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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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Conclusion to Part 1

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The four novels analysed above illustrate the four different modes of isotopia. The dominant mode in Les Croix de bois is that of loss, as befits a novel primarily concerned with bearing witness to the deprivations and sufferings of the Great War veterans. Le Diable au corps demonstrates an unconventional form of the mode of possession, namely erotopia, since it gives precedence to depicting the desire to possess a character, another human being who is the wife of a soldier at the front; possession of spaces, such as selected ludic zones like the Marne and Paris, ranks second to the sexual politics of the illicit love affair. Alienation and ostracism from society dominate in Roux le bandit, while the two volumes from Les Hommes de bonne volonté, as we have seen, present a balanced, symmetrical panorama of the Great War, in its limited movement of ebb and flow over the territory of north-east France that results in repossession emerging as the dominant isotopic mode.

No single mode dominates in this selection of four novels, although loss and repossession clearly represent the twin poles of territorial flux. Further brief examples of these modes, as outlined below, will confirm this conclusion. In terms of possession, it is unsurprising that this mode appears less than the other three in novels of the Great War. As a nation, France was not engaged in an expansive, imperialistic war, but in defending its territory against Germany. In some circles, the mood may...

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