Blanche is Ernaux’s mother. She is a former grocer from a rural community. Besides Ernaux, she had another daughter who died in childhood. Her husband is already dead.
Blanche lives alone before the onset of her Alzheimer’s disease. At first, Blanche goes to live with Ernaux, but within a few months her faculties deteriorate markedly. When she refuses to get up or eat, Ernaux moves her to the hospital where she spends the final years of her life.
During the early stages of her disease, Blanche attempts to maintain, as much as she can, the patterns of her pre-sickness life. For instance, she insists on having her toiletry bag nearby. However, as she grows sicker, even these tokens of normal life are lost to her. Within a year of entering the hospital, Blanche is unable to perform some of the most basic functions, such as chewing food or using the bathroom by herself.
Blanche is proud of her daughter, but she also resents that her daughter does not spend more time with her. As such, she alternates between inhabiting the parental role and the child’s role that her illness forces upon her. However, unable to care for herself, she has little choice but to occupy a newly subordinate role in this relationship.
On many occasions, Blanche tells Ernaux how much happier she would be living with her and makes her daughter feel guilty for this decision. Yet, she also loves her daughter. She enjoys simple signs of affection, such as when Ernaux combs her hair.
Ernaux wrote I Remain in Darkness when she was in her forties. Her journal entries chronicle her mother’s decline from Alzheimer’s disease. She begins writing her journal at the onset of her mother’s symptoms, when Blanche lives with her. The diffi- culty of caring for a person with dementia, however, forces Ernaux to put her mother in a long-term geriatric hospital, where Blanche spends the final two years of her life.
At the time her mother becomes ill, Ernaux is in the process of divorcing her husband. She is also having an affair with a man called A. She lives with her two sons.
Ernaux suffers as she watches her mother succumb to the disease. Her feelings are complex, alternating between love and tenderness for her mother, and hatred and even the desire to be cruel. These intense feelings stem from a complicated relationship that the two women have shared over the years, to which Ernaux frequently alludes in her journal entries.
Ernaux deals with the pain of her mother’s slow demise in a variety of ways. She sometimes views her mother as a child and casts herself in the role of mother. As a coping mechanism, one which she has used throughout her life, she sublimates her feelings into art and literature. She also begins writing a work of biographical fiction about her relationship with her mother as a means of working through her complicated feelings.
At the end of I Remain in Darkness, after her mother’s death, Ernaux is disconsolate. The final journal entry reads, ‘‘This morning, after seeing the words ‘cubic meter’ on a water bill, I remembered that I used to call her Cubby when I was six or seven years old. Tears come to my eyes.’’ This ending shows that Blanche will continue to play a strong role in her daughter’s life.