Representations of Aleksandrinke in the Prose of Marjan Tomšič
In his novel Grenko morje [Bitter Sea] (2002) and in the collection of short stories Južni veter [Southern Wind] (2006), Marjan Tomšič presented Alexandrianism as a state of being torn between sacrifice and pleasure. Representations of Alexandrianism as a phenomenon which was supposed to cause the downfall of women are present on numerous levels: in the title, in the scheme of characters, in the narratological categories, in themes and motifs, in the imagery, in the language and in the speech of the characters.
KEY WORDS: aleksandrinke (Alexandrian women), Marjan Tomšič, representations of womanhood
REPRESENTATIONS OF ALEKSANDRINKE IN THE PROSE OF MARJAN TOMŠIČ
Katja Mihurko Poniž
In the collective memory, the images of aleksandrinke (at home in Slovenia, the emigrants to Alexandria, Egypt were named after their presumed final destination) were often the same as those of wet nurses, although only approximately a third of all the emigrants actually were wet nurses (Škrlj 2009: 164). In the shaping of the collective memory of the phenomenon of Alexandrianism, mother’s milk became a symbol of mother’s love and the withdrawal of milk on the literal, but mostly on the symbolic level meant the abandoning of a child. For this reason, aleksandrinke were often stigmatized as bad mothers, and at the same time as victims of economic and social conditions. However, images of aleksandrinke as victims were marginal and became more widespread only upon the publication of Aleksandrinke by Dorica Makuc (1993). In this work, the aleksandrinke were finally given a voice, even though much of the book is dedicated to the role of the Catholic Church and to the recognition of the nuns who were working as missionaries in Egypt.
Consequently, modern, nonscientific discourse about aleksandrinke often turned into rhetoric about victims and into the wish for erecting monuments. Representations of Alexandrinianism as a phenomenon which was supposed to cause the downfall of women are present in Marjan Tomšič’s novel Grenko morje [Bitter Sea] (2002) and his collection of short stories Južni veter [Southern Wind] (2006) on numerous levels: in the title, in the cast of characters, in the narratological categories, the themes and motifs, the imagery, the language and the speech of the characters.
In his novel, Tomšič presented Alexandrianism as a state of being torn between sacrifice and pleas- ure on various levels. He is the first writer in Slovenian literature who concentrated on this phenomenon in two lengthy works. In Bitter Sea, in contrast to the long silence of the actual migrants, the aleksandrinke finally speak, despite the fact that they are trapped in their relationships with men and children at all times. Most of them are depicted either as victims of corrupted Muslim and Eastern European men or as sexual beings who only follow their instincts. By stressing their illfated life stories, the writer glori- fied the role of the Catholic Church as the only institution which tended to the moral integrity of the Alexandrians. Tomšič’s representations of Alexandrianism are not consistent with the findings of historical, ethnographic, and sociological research; however, they express the author’s personal point of view regarding this phenomenon, which is a perfectly legitimate modus operandi for authors in literature. However, by stressing the painstaking study of the sources, Tomšič himself – deliberately or not – created the opinion that his book was a mirror image of reality, and at the same time he perhaps did not even realize his own entrapment in the often collective fantasies and phantasms about womanhood. In this way, he gained many casual readers on his side who were only drawn to the “true” stories, and furthermore, he also re-opened the never-healed family wounds of many a descendant of the aleksan- drinke; wounds that created made due to the stigmatization of the aleksandrinke as women who were incapable of controlling their sexuality or who used their sexuality to their own advantage. The reception of Tomšič’s representations of Alexandrianism testifies to the power and the effect which a literary text has on its readers. This reveals that literature through subtle manipulation is still an important factor in the process of the forming of the collective memory, especially if literary science and criticism fail to reveal it as fiction.