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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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Introduction Setting the Scene


Over seventy years since the invasion, France is still preoccupied on both a political and a cultural level with the guilt and shame of the Nazi Occupation. The ethical ambiguities of this era and its aftermath continue to raise political, historical and juridical debates in the present day. This book examines the dif ferent expressions of shame in literary and filmic narratives of the war and Occupation produced since the end of the war and explores how over the intervening years these narrative manifesta- tions of the wartime shame of individuals constitute a collective legacy. By legacy, I mean a haunting trajectory over time within each generation and between generations. A legacy of shame recognizes the dif ferent ‘faces’ of collective shame and presents their disintegrated status in collective memory and history. The book demonstrates how shame is intimately connected to a wide range of long-standing and unresolved issues of the Occupation era. Shame has a dif ferent narrative economy from guilt. It is revealed through the stigmatized or degraded identities of narrative figures and groups; shifts in how war crimes and collaboration have been defined and viewed in the eyes of the law; and the resistance to both forgetting and remembering the events of the war in the postwar era. I will explore how the narrative figures of the abortionist and abortée, the tondue, the revenant, the collabo, perpetrator, résistant and child/young person express both individual and collective shame about the Occupation era. The book reappraises and...

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