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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 5 Shame and Resistance: Repression, Repeating, Remembering


Resistance In the concluding lines of Le syndrome de Vichy, Rousso suggests that the syndrome was the result of a need to unify the French nation. It is the result of a dichotomy that restored to health the ‘body’, the French people, at the price of the sickness of national memory.1 The postwar reconstruction of France required the repression of wartime divisions. The syndrome is the consequence of the resistance and re-emergence of these internal fractures. Rousso expresses the hope that the sickness is not hereditary or incurable. With a few exceptions examined so far, it appears to be both. If the cause of the syndrome is to be addressed the rift between the ‘body’, postwar national identity, and ‘memory’, collective cultural memory, needs to be mended. In Le hantise du passé, Rousso writes that memory is inscribed in the register of identity whereas history examines the past in light of the present to reveal the dif ference between the two and the changes that have taken place. Rousso also notes that memory is characterized by continuity, 1 ‘Après 1945, la « synthèse républicaine » chère à Stanley Hof fmann a retrouvé sa solidité, malgré tous les soubresauts et divisions de l’après-guerre. Autant les mani- festations du souvenir ont donné l’image d’un pays incapable de retrouver le fil de son histoire, autant la société a raf fermi progressivement ses aires de consensus. Le syndrome n’est-il que le prix de cette évolution? Si la mémoire a ét...

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