Marina Warner’s Inventory of A Life Mislaid: An Unreliable Memoir. From Memoir to Filiation Narrative




life writing, filiation narrative, memoir, Marina Warner


Marina Warner’s Inventory of a Life Mislaid: An Unreliable Memoir (2021) is her second work belonging to the genre of life writing, more particularly the memoir. She had already written a biography, The Dragon Empress: The Life and Times of Tz’u-Hsi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835-1980, about a Chinese empress in 1972, but her memoir is more personal, rather focused on her parents’ marriage, life itineraries and travels through Italy, England and Egypt during and after WWII. Interestingly, many characteristics of her memoir fit with another life writing genre, identified by the French theorist Dominique Viart in the eighties as the ‘filiation narrative,’ initially in reference to French fiction of the same period. The filiation narrative focuses on a self-reflexive search for parental images, reconstructing the mother’s or father’s life through the excavation of documentation and archives, as well as speculation. This article will attempt to show how such thematic and structural features of the filiation narrative as ‘archeological’ narration, the use of archival documents and objects to restore a parent’s ‘lost’ life and, most importantly, the metabiographical aspect of the ‘enterprise’ are reflected, in various degrees, in Warner’s memoir, making it waver between fiction and non-fiction. These same features may thus pave the way for the English counterpart of the French ‘récit de filiation’ and build a pertinent generic continuity between both memoir and filiation narrative.