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Places and Spaces in French War Fiction of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries


Peter Tame

This monograph is the first book to examine places and spaces in French war fiction of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These places and spaces are presented as literary isotopias, or fictional «worlds», and analysed in a selective corpus of thirty-three novelists and forty-two examples of war fiction. The book identifies and classifies the various types of isotopia that appear in fiction in the form of scenes, images or literary microcosms. The author establishes four isotopic modes – possession, dispossession or loss, alienation, and repossession – by which means the isotopias are expressed. The spaces considered include territorial demands, gains, possessions, losses and national spaces, as well as internal mental spaces.
The corpus of novels selected for this project covers a wide variety of examples of fictional worlds: the spiritual, the marginal, the regional, the ideological, the psychological, the erotic, the ecological and the political. The methods of analysis identify these worlds, demonstrate both how they function in relation to the characters in the novels and how they affect the reader, and provide further illumination on the intentions, achievements and ideologies of the characters and of the novelists concerned. One of the findings of the study is that the greater the stress of war and conflict the more authors and characters tend to seek refuge in their imaginary (isotopic) worlds.
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Chapter 1: Roland Dorgelès, Les Croix de bois (1919): Memotopia of martyrdom



Roland Dorgelès, Les Croix de bois (1919): Memotopia of martyrdom

We begin with Roland Dorgelès’ classic novel of the Great War, Les Croix de bois. With its death toll of over ten million dead in Europe, of which one and a half million in France, the Great War was a tragic holocaust and is generally portrayed as a dystopia in much French fiction.1 The dominant mode in which Roland Dorgelès’ Les Croix de bois is narrated is therefore quite naturally that of loss. Secondarily, there are also moments of alienation, particularly when one of the French soldiers at the front, Sulphart, returns to Paris, that alternative world behind the front lines, to find that the civilians there do not understand what is going on at the front, and what is worse, they don’t seem to care much about it.

Just as critics have noted three distinct chronological stages in many novels of the Great War, there are three principal levels of space in this novel: firstly, the microtopic space of the individual soldier; secondly, the mesotopic [medium-sized] space or ‘world’ of the war in north-eastern France; and thirdly, the macrotopic area that is France itself as one of the European countries engaged in the death-struggle with its principal adversary, Germany.2 On the rare occasions that the protagonists quit the front ← 53 | 54 → and return to Paris, the latter clearly appears as an alternative world, a second mesotopic space, parallel...

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