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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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Part 1: The Great War



The Great War

← 47 | 48 →

← 48 | 49 →


Of the four isotopic modes outlined in the Introduction, loss would seem to apply most appropriately to the terrible carnage caused in Europe by the Great War, or the First World War as it came to be called. It was in this vein that Sigmund Freud wrote despairingly, declaring that ‘no event has ever destroyed so much that is precious in the common possessions of humanity’.1 Not only were ‘common possessions’ destroyed, but so too were places and spaces, territories, and possessions that belonged to nations. Although few historians stress this basic fact, the War, like so many wars, was after all primarily about territory, about gaining, losing and repossessing land.2 Even in the last month of the war, November 1918, leaders still wanted to gain as much territory as possible if only to reinforce their positions at the negotiating table following the armistice, as is stated in the latest fictional account of France in World War I, Pierre Lemaitre’s Goncourt Prize-winning novel, Au revoir là-haut (2013).3 The fact may be so obvious as to not need stating; or perhaps it is because war is about territory, but also about more than just territory. Primo Levi sensed this when, in an interview, he tried to answer the difficult questions: why do men make war and what caused the two world wars?

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