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literature

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French Literature: Twentieth Century  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

Both novels concern the same characters: Héloise and her diplomat family (in which everyone's name begins with "H"); her teacher Suzanne (a concentration camp survivor); and her fellow student Manuela, her sister Erika, and their German industrialist family. Les amies d'Héloise is an epistolary novel, whereas in Journal de Suzanne, Monferrand adopts the format of a diary.

Although there is much in Monferrand's novels that contemporary American readers would recognize, there are also several distinctly French elements: Monferrand explores the fate of lesbians during World War II, a theme that has been overlooked in other accounts, both fictional and historical, of the period; she underscores the recurring theme of what Elaine Marks has called "the gynaeceum," that is, the importance of the school as an erotically charged site for lesbian writers; and she participates in a larger French movement of coming to terms with the legacy of World War II in the present.

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Monferrand's characters are also conservative in their politics and lifestyle, preferring good manners and breeding over political correctness. Monferrand's works constitute an interesting reminder that gay and lesbian literature is not monolithic. Her characters' attitudes toward May '68, for example, suggests that not all gay and lesbian writers share radical or even leftist politics.

Political Conservatism among Gay and Lesbian Writers

This point is illustrated more generally by the variety of gay and lesbian literature in twentieth-century France. Although some gay and lesbian writing may be identified with feminist, socialist, and other liberal or progressive political causes (as in the case of Monique Wittig and Daniel Guérin, for example), not all gay and lesbian writing fits this mold.

In the case of Natalie Barney's expatriate circle, for example, the fascist sympathies of Barney and others are clear and puzzling.

Barney's male contemporaries were not exempt from fascist sympathies, as the case of the novelist, dramatist, and essayist Henry de Montherlant (1896-1972) illustrates. Although bisexual, Montherlant was an unabashed misogynist and antifeminist (as Beauvoir argues in Le deuxième sexe [The Second Sex]) and espoused fascist causes in France.

During his lifetime, Montherlant, who was elected to the Académie Francaise in 1961, was known as a moralist for his novels about pure, self-sacrificing, and patriotic characters. But after his suicide in 1972, a different side of him emerged.

Montherlant's correspondence with the career diplomat Roger Peyrefitte (b. 1907), whom he met in 1938, was published, revealing their mutual interest in casual affairs with boys.

Montherlant's Les garçons ([1969]; trans. as The Boys, 1974), published late in his life, describes the affairs between boys at an elite French school, based on the author's own experiences, which echo those recounted in Peyrefitte's novel with a similar theme, Les amitiés particulières ([1943]; trans. as Special Friendships, 1950). (The latter was the basis of a film directed by Fred Surin.)

Peyrefitte also wrote L'exilé de Capri ([1959]; trans. as The Exile of Capri, 1961), a fictionalized account of the life of the notorious belle-époque , Baron Jacques d'Adelswärd Fersen (1880-1923).

Less reactionary, Julien Green (b. 1900) is nevertheless associated with the Catholic literary revival, a generally conservative movement. Green's parents were American, and Green attended the University of Virginia from 1919 to 1922 and subsequently set some of his work in the American South.

His ambivalent portrayal of homosexual characters--in Le malfaiteur ([1955]; trans. as The Transgressor, 1957), for example--is testimony to his lifelong struggle with his own sexuality and the conflict between flesh and spirit.

In a similar vein, Marcel Jouhandeau (1888-1979) explores the conflict between homosexual love, heterosexual marriage, and religious mysticism in his novels.

La Jeunesse de Théophile (1921)--the name Théophile meaning, of course, "lover of God"--was the first in a series of novels set in the fictional town of Chamindour, and Chronique d'une passion (1949) describes the triangle between the narrator Marcel, his wife Elise (Jouhandeau's wife's real name was Elizabeth), and his homosexual lover Jacques. Jouhandeau also addressed these themes in his diary and essays.

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