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A Legacy of Shame

French Narratives of War and Occupation

Ruth Kitchen

A Legacy of Shame is the first in-depth study of shame in French narratives of the Second World War and the Nazi Occupation of France. Wartime shame continues to be a recurrent theme in literature and film and is an ongoing topic of cultural and political debate and yet the problem of shame has only been mentioned incidentally by cultural critics. In the concluding lines of Le Syndrome de Vichy, Henry Rousso locates the ‘syndrome’, the continual return of wartime memories in the present, in the postwar desire to restore national unity and identity. This book proposes that beneath Rousso’s syndrome lies a disintegrated sense of shame. Although this shame is painfully exposed in narratives, it remains unacknowledged as a collective, national memory and has consequently continued to trouble postwar constructions of national identity and history. By investigating narrative expressions of shame and theories of shame produced by the events of this historical moment, the book examines the issues that this legacy presents for cultural history, collective memory and, implicitly, for postwar national identity.

This book is the winner of the Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in French Studies 2011.


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This book was adapted from my doctoral thesis. My doctorate was attached to a collaborative AHRC research project based at the University of Leeds involving the University of Durham and the University of Leeds entitled Narratives of the Second World War and Occupation in France 1939 to the Present: Cultural Production and Narrative Identity. The project research team was led by Prof. Margaret Atack and comprised co-investigator Prof. Christopher Lloyd, postdoctoral researcher Dr Nina Sutherland, Richard Harness and Ruth Kitchen. The technical team comprised Prof. Peter Millican, Dr Sarah Cattau and Henry Merviale. My contribution to the work was to carry out research into the representation and evolution of the themes of guilt and shame in narratives of the Nazi Occupation of France. I would like to express special gratitude to my thesis supervisors, Margaret Atack and Max Silverman, for their critical insights and the expert knowledge that they so generously shared, which enabled me to sharpen the arguments presented here. Many thanks also to Ruth Swanwick, my colleague, mentor and friend, who has supported and inspired me in my work with her in Deaf Education and in bringing this book to comple- tion. Thanks also to the founding members of the Critical Theory Reading Group at the University of Leeds: Paul Taylor, Ben Bollig, Sam Durrant, Liz Pender and David Thom whose tangential discussions of fered light- ness and fresh and diverse perspectives on the ideas of a number of critical theorists and philosophers. I am also grateful to...

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