IRONY, DIALOGUE, AND THE NOVEL
Nathalie Sarraute's long literary career, spanning the last two- thirds of the twentieth century and recently crowned with the publication of her collected works in the prestigious Pléiade series, is justly valued for the innovations it has brought to the novel as an aesthetic form. Her most original contribution to the evolution of fiction in the twentieth century is without doubt in the area of characterization.1 Building on the transformations wrought on the form and scope of the novel by literary forebears like Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, and Woolf--transformations which enabled it to do justice to a modern conception of identity vastly more complex than nineteenth-century realist aesthetics allowed--Sarraute's fiction addresses aspects of human behaviour which lie beneath rational thought or articulate language, and which she famously calls tropisms. These she defines in L'Ère du soupçon as 'des mouvements indéfinissables, qui glissent très rapidement aux limites de notre conscience; ils sont à l'origine de nos gestes, de nos paroles, des sentiments que nous manifestons'; universal and innate, they are 'la source secrète de notre existence' (ES 8).
The universe of tropisms which Sarraute explores and articulates with remarkable dedication throughout her writing career is animated above all by one human instinct, what--quoting Katherine Mansfield--she calls the 'terrible desire to establish contact' (ES 37).2 This urge is as fundamental as it is impossible to satisfy, '[un] besoin continuel et presque maniaque [. . .] d'une impossible____________________