Time of Transition in the French Novel

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Watersheds and turning points mark most areas of French life around 1930, and the fiction of the time offers a uniquely privileged means of understanding them. It is a vital form of expression in these ‘années tournantes’: a key witness to France’s dramatic crises at a time when its own artistic techniques and methods are being decisively reshaped. Starting from one critic’s vivid image of a conservative literary ‘Maginot Line’ repeatedly breached by a new generation of writers, this book traces decisive transitions in French politics, society and culture. The focus falls on the novel, a genre particularly well equipped to reflect topical shifts and breakthroughs. Key issues are examined in turn: changing perceptions of the Great War, economic crisis, contrasting attitudes to the United States, the current effects of colonialism, and political polarization. The novel is then analyzed as a genre itself in the midst of change – in its style, narrative resources and relations with other forms (notably cinema, photography, jazz and noir) – with particular reference to major contemporary authors, especially Céline, Malraux, Queneau and Simenon. This book offers scholars working in the area, university teachers and students a fresh and challenging reading of an intriguing period which richly rewards further and closer exploration.


“ ... This book is richly multidisciplinary in scope, as befits its subject. The era is subjected to a critical appraisal in its political, ideological and geographical dimensions. The novel as a cultural form is interrogated across a broad range of genres and types as well as through some of its finest instances, notably Voyage au bout de la nuit, Le Chiendent, and La Condition humaine. Dr. Shorley demonstrates the subtly varying ways in which such narratives articulate and respond to the era’s anxieties, and reaches out beyond the confines of contexts and tradition. The reader will gain insights into the inter-relations between film, photography, finance and fiction in a period when the French novel is subjected to crucial transformations as it engages with the seismic shifts in the cultural and political configurations of the age. Not the least of Dr. Shorley’s impressive achievements here is to intervene at a key moment in the reconceptualization of literary history and of the novel form.” – (from the Preface) Professor David H. Walker, University of Sheffield

“The principal significance of this book lies in Dr. Shorley’s creative disruption of a conventional periodization that has inhibited insight into the riches of French inter-war fiction. Where lazy thinking sees two decades of French prose fiction as a monolithic block held between the book-ends of two world wars, Dr. Shorley focuses on the middle of this period to reveal clash, disorder, tension, ambiguity – a whole range of dynamic impulses at work in society and culture, radiating in different directions and revealing historical, political, literary and cultural lines of force stretching out well beyond the two world wars – and well beyond France ...” – Professor Roger Pearson, University of Oxford

“ ... This book impresses me as a fully achieved and high-quality work. While comprehensively versed in a very wide range of studies by others (literary, historical, sociological, cultural) on the chosen period (and its antecedents and progeny), Dr. Shorley patiently carves out his own variant approach to the overarching topic, and justifies his choices and evaluations eloquently. The analyses are subtle, but always lucidly conducted and cogently expressed ... a very well-written book ...” – Professor Walter Redfern, University of Reading

Table of Contents

Preface by David H. Walker
I. Periods, Points in Time, Transitions
II. Context, Background, Hinterland: Perceptions of Change
III. Transitions in the Texts: Events, Situations and Themes
IV. Transitions in the Texts: Genre, Form and Style
V. Across the Lines

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