Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Referencing Proust in Annie Guehenno's L'epreuve

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Referencing Proust in Annie Guehenno's L'epreuve

Article excerpt

This essay reads Annie Guehenno's L'epreuve as a literary memoir. Guehenno structures her memoir about her experiences in the French Resistance on key episodes from Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu. In this way, we are afforded access into Guehenno's inner world as a young agent de liaison.

L'epreuve, Annie Guehenno's first-person narrative chronicling her time as a Resistance member and prisoner of the Gestapo, is generally recognized as an important historical memoir of the Nazi Occupation of France, yet to date it has received scant attention as a literary work. I argue that L'epreuve is important both as an historical and literary work because it not only offers us invaluable insight into the way women prisoners of war were treated by the Nazi occupiers, but also is structured around literary allusions. In fact, Guehenno's memoir illustrates Helmut Peitsch's observation that literature is "one of the media of memory [that cuts] through other forms and practices of remembering and [makes] these forms and practices of social memory its object of study" (xix). L'epreuve is an excellent example of literature as a medium of memory because from the outset Guehenno, a student of French literature and art history at the Sorbonne before joining the Resistance, reconstructs her experience through the optic of literature: "J'ai cru quelque temps qu'il me fallait ecrire ce recit comme une sorte de chant du souvenir. Je pensais a tous mes camarades morts. Des mots de Valery chantaient en moi: Nos pensees sont pour eux le seul chemin du jour" (9). More importantly, perhaps, Guehenno offers us insight into a Resistante's experience, an aspect of the Occupation that, until recently, was largely ignored. As Margaret Higonnet notes, "if we do not examine women's roles in the mobilization for war, resistance to war, and demobilization and recovery, we will understand the processes involved in war itself incompletely" (xxi).

While Guehenno references a variety of authors ranging from Boileau to Valery, by far the most frequent allusions are to Marcel Proust. When she became a member of the Resistance, she was studying the French literary canon and even then, her favourite author was Proust: "J'adorais Proust. Illiers, le Combray de la Recherche du temps perdu, le village des aubepines, de la Vivonne et des deux chemins" (13). Allusions to A la recherche du temps perdu are a prominent artistic accompaniment to Guehenno's narrative, creating a foundation for the cathedral of her memories. Little by little, she establishes a relationship between her memoir and Proust's novel by privileging key episodes from Combray--those of la lanterne magique, le jeu japonais, and la madeleine--to portray crucial moments in her life in the Resistance and as a prisoner of the Gestapo. Clearly influenced by her literary studies, Guehenno downplays the dangers she encountered in favour of a more impressionistic approach. Russell Epstein emphasizes that "when the artist looks out onto the world, his way of looking at things is ordered by his sensibility. In creating a work of art, the artist attempts to convey this sensibility--guiding our attention to the same things that captured his (or her) attention" (225, emph. Epstein's). This is precisely what Guehenno does in L'epreuve because she reconstructs for us the inner world of her younger, idealistic self who entered the Resistance without paying heed to the dangers of such an endeavour (34). While the frequent integration of lines of poetry and prose give L'epreuve a literary feel, it is the allusions to A la recherche du temps perdu that capture the spirit and intent of Guehenno's undertaking. Indeed, Marcel's realization in Le temps retrouve that "l'oeuvre d'art etait le seul moyen de retrouver le Temps perdu" becomes Guehenno's guiding principle in writing L'epreuve. Proust's narrator concludes that "tous ces materiaux de l'oeuvre litteraire, c'est ma vie passee" (III: 899). …

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