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The joy and melancholy of living beings in Mon ancêtre Poisson

Faculty Advisor




Christine Montalbetti, Mon ancêtre Poisson, biography, autobiography, plants, bodies, Jardin des Plantes

Abstract (summary)

Christine Montalbetti’s novel Mon ancêtre Poisson (2019) is teeming with descriptions of living things, perhaps not surprisingly given its subject, the life of her great-great-grandfather, the botanist Jules Poisson. In this essay, I argue that the focus on living beings becomes a way of fleshing out her account of this distant ancestor, whose life story she can only piece together from archival documents. As I demonstrate, the narrator, a version of Montalbetti, turns to shared experiences of the physical world as a way of imagining her great-great-grandfather, picturing them walking in the same garden and experiencing similar physiological sensations. The narrator draws attention to the corporeality of both herself and Jules, emphasizing their physicality and carefully positioning them as breathing bodies, part of a complex network of living beings. Ultimately, I show that, for the narrator, the world of living things is a source of both joy and melancholy. Her research into her great-great-grandfather becomes part of a larger process of reconciling the joy of engaging with the abundance of living and growing things around her with the sorrow of accepting the fundamental and inescapable fragility of living bodies, be they animal, plant, or human.

Publication Information

Epp, Marla. (2022) The Joy and Melancholy of Living Beings in Mon ancêtre Poisson, Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures, 76:4, 212-224,


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