Romans américains: Representations of the United States in Post-9/11 French Fiction

Warwood, Casey, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Blatt, Ari, Department of French, University of Virginia
Roger, Philippe, Department of French, University of Virginia
Horne, Janet, Department of French, University of Virginia
Tilghman, Christopher, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation seeks to define a new sub-genre of the contemporary French novel – the roman américain – as texts which engage with and explore America, the Franco-American relationship, or typically American literary genres and topoi. To be sure, French travelers and intellectuals – from Chateaubriand to Tocqueville, from Duhamel to Céline, from Sartre and Beauvoir to Baudrillard – have long been writing about America. In recent years, however, a number of factors – from post-Cold War debates about anti-Americanism, Americanization, and globalization to the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the subsequent war in Iraq, not to forget the “return to storytelling” in post-1980s French literature – have provoked an upsurge in this trend. These romans américains represent a range of texts that engage the American experience, from autofictional considerations of the effects of 9/11 and its aftermath on the Franco-American alliance to creative generic experimentations which recast American people, places, and culture as seen through French eyes. This would include, in the first category, Frédéric Beigbeder’s Windows on the World (2003) and Amélie Nothomb’s Une forme de vie (2010), and in the second category, Jean Rolin’s Le Ravissement de Britney Spears (2011); Christine Montalbetti’s Western (2005) and Journée américaine (2009), and Tanguy Viel’s La Disparition de Jim Sullivan (2013). Scholars concentrating on French views of America have long pointed out that, for French writers, America serves as a reflective surface or mirror of sorts. In the romans américains that are the subject of this dissertation, the American content is not the only reflective surface. The pages of these self-conscious novels also replicate this reflexivity. The formal, metafictional mirrors make clear that each roman américain in this corpus is just as much about literary creation and the state of the French novel today as it is about the respective authors’ views of the United States. American literature and culture may be ubiquitous in France these days, and English may be the global lingua franca. These novels are, however, written en français. In reflecting on America and in writing their versions of American stories, the authors of romans américains refuse to let America – and American literature – have the final word.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
French, Fiction, Franco-American, contemporary French novel, post-9/11 literature, roman américain, American mirror, metafiction, Frédéric Beigbeder, Amélie Nothomb, Jean Rolin, Christine Montalbetti, Tanguy Viel
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