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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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Chapter 2 Reflections of Shame: The Broken Mirror


Chapter 2 Ref lections of Shame: The Broken Mirror In his study of the tondues, the women accused of collaboration whose heads were shaved in a public ceremony during the Liberation of France, Alain Brossat notes the comparison of the humiliation of the head shaving ceremony with the gruesome acts of public punishment of the Middle Ages is an observation common to accounts of novelists and social commenta- tors alike. For Brossat, the act of head shaving brings about a present-day confrontation with the barbaric punishments of the past. Brossat argues that head shaving is a more powerful symbol of the clash between oppres- sion and freedom than mass killing.1 Henry Rousso also attests to the tonte having the symbolic power of a lynching.2 Figuratively, tondre (to shave) is tuer (to kill); it expresses society’s desire to punish and expel wartime shame. This analysis of narratives of the tondues examines why it failed. In L’échappée, the head shaving ceremony awakens Madeleine to the realiza- tion that, following the loss of her German lover and her feeling that her life has ended, in the eyes of the local community her shame also confers a social death: ‘J’accepte de traverser la place, c’est ce qu’ils veulent, je suis déjà morte de toute façon, ils peuvent me frapper, me grif fer, m’insulter, je ne sens plus rien, je ne suis plus rien’.3 The tonsure, the shaving of the hair, 1 Alain Brossat, Les tondues: un carnaval moche (Paris: Éditions...

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