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Isotopias

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

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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 2: Raymond Radiguet, Le Diable au corps (1923): Egotopia and erotopia

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CHAPTER 2

Raymond Radiguet, Le Diable au corps (1923): Egotopia and erotopia

In contrast to Les Croix de bois, Le Diable au corps remains a permanent scandal, even today.1 At the heart of this novel, written by the twenty-year-old Radiguet, lies a ludic space, or ludotopia, that shocks the reader by its unseemly incongruity in time of war. While Jacques, Marthe’s husband, is away fighting at the front, a younger boy, François, enters into a torrid love affair with his wife. To make things worse, François is fifteen when he meets the eighteen-year-old Marthe just before she marries Jacques, a rather dull but dutiful fiancé. For much of the novel, the ‘killing fields’ of north-eastern France, where Jacques spends much of his time, remain in the background, for this is principally a story of civilian life behind the lines. Yet it is precisely this tasteless (as some would say) contrast between the harsh and dangerous world of war and François’ own ‘playground’ in the Paris suburbs of the Marne region to the east of the capital that provides the unsettling infrastructure of the novel. The proximity of one space to the other serves to increase the incongruity and scandalous nature of the tale.

The displacement of men to the front in the Great War left many gaps in civilian society, gaps that, in the case of couples, were often filled by lovers like François. Indeed, Roland Dorgelès’s second novel,...

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