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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 4: The rape of eastern Europe: Jonathan Littell, Les Bienveillantes (2006) – the Nazi occupation in Soviet Russia, France, Hungary, Poland



The rape of eastern Europe: Jonathan Littell, Les Bienveillantes (2006) – the Nazi occupation in Soviet Russia, France, Hungary, Poland

As we saw in our commentary on the novels of the Great War and on La Route des Flandres, the loss of territory and of the men who defend it is frequently represented in fiction in terms of liquefaction and decomposition. In his essay Le Sec et l’humide (2008), Jonathan Littell analyses the role of water (‘l’humide’) as a representation of the formless, the feminine, the enemy, in contrast to the ‘dry’ (‘le sec’), the upright, and the rigid which characterize, he argues, the mindset of ‘the fascist’.1

In his blockbuster novel, Les Bienveillantes, that won two prestigious literary prizes, Littell’s anti-hero, Maximilien Aue, is an SS (Schutzstaffel) man and therefore in some respects a stereotypical Fascist, who accompanies the Wehrmacht as a member of the infamous Einsatzgruppen (action groups) on their invasion of Western Russia in the summer of 1941, and who plays an important role in the extermination of Jews in this area, before applying his talents for genocide elsewhere in Eastern Europe.2 This chapter will analyse the importance of the relationships between Aue and the many and diverse locations in which he finds himself in the first part of the novel. The locations appear as different types of literary space in the ← 263 | 264 → novel, whether they be real places or spaces that are thematized in dream or dream-like sequences...

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