Embattled prose: Writing World War I, 1914–1919
This dissertation revisits the French literature of the Great War, arguing that the modernity of the first-wave Great War novel lies in the dialogue in which it found itself with other media in their adolescence and infancy. Sources include newspapers and serial fiction published during the war, the archives of the Goncourt Academy and the memoirs of its members, as well as a wide-range of novels, cartoons, and satirical journals.
At the same time that the mature novel found itself in competition with newer, younger media, it did not opt for radical formal innovation, but fell back upon the archaic past-lives of the novel as the genre of epic struggles and picaresque journeys. Neither the novel, nor the institutions that surrounded it---the mass press and the literary establishment---managed to reconcile tensions in Great War culture between these two literary modes. The epic mode, that of great heroes and peak times, celebrates the self-sacrifice of the individual in the name of the community, while the picaresque mode studies the Everyman and the everyday. The horizons of the picaresque are the present and the future, not the past. It values humor over heroism and self-preservation over self-sacrifice.
If French literature and French thought emerged from the First World War in what Paul Valéry diagnosed as a "crisis of the mind," it is in part because these tensions between a heroic and an anti-heroic vision of the war had not been resolved during the war years. The first-wave novel's failure to come to terms with the Great War led to the radical rethinking of both French journalistic practice and the novel as a literary form. One final legacy of the first-wave novel's failure to provide a unified and consensual vision of the war is the resurgence of the war as a narrative problem in the novels of the Great War revival of the 1980s to today.
0335: European history