English [pdf]
Swedish [pdf]


The French writer Annie Ernaux was born in 1940 and grew up in the small town of Yvetot in Normandy, where her parents had a combined grocery store and café. Her setting was poor but ambitious, with parents who had pulled themselves up from proletarian survival to a bourgeois life, where the memories of beaten earth floors never disappeared but where politics was seldom broached. In her writing, Ernaux consistently and from different angles, examines a life marked by strong disparities regarding gender, language and class. Her path to authorship was long and arduous.

Her memory work dealing with her rural background appeared early as a project attempting to widen the boundaries of literature beyond fiction in the narrow sense. Despite her classic, distinctive style, she declares that she is an “ethnologist of herself” rather than a writer of fiction. She often refers to Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, but equally illuminating is that she has been deeply impressed by a sociologist like Pierre Bourdieu. The ambition to rip apart the veil of fiction has led Ernaux to a methodic reconstruction of the past but also to an attempt to write a ‘raw’ type of prose in the form of a diary, registering purely external events. We see this in books such as Journal du dehors (1993; Exteriors, 1996) or La vie extérieure 19931999 (2000; Things Seen, 2010).

Annie Ernaux’s debut was Les armoires vides (1974; Cleaned Out, 1990)and already in this work she started her investigation of her Norman background, but it was her fourth book, La place (1983; A Man’s Place, 1992), that delivered her literary breakthrough. In a scant hundred pages she produced a dispassionate portrait of her father and the entire social milieu that had fundamentally formed him. The portrait employed her developing restrained and ethically motivated aesthetics, where her style has been forged hard and transparent. It flagged a series of autobiographical prose works one step beyond the imaginary worlds of fiction. And even if there is still a narrative voice, it is neutral and as far as possible anonymized. Moreover, Ernaux has inserted reflexions about her writing, where she distances herself from “the poetry of memory” and advocates une écriture plate: plain writing which in solidarity with the father evinces his world and his language. The concept écriture plate is related to le nouveau roman in France from the 1950s and the striving towards what Roland Barthes called a “zero degree of writing”. There is however also an important political dimension in Ernaux’s language. Her writing is always shadowed by a feeling of treason against the social class from which she departs. She has said that writing is a political act, opening our eyes for social inequality. And for this purpose she uses language as “a knife”, as she calls it, to tear apart the veils of imagination. In this violent yet chaste ambition to reveal the truth, she is also an heir of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

A few years later, she gave us an even shorter portrait, now of her mother, simply called Une femme (1987; A Woman’s Story, 1990). It offers significant elucidations on the nature of Ernaux’s writings, shifting between fiction, sociology and history. In its severe brevity it is a wonderful tribute to a strong woman, who more than the father had been able to maintain her dignity, often in fraught conditions. In her relationship to her mother, shame and onerous silence are not present in the same acute way.

Illustrative for the agony that accompanies Annie Ernaux’s reconstruction of the past is La honte (1996; Shame, 1998). It appears in many ways to be a continuation of the portrait of her father in its attempt to explain the sudden rage of the father against her mother at one particular moment in the past. The first line is a veritable whiplash: “My father tried to kill my mother one Sunday in June, in the early afternoon.” As always, Ernaux seeks to exceed the limit of the tolerable. With her own words in the book: “I have always wanted to write the sort of book that I find it impossible to talk about afterward, the sort of book that makes it impossible for me to withstand the gaze of others.” What makes the experience unbearable is the shame rooted in humiliating living conditions. When Annie Ernaux writes, the question of dignity or lack of dignity is moot. Literature gives her a haven to write what is impossible to communicate in direct contact with others. For Ernaux, before one’s sexual debut, shame turns out to be the only lasting trait in personal identity.

A masterpiece from her production is the clinically restrained narrative about a 23-year-old narrator’s illegal abortion, L’événement (2000; Happening, 2001). It is a first-person narrative, and the distance to the historical self is not stressed as in many other works. The I is made an object anyway through the moral restrictions of a repressive society and the patronizing attitude of people she is confronted with. It is a ruthlessly honest text, where in parentheses she adds reflexions in a vitally lucid voice, addressing herself and the reader in one and the same flow. In the spaces in between, we are in the time of writing, 25 years after the “event” took place, making even the reader intensely part of what once happened.

In L’occupation (2002; The Possession, 2008) Ernaux dissects the social mythology of romantic love. On the basis of notes in a diary recording her abandonment by a lover, she both confesses and attacks a self-image built on stereotypes. Her jealousy is painfully revealed as a form of obsession, and once more the dates of writing signal the moment when writing becomes a sharp weapon dissecting truth.

Annie Ernaux’s writing is throughout subordinated to the process of time. Nowhere else, the power of social conventions over our lives plays such an important role as in Les années (2008; The Years, 2017). It is her most ambitious project, which has given her an international reputation and a raft of followers and literary disciples. It has been called “the first collective autobiography” and the German poet Durs Grünbein has lauded it as a pathbreaking “sociological epic” of the contemporary Western world. Ernaux substitutes in the narrative the spontaneous memory of the self with the third person of collective memory, suggesting the force of zeitgeist on her life. There is no affective memory in the Proustian sense with which she can transport herself directly to her early years. Our lives are formed by the stories being told, the songs being sung or the trends in rule. And these conventions rapidly pass by. Therefore, Ernaux has great difficulty recognizing herself in the person that she once was. In Les années, personal and collective memory have merged together.

Annie Ernaux always returns to the obstacles of clear vision. In her social perspective the mechanisms of shame have a special force, and in Mémoire de fille (2016; A Girl’s Story, 2019), she recovers them from another angle. In that work she confronts herself as a young woman at the end of the 1950s, when she loses her virginity at a summer colony in Orne, Normandy. The reactions to her behaviour, which she herself contributes to make known, have the effect that she is expelled from the community. During half her life the writer has chosen not to deal with the painful event, which had negative effects both on her mental and physical health. She writes that it is a question of “a different kind of shame from that of being the daughter of shop-and-café keepers. It is the shame of having once been proud of being an object of desire.” Her eye is just as ruthless against herself as a young woman as against the ones humiliating her. A key passage runs: “When you want to clarify a prevailing truth […] this is always missing: the lack of understanding of your experience at the moment when you make your experience.” This obstacle is called “the opacity of the present”.

Annie Ernaux manifestly believes in the liberating force of writing. Her work is uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean. And when she with great courage and clinical acuity reveals the agony of the experience of class, describing shame, humiliation, jealousy or inability to see who you are, she has achieved something admirable and enduring.

Anders Olsson
Chairman of the Nobel Committee
The Swedish Academy

The quotations are taken from:
Shame / translated by Tanya Leslie. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 1998
A Girl’s Story / translated by Alison L. Strayer. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2019

Bibliography – a selection

Works in French

Les armoires vides. – Paris : Gallimard, 1974

Ce qu’ils disent ou rien. – Paris : Gallimard, 1977

La femme gelée. – Paris : Gallimard, 1981

La place. – Paris : Gallimard, 1983

Une femme. – Paris : Gallimard, 1987

Passion simple. – Paris : Gallimard, 1991

Journal du dehors. – Paris : Gallimard, 1993

Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit”. – Paris : Gallimard, 1996

La honte. – Paris : Gallimard, 1996

L’événement. – Paris : Gallimard, 2000

La vie extérieure : 19931999. – Paris : Gallimard, 2000

Se perdre. – Paris : Gallimard, 2001

L’occupation– Paris : Gallimard, 2002

L’écriture comme un couteau : entretien avec Frédéric-Yves Jeannet. – Paris : Stock, 2002

L’usage de la photo / avec Marc Marie– Paris : Gallimard, 2005

Les années. – Paris : Gallimard, 2008

L’atelier noir. – Paris : Éd. des Busclats, 2011

L’écriture comme un couteau : entretien avec Frédéric-Yves Jeannet / postface inédite de l’auteur. – Paris : Gallimard, 2011

L’autre fille. – Paris : NiL, 2011

Écrire la vie. – Paris : Gallimard, 2011 [Réunit ”Les armoires vides”…, ainsi que des photos et des extr. du journal intime inédit]

Retour à Yvetot. – Paris : Éd. du Mauconduit, 2013

Regarde les lumières mon amour. – Paris : Seuil, 2014

Le vrai lieu : entretiens avec Michelle Porte. – Paris : Gallimard, 2014

Mémoire de fille. – Paris : Gallimard, 2016

La place. [Édition revue.] – Paris : Gallimard, 2017

Hôtel Casanova : et autres textes brefs. – Paris : Gallimard, 2020

L’atelier noir. [Nouvelle édition.] – Paris : Gallimard, 2022

Le jeune homme. – Paris : Gallimard, 2022

Theatre, film et cetera

Une femme [Spectacle] / mise en scène de Micheline Uzan ; texte d’Annie Ernaux. – Cerge-Pontoise : Théâtre des arts, 1989-04-18

Acteurs du siècle / textes de Annie Ernaux, François Salvaing, Edgar Morin ; préface de Bernard Thibault. – Paris : Éd. Cercle d’art, 2000

Annie Ernaux [Images animées] / Timothy Miller, réal. ; Benoit Canu, comp. ; Annie Ernaux, participante. – la Cinquième ; Paris : MK2 TV, 2000

L’événement, La femme gelée [Spectacle] / mise en scène de Jeanne Champagne ; text d’Annie Ernaux. – Paris : Théâtre du Chaudron, 2002-09-27

L’autre. Directors: Patrick-Mario Bernard, Pierre Trividic. Screenplay: Patrick-Mario Bernard, Pierre Trividic. Based on the novel L’occupation by Annie Ernaux. 2008

L’autre [Images animées] / Pierre Trividic, Patrick-Mario Bernard, réal., scénario ; Annie Ernaux, aut. adapté. Adapté du roman ”L’occupation”. – Paris : MK2 [éd.] : TF1 vidéo, 2010

L’immigré de l’intérieur [Spectacle] / mise en scène et scénographie Jean-Michel Rivinoff ; pièce d’Annie Ernaux. – Orléans : Théâtre d’Orléans, 2011-01-12

Mon week-end au centre commercial. Documentary. Director: Naruna Kaplan de Macedo. Writers: Annie Ernaux, Naruna Kaplan de Macedo. 2014

Regarde les lumières mon amour [Spectacle] / mise en scène de Vincent Dhelin et Olivier
Menu ; d’après ”Regarde les lumières mon amour” d’Annie Ernaux. – Armèntieres : Le Vivat, 2016-09-30

Le Quat’sous [Spectacle] / mise en scène de Laurence Cordier ; d’après ”Une femme”, ”La honte” et ”Les armoires vides”, d’Annie Ernaux. – Bordeaux : Théâtre national Bordeaux Aquitaine, 2016-11-08

Regarde les lumières mon amour [Spectacle] / mise en scène de Marie-Laure Crochant ; textes Annie Ernaux, d’après Regarde les lumières mon amour. Spectacle de la Compagnie la Réciproque. – La Roche-sur-Yon : Le Grande R, 2016-11-29

Gli anni. Documentary short. Director: Sara Fgaier. Writer: Annie Ernaux (novel: The Years). 2018

Monsieur le Président. [Tracts de crise n.o 29, 9 pages.] – Paris : Gallimard, 2020

Passion Simple, adaption du roman éponyme d’Annie Ernaux, avec Laetitia Dosch et Sergueï Polounine. Director: Danielle Arbid. Screenplay: Danielle Arbid. 2020

L’événement. Director: Audrey Diwan. Screenplay by Marcia Romano and Audrey Diwan. Based on the novel by Annie Ernaux. 2021

J’ai aimé vivre là [Images animées] / Régis Sauder, réal. ; Annie Ernaux, aut. ; Annie Ernaux… [et al.], participants. Comprend des extraits des ouvrages d’Annie Ernaux ”Journal du dehors”, ”La vie extérieure” et ”Les années”. – Marseille : Shellac, 2022

Les années Super-8. Documentary. Directors: Annie Ernaux – David Ernaux-Briot. Writer Annie Ernaux. (Voice) : Annie Ernaux. 2022

Works in English

A Woman’s Story / translated by Tanya Leslie. – London : Quartet, 1990. – Translation of: Une femme

Cleaned Out / translated by Carol Sanders. – Elmwood Park : Dalkey Archive Press, 1990. – Translation of: Les armoires vides

Positions / translated by Tanya Leslie. – London : Quartet, 1991. – Translation of: La place

A Man’s Place / translated by Tanya Leslie. – New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, 1992. – Translation of: La place

Simple Passion / translated by Tanya Leslie. – New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993. – Translation of: Passion simple

Passion Perfect / translated by Tanya Leslie. – London : Quartet, 1993. – Translation of Passion simple

A Frozen Woman / translated by Linda Coverdale. – New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995. – Translation of: La femme gelée

Exteriors / translated by Tanya Leslie. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 1996. – Translation of: Journal du dehors

Shame / translated by Tanya Leslie. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 1998. – Translation of: La honte

I Remain in Darkness / translated by Tanya Leslie. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 1999. – Translation of: ”Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit”

Happening / translated by Tanya Leslie. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2001. – Translation of: L’événement

The Possession / translated by Anna Moschovakis. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2008. – Translation of: L’occupation

Things Seen / translated by Jonathan Kaplansky ; foreword by Brian Evenson. – Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2010. – Translation of: La vie extérieure

A Man’s Place / translated by Tanya Leslie ; introduced by Francine Prose. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2012. – Translation of: La place

The Years / translated by Alison L. Strayer. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2017. – Translation of: Les années

A Girl’s Story / translated by Alison L. Strayer. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2019. – Translation of: Mémoire de fille

Exteriors / translated by Alison L. Strayer. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2021. – London : Fitzcarraldo, 2021. – Translation of: Journal du dehors

Getting Lost / translated by Alison L. Strayer. – New York : Seven Stories Press, 2022. – London : Fitzcarraldo, 2022. – Translation of: Se perdre

Do What They Say or Else / translated by Christopher Beach and Carrie Noland. – Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2022. – Translation of: Ce qu’ils disent ou rien

Works in Swedish

Min far / översättning av Katja Waldén. – Stockholm : Viva, 1985. – Originaltitel: La place

Kvinnan / översättning av Katja Waldén. – Stockholm : Wahlström & Widstrand, 1993. – Originaltitel: Une femme

Sinnenas tid / översättning av Katja Waldén. – Stockholm : Wahlström & Widstrand, 1993. – Originaltitel: Passion simple

Skammen / översättning av Katja Waldén. – Stockholm : Wahlström & Widstrand, 1998. – Originaltitel: La honte

Min far & Kvinnan / översättning av Katja Waldén. – Stockholm : Norstedt, 2020. – Originaltitel: La place ; Une femme

Åren / översättning av Maria Björkman. – Stockholm : Norstedt, 2020. – Originaltitel: Les années

En flickas memoarer / översättning av Maria Björkman. – Stockholm : Norstedt, 2021. – Originaltitel: Mémoire de fille

Omständigheter / översättning av Maria Björkman. – Stockholm : Norstedt, 2022. –
Originaltitel: L’événement

Works in German

Das bessere Leben : Erzählung / übersetzt von Barbara Scriba-Sethe. – München : Bertelsmann, 1986. – Originaltitel: La place

Une femme / herausgegeben von Wolfgang Ader. [Französisch] – Stuttgart : Reclam, 1991. – Originaltitel: Une femme

Eine vollkommene Leidenschaft : Die Geschichte einer erotischen Faszination / übersetzt von Regina Maria Hartig. – Frankfurt am Main : Fischer, 1992. – Originaltitel: Passion simple

Das Leben einer Frau / übersetzt von Regina Maria Hartig. – Frankfurt am Main : Fischer, 1993. – Originaltitel: Une femme

Sich verlieren : die Geschichte einer Obsession / übersetzt von Gaby Wurster. – München : Goldmann, 2003. – Originaltitel: Se perdre

Gesichter einer Frau / übersetzt von Regina Maria Hartig. – München : Goldmann, 2007. – Originaltitel: Une femme

Die Jahre / übersetzt von Sonja Finck. – Berlin : Suhrkamp, 2017. – Originaltitel: Les années

Erinnerung eines Mädchens / übersetzt von Sonja Finck. – Berlin : Suhrkamp, 2018. – Originaltitel: Mémoire de fille

Der Platz / übersetzt von Sonja Finck. – Berlin : Suhrkamp, 2019. – Originaltitel: La place

Eine Frau / übersetzt von Sonja Finck. – Berlin : Suhrkamp, 2019. – Originaltitel: Une femme

Die Scham / übersetzt von Sonja Finck. – Berlin : Suhrkamp, 2020. – Originaltitel: La honte

Das Ereignis / übersetzt von Sonja Finck. – Berlin : Suhrkamp, 2021. – Originaltitel: L’événement

Das andere Mädchen / übersetzt von Sonja Finck. – Berlin : Suhrkamp, 2022. – Originaltitel: L’autre fille

Further Reading

Annie Ernaux / ce cahier a été dirigé par Pierre-Louis Fort. – Paris : Éditions de l’Herne, 2022

Annie Ernaux : Un engagement d’écriture / Pierre-Louis Fort et Violaine Houdart-Merot (éds.). – Paris : Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2015

Annie Ernaux : perspectives critiques / textes réunis par Sergio Villani. – New York : Legas, 2009

Annie Ernaux : se mettre en gage pour dire le monde / Thomas Hunkeler et Marc-Henry Soulet (éds.). – Genève : MëtisPresses, 2012

Annie Ernaux : se perdre dans l’ecriture de soi / sous la direction de Danielle Bajomée et Juliette Dor. – Paris : Klincksieck, 2011

Annie Ernaux : le Temps et la Mémoire / Colloque de Cerisy, [6–13 juillet 2012] ; [sous la direction de] Francine Best, Bruno Blanckeman, Francine Dugast-Portes ; avec la participation d’Annie Ernaux. – Paris : Stock, 2014

Annie Ernaux, une œuvre de l’entre-deux / études réunies par Fabrice Thumerel. Colloque, Amiens, 18 et 19 novembre 2002, organisé par le Centre de recherches littéraires, imaginaire et didactique. – Arras : Artois presses université, 2004

Arribert-Narce, Fabien, Photobiographies pour une écriture de notation de la vie (Roland Barthes, Denis Roche, Annie Ernaux). – Paris : Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2014

Bacholle- Bošković, Michèle, Annie Ernaux : de la perte au corps glorieux. – Rennes : Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2011

Charpentier, Isabelle, Une intellectuelle déplacée : Enjeux et usages sociaux de l’œuvre d’Annie Ernaux. [Diss.] – Université de Picardie Jules Verne, 1999

Chevrette, Éric, Vigiles de mémoire : esth/éthique du maldicible chez Modiano, Ernaux, Le Clézio. – Montréal : Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2020

Chossat, Michèle, Ernaux, Redonnet, Bâ et Ben Jelloun : le personnage féminin à l’aube du XXième siècle. – Frankfurt am Main : Lang, 2002

Day, Loraine & Jones, Tony, La place and Une femme. – Glasgow : University of Glasgow, 1990

Day, Loraine, Writing shame and desire : the work of Annie Ernaux. – Bern : Peter Lang, 2007

Dugast-Portes, Francine, Annie Ernaux : étude de l’œuvre. – Paris : Bordas, 2008

Fell, Alison, Ernaux : La place and La honte. – London : Grant and Cutler, 2006

Fernandez-Récatala, Denis, Annie Ernaux. – Monaco : Rocher, 1994

Fort, Pierre-Louis, Ma mère, la morte : l’écriture du deuil chez Yourcenar, Beauvoir et Ernaux. [Diss. 2004]. – Paris : Imago, 2007

Hugueny-Léger, Elise, Annie Ernaux, une poétique de la transgression. – Bern : Peter Lang, 2009

Jellenik, Cathy, Rewriting rewriting : Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, and Marie Redonnet. – Bern : Peter Lang, 2007

Komorowska, Agnieszka, Scham und Schrift : Strategien literarischer Subjektkonstitution bei Duras, Goldschmidt und Ernaux. – Heidelberg : Universitätsverlag Winter, 2017 [Revised version of the author’s doctoral thesis]

Kuhl, Heike Ina, ”Du mauvais goût : Annie Ernauxs Bildungsaufstieg als literatur- und gesellschaftskritische Selbstzerstörung : Eine Untersuchung ihres Werks mithilfe textlinguistischer, psykologischer und sociologischer Kriterien. – Berlin/Boston : De Gruyter, 2016

McIlvanney, Siobhán, Annie Ernaux : the return to origins. – Liverpool : Liverpool University Press, 2001

Nolan, Michael, ’Party Time’ and ’The Third Space’ : a study of Annie Ernaux’s ’Cleaned Out’. [Diss.] – Belfast : Queen’s University Belfast, 2022

Papillon, Joëlle, Désir et insoumission : La passivité active chez Nelly Arcan, Catherine Millet et Annie Ernaux. – Québec : Presses de l’Université de Laval, 2018

Pechota, Cornelia, Verleiblichung bei Peter Stamm und Annie Ernaux in Nacht ist der Tag und Erinnerung eines Mädchens”. – Bern : Peter Lang, 2020

Rossi, Marie-Laure, Écrire en régime médiatique : Marguerite Duras et Annie Ernaux : actrices et spectatrices de la communication de masse. – Paris : L’Harmattan, 2015

Savéan, Marie-France, La Place et Une femme d’Annie Ernaux / presenté par Marie-France Savéan. – Paris : Gallimard, 1994

Thomas, Lyn, Annie Ernaux : an introduction to the writer and her audience. – Oxford ; New York : Berg, 1999

Thomas, Lyn, Annie Ernaux, á la première personne : essai / traduit de l’anglais par Dolly Marquet. – Paris : Stock, 2005

Tondeur, Claire-Lise, Annie Ernaux, ou, l’exil intérieur. – Amsterdam : Rodopi, 1996

Willging, Jennifer, Telling anxiety : anxious narration in the work of Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Nathalie Sarraute, and Anne Hébert. – Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2007

Wroblewski, Ania, La vie des autres : Sophie Calle et Annie Ernaux : artistes hors-la-loi. – Montréal : Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2016

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