Palimpsestic life narratives in French by women from contemporary Tunisia

  • Nicola Pearson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis is the first study to focus particularly on francophone life narratives by women from contemporary Tunisia. Due to their innovative methods and original engagement with Tunisian contexts, the texts in this corpus provide us with an opportunity to revisit definitions of the genre of life narrative. Although other scholars have previously employed the figure of the palimpsest in their theoretical discussions of literary and filmic texts (e.g., Genette, Gilbert and Gubar, Dillon, Silverman and Donadey), this is the first time that it has been theorised in relation to the genre of life narrative. My analyses of four Tunisian life narratives across diverse media— a blog by Ben Mhenni (A Tunisian Girl, بنيّة تونسية , 2010-2012); a documentary film by El Fani (Même pas mal, 2012); a photobook by Fellous (Pièces détachées, 2017), and a literary life narrative by Zouari (Le Corps de ma mère, 2016)—allow me to define a new concept of the palimpsestic life narrative as a multi-layered, transnational and relational text in diverse media that takes as its subject an author’s life in a complex postcolonial context.

I explore the extent to which each female creative practitioner can be seen to overwrite censorship and patriarchal order by adding their own, female-authored, life narrative to the palimpsest of Tunisian history. Additionally, I discuss the degree to which there are internal tensions between the narrative ‘layers’ of each text, which may work to produce ambiguous identities that resist interpretation and easy classification. Furthermore, I explore the extent to which the figure of the palimpsest can be employed as a mode of reading to envisage the constructed ‘selves’ that are evoked across this thesis. Finally, I evaluate the degree to which the corpus might be said to enact a politics of palimpsestic identity: a strategy of resistance to monolithic templates for national identity in Tunisia following the 2011 revolution.
Date of Award27 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorSiobhan M Shilton (Supervisor) & Nina Parish (Supervisor)

Cite this