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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 2: East and West: Political isotopias in André Malraux’s Les Noyers de l’Altenburg (1943)



East and West: Political isotopias in André Malraux’s Les Noyers de l’Altenburg (1943)

Following L’Espoir, Les Noyers de l’Altenburg represents a step further in Malraux’s representation of the conquest of space and territory. The theme of political isotopias comes to the fore in Les Noyers, in which contested areas of Europe are depicted from different points of view and ideological issues are shown to dominate the fictional discourse against a backdrop of war.

Written during the Occupation of France by the Germans, Les Noyers de l’Altenburg is an enigmatic novel that was to be the first part of a larger work entitled La Lutte avec l’ange. Malraux claimed that the Gestapo seized the second volume of this work to which he appeared to be unwilling to return after the Second World War.1 At any rate, the circumstances in which he composed this novel – he had been demobilized in 1940 and managed to escape imprisonment in Germany – clearly gave him time to reflect on how the defeat of France in 1940 represented a dramatic break with the past and a chronological watershed after which France and Europe would not be the same. The phenomenon of ‘occupation’ in particular allowed him to perceive France as a space that, in one sense, had ceased to exist. This space was, politically, the France of the Third Republic; historically, it was the ← 289 | 290 → space of the polemical and agitated interwar era. In 1940, the French were...

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