A Celebration of Annie Ernaux

Dickinson College held a series of events last week celebrating French writer and nobel laureate Annie Ernaux. A showing of the film “Happening” and a lecture on the importance of Ernaux’s work were hosted by the French and Francophone studies and co-sponsored by the departments of English, Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies, the program in Film and Media Studies, and the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues.

In 2022, Ernaux won the The Nobel Prize in Literature for “the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.” 

During her Nobel acceptance speech she said “I share the pride of it [the Nobel Prize] with those who, in one way or another, hope for greater freedom, equality and dignity for all humans, regardless of their sex or gender, the color of their skin, and their culture; and with those who think of future generations, of safeguarding an Earth where a profit-hungry few make life increasingly unliveable for all populations.”

The film “Happening,” which was played on Wednesday, was based on Ernaux’s 2001 autobiographical novel of the same name (“L’Événement”). The book and film focus on a 23-year-old Anne as she gets an illegal abortion in France in 1963. The film plays with perspective as it jumps back and forth between third person and an almost first person-like shot. This alternation causes the viewer to both watch and experience what happens to Ernaux.

Jordyn Case ’25 said “It was a really heavy and impactful movie. It’s not what I was expecting but I’m happy I went. While it was very graphic, it wasn’t overzealous. It showed exactly what needed to be shown in order to voice the realities and the horrors of medical treatment for women. A lot of movies and shows shy away from the nitty-gritty but this one didn’t and that’s what made it so impactful and honest. We never truly see how hard the choice of abortion is.”

The following night, Nathalie Froloff, senior professor at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and researcher at the Centre for the study of French language and literature at Paris-Sorbonne, gave a lecture on the public reception of Ernaux and what made her work so meaningful to people. There were three main reactions to Ernaux’s nobel prize, said Froloff: that she did not deserve the prize, that she was “mainstream” and “simplistic” in her writing and the third “line of attack” was that, as a woman, she could not be a legitimate French writer.

Eliza Coull ’25 said the lecture was on “an important topic” and that the subject matter was interesting. “I wish she had been more focused on the movie because it was the night before. I think more people would have benefited from that [because many hadn’t read the book].” Coull also had attended the movie the previous night, “I wasn’t really sure of what I was walking into. But I’m definitely glad I went to watch it.”

The scene that most stood out to Coull was the moment in the hospital when the doctor said “miscarriage.” In the movie, Anne’s original illegal abortion procedure did not succeed so she had a second which led her to be hospitalized. Previously in the film it was discussed that a woman’s future after an illegal abortion was in the hands of a doctor who could say the reason for hospitalization was “abortion” or “miscarriage.”  It meant a lot to Coull when Anne’s agency, which had been so prominent throughout the film, was completely removed and her future was left in the hands of not only a stranger, but a man.

Froloff emphasized throughout her lecture that Ernaux wrote “against” — “Against the form of cultural domination, against the economic domination, against the domination of women.” Domination, Froloff highlights, is a deeply important topic for Ernaux as she focuses mainly on groups that are historically marginalized, like women and the economically disadvantaged.