Lilika Nakos Deborah Tannen - Essay

Deborah Tannen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Nakos' fiction] was pioneering in two major ways. First, Nakos wrote in a startlingly simple, nearly conversational yet lyrical demotic language. Second, her work depicts the intimate experiences and emotions of women. The critic Pericles Rodakis asserts that every woman writing in Greece today is influenced by her style. It would be more correct to say that every person writing in Greece is influenced, for the demotic language has become the only literary vehicle, and explicit treatment of personal experience is now commonplace in Greek as in other European literature. (pp. 206-07)

[Nakos'] novels, especially the later ones, are at the same time social documents and romantic visions. They expose the hardships of the oppressed: workers, children, and women, but they nevertheless end with optimistic affirmations of hope that life will improve. Nakos' early stories, however, depict a bleak and piercing view of a vast gulf between child protagonists and upper-class parents who are portrayed as frivolous, superficial, and utterly insensitive to their children. This vision of childhood corresponds to the way Nakos characterizes her own early years…. She says however that she loved her mother when she grew up, for indeed a great bond grew between them in Geneva and when they lived together as two adults in Athens.

The relationships between mothers and daughters in Nakos' work reflect this pattern: the portrayal of mothers is negative in the early work but becomes increasingly sympathetic in the later novels.

Nakos' early stories are about girls who hate their mothers. For example "Photini" … is about an upper-class child who feels totally isolated in "the ancient house with its vast rooms in the old section of Athens—this house where she can never find a corner of refuge, a single quiet corner where she cannot hear her parents' shouts and quarrels." Photini hates both her parents: "And the child folds into herself and suffers from feeling so different from them." However, her negative feelings are strongest toward her mother: "One of the most intolerable torments for Photini is to sleep in the same room as her mother…. To always feel her presence."

One night Photini's parents return home late and tiptoe into the room…. [They have sexual intercourse in the bed next to Photini's.] Helpless with shame and rage, Photini later has a vision of "herself, her hair in disarray, bent over her mother's body, a knife in her hand. There was blood on the blanket." Recollection, hallucination, or nightmare, the vision gives form to her murderous impulses toward her mother who, as the father's sexual partner, acts out urges which are unthinkable for the little girl. This very early story sets a pattern which is recapitulated in other Nakos stories and in her first novel: a girl's inability to accept sexuality becomes focused in revulsion against her mother.

The image of a mother as her daughter's enemy is most apparent in another early French story, "And the Child Lied," which was reprinted in Greek along with Nakos' first novella. If Photini kills her mother in her mind, the mother in "And the Child Lied" kills her daughter, not literally, but practically; she sends her to a monastery. (pp. 207-09)

Another story which associates a mother with a girl's negative attitude toward sexuality is "The Nameless One." Marina does not want her ailing mother to die, but she remarks, "At bottom I didn't care that much." Marina is introduced to sexual awareness through a double trauma linking sex with disaster, with her mother as a negative role model. (p. 210)

Nakos' first novella, Le Livre de Mon Pierrot (1928), published in Greek as The Deflowered One (1932), was hailed as "a new beginning for our literature." One of the first social novels in Greek, it attributes the familiar...

(The entire section is 1598 words.)