Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

House of Incest (first published as The House of Incest in 1936) is a difficult work to categorize or summarize. In reality, it is a prose poem with a breathtaking series of images and themes. Its characters and plot—if there really is one—remain deeply veiled. Overall, the atmosphere is distinctly dreamlike.

The book is prefaced by a brief statement and a somewhat longer fable, both of which indicate the work’s deep psychological roots. The first section of the main text describes the narrator’s previous idealized existence in a world of water—Atlantide. It ends with the narrator cast ashore like the skeleton of a wrecked ship. The second section opens with the narrator gazing at Sabina as she approaches in the haunting twilight. The narrator describes Sabina’s appearance and personality, her compulsive lying and yet also her primitive vigor. “There is no mockery between women,” the narrator states. It is clear that she is in love with Sabina. She also points out the fact that the women share an identity, that they are each other’s missing halves: “YOU ARE THE WOMAN I AM,” states the narrator. She closes with a passage about her own tormented inner fragmentation into many selves. Obstinate images and cracked mirrors surround her as she searches unsuccessfully for Sabina’s face in a crowd. The brief third section presents more images, with the narrator “enmeshed” in her own lies.

The fourth section of the novella introduces the paradoxical Jeanne, who is oddly elegant yet also hampered by a withered leg. Jeanne is in love with her brother, married to a husband who does not understand her, and fixated on her own image in the mirror. In what appears to be a dialogue with the narrator, Jeanne describes her own fragmentation and concludes...

(The entire section is 737 words.)