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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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Chapter 3: The dark, dystopian night-time of the soul: André Chamson’s Le Puits des miracles (1945)

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CHAPTER 3

The dark, dystopian night-time of the soul: André Chamson’s Le Puits des miracles (1945)

After participating militarily in the defeat of 1940, like his friend André Malraux, André Chamson spent a substantial part of the Occupation (1940–44) as a refugee in Montauban in the south of France. Unlike the northern occupied zone, the southern half of France (officially designated as the ‘zone libre’ [free zone]) was not officially occupied by the Germans until the Allies invaded North Africa in November 1942. Chamson refused to publish during this period, in protest against the Vichy regime that he could not accept as France’s legal and legitimate government. But, like many other French authors during the Occupation, he continued to write.

While helping his wife to look after the Louvre’s art treasures that had been temporarily housed in the museum at Montauban in order to keep them from falling into the clutches of the Germans in the north, Chamson began writing Le Puits des miracles in the winter of 1942 and completed it in 1943. According to his biographer, Micheline Cellier-Gelly, Chamson kept the manuscript hidden in a crevice in a tree.1 Montauban, once a refuge and stronghold for persecuted Protestants – particularly in the seventeenth century – is now a quiet, pretty, provincial town north of Toulouse. In Chamson’s novel, however, it is transformed into a dystopian, nightmarish community during the Occupation of France.

The novel’s isotopic pattern moves from a mood of...

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