My research projects focus on three main areas. First, as part of the research conducted for my book-manuscript based on an enriched and revised version of my doctoral dissertation, I am exploring additional media representations of the French Resistance. Second, I will develop new instructional resources that focus on wars in which France was engaged from 1870 to 1962. Third, I will consider the field of the adventure novel in French and Francophone literature and journalism.
Media Representations of the French Resistance
In order to fill the existing gap in scholarly studies of television as a site of memory, a topic surprisingly absent from Pierre Nora’s monumental and pivotal work on the question of collective memory and national identity, Les Lieux de Mémoire, I am further exploring the topic of the Occupation in television and will analyze new television fictions and work on their conception as well as on their reception. Those include French television docudramas dealing with the Resistance, notably Jean-Moulin and Jean Moulin: une Affaire française, both of which portray the same eponymous historical figure and Resistance hero par excellence, and which aired only a few months apart (in July 2002 and in January 2003) by two antithetic networks: on the one hand, privately-owned and commercially-oriented TF1, and on the other, the public channel France 2, its main competitor. As part of this study, I will interview the directors of these telefilms, as well as Jean-Pierre Azéma, one of the leading experts on the historical period under study and the main historical consultant to Un Village français, to assess the challenges and constraints inherent to the nature of the production and of the targeted audience, and to identify the difficulties encountered during the making of the series, in order to determine the extent to which networks can affect the production of a fiction.
Secondly, the Internet forum available to televiewers of the very popular historical television series Un Village français (on which I have worked closely) constitutes an excellent opportunity to explore a proliferating cultural platform of a new kind, one that allows viewers to share their reactions and feelings in a community of storytelling. Interestingly, besides the expected emotional responses, an abundance of critical and very insightful commentaries and even collective projects can be found on this particular forum. In one thread, for example, “Souvenirs, souvenirs,” a title that conveys a certain sense of nostalgia and refers to a very popular wartime song, viewers took the initiative to reach out and invite those who lived through the war to share their recollections of life in France during the Occupation, thereby turning the forum into a virtual, even if possibly ephemeral, “site of memory.”
In a chapter of my monograph, I demonstrate how France’s most famous comic book series Astérix and Obélix has come to incarnate the spirit of a would-be indomitable Gallic people equipped, in essence, to resist any form of intrusion. I am now exploring a genre that emancipated itself from the comic book to become widely regarded as an immensely popular major art form: the graphic novel. The recent publication of a dozen graphic novels depicting the French Resistance (half of them in the past four years only) also coincides with a renewed interest in the French Resistance as demonstrated by the growing number of scholarly publications and new fictions alike. I am thus examining more than half a century of graphic novels, from the publication of La Bête est morte in 1944 (and its re-edition in 2007) in a form that foresaw Art Spiegelman’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus (with characters presented in animal forms), to the fifth installment of the saga Il était une fois en France (2011), which portrays the ambiguous historical character of Joseph Joanovici, a French-Jewish iron-supplier who made a fortune during the war by working with Nazi Germany while allegedly helping the Resistance at the same time.
These studies on television, Internet forums, and graphic novels contribute to my ongoing research for my book-manuscript. This monograph is also to be complemented by new case studies of fictions that straightforwardly debunk the myth of France as a country of resisters, such as Louis Malle’s Lacombe Lucien (1974), which screenplay was written by recent Nobel Prize laureate Patrick Modiano, and José Giovanni’s Mon Ami le traître (1977).
Development of Instructional Resources
From 2006 to 2012, I had the chance to film the testimonies of about twenty veteran Resistance fighters during an annual meeting in France as part of my course on fictional representations of the French Resistance. Each year, about a dozen American students met with as many resisters to participate in a two-hour roundtable Q&A session. I would now like to edit the accumulated footage and add captioning in English so as to make these testimonials available online to an audience not limited by the command of the French language. Such unique material represents a noteworthy opportunity to bring to life some of the actors of the Resistance for the benefit of students and scholars alike.
Furthermore, my ambition is to edit a critical anthology in English of French and Francophone writers’ responses to French wars from 1870 to 1962 when France’s colonial empire crumbled. This anthology will include works by Guy de Maupassant (Boule de Suif, 1880) and Émile Zola (L’Attaque du Moulin, 1880) for the Franco-Prussian War, Henri Barbusse (Le Feu, 1916) and Raymond Radiguet (Le Diable au corps, 1923) for WWI, Marcel Aymé (Uranus, 1948) and Louis-Ferdinand Céline (D’un Château l’autre, 1957) for responses to the collaboration during WWII, and Assia Djebar (Les Enfants du nouveau monde, 1962) and Pierre Schoendoerffer (Le Crabe-tambour, 1976) for French colonial wars. Responsibilities of contributors will include creating study questions, offering critical insight, and translating key passages of selected works presently unavailable in English. This anthology will thus provide instructors and students with a new pedagogical resource in the field of French Studies that will allow them to discover, through literary texts, the dramatic and radical changes experienced in contemporary French society throughout the twentieth century.
The Adventure Novel
“Adventure is the essence of fiction.” So begins Jean-Yves Tadié’s study of a literary genre once immensely popular and surprisingly long overlooked by scholars of French, in particular when compared to the research undertaken by their counterparts in American and English Literatures: the adventure novel. My next endeavor is to examine its relationship to autobiography and “grand reportage,” and the reasons for both its success and its decline between the 1870s and the 1920s. This will constitute the core of an article and of a se minar on exotic travels, newspaper reporting and adventure novels, including novels by Pierre Benoit, Blaise Cendrars, Joseph Kessel, Pierre Loti, Henry de Monfreid, Pierre Mac Orlan, and Jules Verne. Such a seminar could be offered in English in a comparative literature version and include works of Anglophone novelists such as Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson or Mark Twain, to cite but a few of the most famous writers.
In addition, so as to promote the work of one of the most travelled members of the Académie française and exciting novelists of the twentieth century–yet surprisingly absent from most American universities’ curricula–I would like to establish an International Society for the Friends of Joseph Kessel, and to mark the birth of this society, I will organize an international interdisciplinary conference: “Around the World with Joseph Kessel: from Newspaper Reporting to the Writing of Adventure Novels.”