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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 4: Jules Romains, Prélude à Verdun (1937) and Verdun (1938): Les Hommes de bonne volonté (1932–1947)

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CHAPTER 4

Jules Romains, Prélude à Verdun (1937) and Verdun (1938): Les Hommes de bonne volonté (1932–1947)

Whereas Le Diable au corps stresses the ludic aspect of life behind the lines during the Great War, Jules Romains’s Prélude à Verdun and Verdun concentrate on the action in the killing fields, or thanatopia, to the east of Paris. These two ‘key volumes’ (15 and 16) on World War I in the immense twenty-seven-volume roman-fleuve entitled Les Hommes de bonne volonté present part of a vast social panorama of representatives of contemporary French society, including civilians like Pierre Jallez who remain in the capital, not far from the battlefields in terms of actual distance but light-years away in terms of experience and mentality.1 As Birkett and Kearns have noted, the ‘nature of collective experience is central’ to this novel cycle, within which these two volumes are ‘thematically and structurally central’ to Romains’s ambitious project that demonstrates throughout its great length the author’s unanimist theories, involving an overview of groups and masses of human beings, all moved by the same passions and psychoses.2

In these two central and pivotal volumes of an epic novel that runs from 1908 to 1933, Verdun clearly occupies a position centre-stage.3 It is a place that functions not only as a strategic pivot in the titanic seesaw ← 99 | 100 → struggle between French and German forces but also as an iconic symbol of the past. Down the ages, Verdun as part of...

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