The Romantic Prison: The French Tradition

Princeton University Press
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"Prison haunts our civilization," writes Victor Brombert. "Object of fear, it is also a subject of poetic reverie." Focusing on French literature of the Romantic era, the author probes the manifold significance of imprisonment as symbol and metaphor of the human condition. His thematic exploration draws on a constellation of writers ranging from the Platonic and Christian traditions to the Existentialist generation.

Professor Brombert points out that nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature endowed the prison image with unusual prestige, and he examines the historical and social reasons. After considering the influence of Pascal and of the myth of the Bastille, he closely analyzes the work of Borel, Stendhal, Victor Hugo, Nerval, Baudelaire, Huysmans, and Sartre, with excursions into texts by Byron, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Solzhenitsyn, Sade, and others. His approach reflects a concern with the interaction of literature, historiography, and popular myth. This imaginative treatment deepens our understanding of Romanticism and its favored themes. It offers fresh thoughts as well about modern man's dialectical tensions between oppression and inner freedom, fate and revolt, and the awareness of the finite and the longing for infinity. A wide-ranging conclusion speculates about the future of the prison theme in a world that has been threatened by extermination camps.

Originally published in 1978.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 8, 2015
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Pages
252
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ISBN
9781400867516
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / French
Literary Criticism / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A long list of canonical writers in Western literature have experienced incarceration and have subsequently written celebrated works about the imprisoned and the condemned. The French tradition is no exception: writers who produced noteworthy texts while incarcerated or who later wrote about their experiences in prison are found on the literary-historical landscape from the medieval era through the twentieth century. Prison writing by inmates, former guards, chaplains, teachers, and doctors is firmly established as part of the fabric of popular culture and has long attracted the attention of culture critics and scholars. Nevertheless, scant analysis exists of the prison novel a literary genre that, as Andrew Sobanet argues in Jail Sentences, uses fiction as a documentary tool. Its narrative peculiarities, which are the main subjects of Sobanet s study, include the use of autobiographical and testimonial techniques to critique the penitentiary system. Jail Sentences is the definitive study of the legacy of the Western tradition of prison writing in twentieth-century French literature. Although Sobanet focuses primarily on French writers Victor Serge, Jean Genet, Albertine Sarrazin, and Franöois Bon his keen sense of literary dialogue pulls into the orbit of his study an international corpus of work, from Dostoyevsky to Malcolm X. Jail Sentences arrives at a coherent definition of the genre, whose unique conventions stem from the innermost regions of our understanding of stories, truth, fiction, and belief.
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