berger, A. 2002, 'The Impossible Wedding: Nationalism, Languages and the Mother Tongue in Postcolonial Algeria, ' in Algeria in Others' Languages, ed. A. Berger, Cornell UP, Ithaca, NY, 60-81.

Djebar, A. 1978, La Nouba des femmes du mont Chenoua [The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua], Radiotlvision Algrienne.

Djebar, A. 1985, L'Amour, la fantasia [Fantasia: an Algerian Cavalcade], EDDIF, Casablanca.

Djebar, A. 2002, La femme sans spulture [The Woman without a Tomb], Albin Michel, Paris.

Donadey, A. 1998, ' Elle a rallum le vif du pass": L'criture-palimpseste d'Assia Djebar, ' in Postcolonialisme & autobiographie: Albert Memmi, Assia Djebar et Daniel Maximim [Postcolonialism & Autobiography: Albert Memmi, Assia Djebar and Daniel Maximim], eds. A.Hornung and E. Ruhe, Rodopi Press, Amsterdam, 101-116."

Hiddleston, J. 2006, Assia Djebar: Out of Algeria, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.

Kelly, D. 2005, Autobiography and Independence: Selfhood and Creativity in North African Postcolonial Writing in French, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.

O'Riley, M. 2004, 'Place, Position, and Postcolonial Haunting in Assia Djebar's La Femme sans spulture' Research in African Literature, vol. 35, no.1, 66-86.

Salhi, K. (ed.) 1999, Francophone Voices, Elm Bank Publications, Exeter

Todorov, T. 1975, The Fantastic: a Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, R. Howard (trans.), Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Tomlinson, E. 2003, 'Assia Djebar: Speaking the Living Dead, ' Paragraph, vol. 26, no. 3, 34-50.

Even if the return home is not to be a permanent one. As Jane Hiddleston has commented: 'In using the motif of spectrality, moreover Djebar adds to her previous reflections on the limits of the specific and the endless proliferation of the singular-plural a more developed sense of the interpenetration of the living with the dead, of the resurgence of the not-quite-dead. The narrator's quest in the novel is both a search for an Algerian genealogy, a communion with her country's inheritance, and a discovery of the inaccessibility of that inheritance' (Hiddleston 2006, 169).