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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 3: The labyrinth of defeat: Claude Simon, La Route des Flandres (1960)



The labyrinth of defeat: Claude Simon, La Route des Flandres (1960)

A later fictional representation of the start of the Second World War that also primarily depicts loss in the turmoil of 1940 is Claude Simon’s La Route des Flandres, albeit once again from the military point of view and, it should be added, from the losers’ point of view.1 Few novels illustrate Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the ‘chronotope of the road’ better than this one.2 It is on this [Flanders] road that many of the events recounted in the novel occur. Like the nouveaux romanciers, with whom he has often been associated, Simon plays with time and space throughout, the road acting as the principal backdrop to his narrative.3 A memotopia, or world of memory, underpins the bulk of the narrative, since Georges, acting as a narrator who is chronologically situated in the years following the Second World War, spends a few nocturnal hours mulling over his memories of the débâcle of 1940 in which the French army was routed by the German army in five weeks. The generation of the text recalls James Joyce’s creation of a similar nocturnal subconscience in Finnegans Wake (1939) that ← 249 | 250 → jumps from memory to memory, constantly bumping against the limits of narrative coherence.4

Loss and erotopia

The dominating isotopic modes of this novel are primarily loss, followed by repossession. The former mode includes military loss of the campaign, loss...

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