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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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We have examined a wide range of French war fiction in terms of places and spaces, both real and imaginary. Illustrations of literary isotopias in scenes taken from the corpus have been given to demonstrate how they contribute to an overall isotopic ‘mode’, whether it be the mode of possession, dispossession, alienation or repossession. From detailed analyses of these scenes and their appropriate isotopias, we evaluated the relative importance of each of the four modes in each novel, identifying the dominant mode. Taking the examples of fiction on each successive chronological period in twentieth-century France, with a clear focus on war fiction in particular, we assessed which mode dominated that period.

We found that, with one exception, the isotopic mode of alienation tends to dominate in all periods. This may be surprising if one takes a uniquely historical view of these periods. Given the historical circumstances of the two World Wars of the twentieth century, one might expect the isotopic modal progression in French fiction of the twentieth century to move naturally enough from the Great War, as dealt with in Part 1, reflecting a dominant mode of loss, followed by repossession after the German defeat in 1918, through to the interwar era (Part 2) whose dominant mode in fiction emerges as being clearly alienation, particularly in the light of the increasing divide in French society; then, on to the ‘phoney war’ and the defeat of France in 1940, that should ostensibly be represented once again...

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