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Authentic Fictions

Cosmopolitan Writing of the Troisième République, 1908–1940


Tom Genrich

This comparative study examines the prose writings of the best-known cosmopolitan authors of the Third French Republic: the modernists Jean Giraudoux, Valery Larbaud and Paul Morand, and the best-selling popular writer Maurice Dekobra. It investigates what constituted the ‘cosmopolitanism’ that they publicly proclaimed between the World Wars, a classification which has been widely accepted by commentators ever since. In particular, it considers whether conventional definitions of cosmopolitanism – as an unproblematic attitude of xenophilia coupled with wanderlust, or as an ecumenical humanism – can co-exist with the blind spots and prejudices of its practitioners. This book offers a comprehensive reinterpretation of the writers’ identity politics based on their approach to Otherness (gender, race, nationality, political affiliation) as well as to formal innovation. It argues that cosmopolitanism is the organizing principle for their literary and existential attempts at cultivating authentic Selfhood. Through its socio-political embeddedness, this cosmopolitanism reveals the ideological and cultural preoccupations of the day.
Contents: Exploration of the Other along gender, national, political, and racial lines – (Proto-existentialist) search for authentic existence within the geopolitical and socio-cultural upheavals of the Troisième RépubliqueInquiétude and the ‘decline of Europe’ – Impact of the demographic sea change caused by the First World War on gender politics, on the gender composition of readers of fiction and on the gender of fictional characters – Freudianism in French literature – Cosmopolitanism as a historical idea and ideal distinct from exoticism or universalism and ultimately defined by its irresolvable internal contradictions – Paradigm of the consumer society (global spread of capitalism, use of advertising, brand names, mechanical reproduction) – Modernist quest for formal innovation.