Reading Nathalie Sarraute: Dialogue and Distance

By Emer O'Beirne | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Few living writers can embody as well as does Nathalie Sarraute the evolution of French literature, specifically (though not solely) of the novel, across the whole of the twentieth century. Born in 1900, she is as old as the century itself and has been writing for a full two-thirds of it (she began her first collection of short prose texts, Tropismes, in 1932 and published her latest work, Ouvrez, in 1997). Between the 1940s and early 1970s her critical essays and public lectures, pursuing lines of enquiry already opened up by her novels, took issue with the relationship of fiction to reality, the ever-changing nature of that reality, and the imperative for the novelist to create new modes of representation to take account of the constant transformations in our understanding of ourselves and of the world around us. Profoundly ingrained in her writing is her response, as reader, to those Modernist writers whose novels shaped contemporary fiction, and whom of course she first read as contemporaries: above all, Proust, Joyce, and Woolf (among nineteenth-century precursors she emphasizes Dostoevsky and--to a limited extent--Flaubert). Thus the publication by Gallimard in 1996 of her ( Euvres complètes in the renowned Pléiade series offers a unique retrospective on one prominent writer's engagements with, and contribution to, the development of fiction throughout this century. (They are of course already incomplete, for they preceded the publication of Ouvrez in late 1997.) Germaine Brée sums that contribution up in a recent essay:

Dans sa 'traversée du siècle', Nathalie Sarrautea confronté toutes les grandes questions qui se sont posées dans le domaine du roman: nature du 'sujet' du 'moi et de l'autre', de la narration et de sa mise en œuvre dans l'écriture; et, sans recours à une théorie, elle les a inscrites dans son œuvre, calmement, un peu ironiquement bien entendu, mais sans arrogance. ( Brée 1996: 42)

These 'great questions'--the nature of the self, especially in its relations with others, and the kind of narration which can take account of it--are integral to my study, over the coming pages, of the role of dialogue in Nathalie Sarraute's prose works. Dialogue, moreover, is considered not only as it features within those works

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Reading Nathalie Sarraute: Dialogue and Distance
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- Irony, Dialogue, and the Novel 10
  • 2- The Writing Self: Irony And Authority 49
  • 3- The Self and Language: Authenticity and Convention 93
  • 4- Reading and Otherness 137
  • 5- Reading in Theory and Practice 181
  • Conclusion Ici-From Language to Silence And Back 221
  • Bibliography 236
  • Index 255
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