The fiction of Nathalie Sarraute : A study of her work from "Tropismes" to "Vous les entendez?"

Bell, Sheila Margaret (1976) The fiction of Nathalie Sarraute : A study of her work from "Tropismes" to "Vous les entendez?". PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 10753944.pdf] PDF
Download (15MB)


This thesis is a critical study of the fiction of Nathalie Sarraute. We concentrate on her fiction, as representing the backbone of her creative endeavour, while making reference to her critical essays and her plays where these contribute to a better understanding of the novels, We give particular credit to, and draw extensively upon, those comments on her own work which Nathalie Sarraute has made at various moments and in various contexts, some of them to us personally, We emphasize the personal elements in Nathalie Sarraute's work: her sensitive awareness of tropisms and her view of human psychology have their sources in childhood experience, and her odyssey as a writer, from early hesitations and self-doubt to the later experience of success, finds expression through the preoccupations of each successive novel. Equally, however, we seek to emphasize Nathalie Sarraute's position within an established tradition and her debt to early modernism. Past utterances, as well as her present sense of alienation from the nouveau nouveau roman, whose ranks several of her colleagues from the 1950s have now joined, make her real allegiances clear. Our introduction situates this study in relation to previous Sarraute criticism and states its particular intentions. Nathalie Sarraute's subject-matter in all her novels is seen to be two-fold, to relate on the one hand to human psychology, on the other to art. A first chapter exeresses this subject-matter in greater detail, underlining thereby the extraordinary coherence of Nathalie Sarraute's fictional world. Attention here is concentrated on her vision of the human psyche, which changes little from work to work but which finds increasingly polished and confident expression. Some similarities to contemporary psychological theory are explored. The coherence of Nathalie Sarraute's 'work is also to be understood in terms of a continuing development and it is in such a context that the aesthetic themes are best explored. We aim, moreover, to examine each work as an independent artefact as well as one facet of a unified vision or as a link in a chain of development. In the main body of our thesis, therefore, we proceed in chronological fashion, work by work. Tropismes is seen as a remarkable first work, in which characteristic content and mode of expression are already well-developed. In the works which follow Tropismes, Nathalie Sarraute is primarily concerned with the novel tradition and particularly with the concept of character. Her self-doubt reflects the characteristic uncertainties of, the twentieth-century writer. Portrait d'un inconnu is a highly self-conscious work which explicitly contrasts itself with the greatest of its nineteenth-century predecessors; its narrator is a would-be novelist and his efforts to grapple with character provide the novel with its structure. Martereau takes up where Portrait leaves off and completes the demolition of the traditional 'character' of the realist novel. It is close to Portrait in its use of a narrator-figure as mediator between the novel's subject matter and its readers yet it moves towards Le Planetarium by integrating this figure far more thoroughly into the action of the novel, with Le Planetarium, Nathalie Sarraute no longer needs a defence against the world, an alibi in the shape of a neurotic narrator: here the central theme is the similarity of all the characters at this level of mental activity and all of them are observed from within. Le Planetarium is, then, the culmination of themes with which the earlier novels were concerned; it is also the point of departure for new developments. The concern with the novel widens to include other art objects and the relation of the writer to his environment is seen in a new light. Les Fruits d'or centres on a novel's relation with its public and explores the true nature of aesthetic experience, while revealing as spurious much of what passes for it. Entre la vie et la mort enters the consciousness of the writer once more, describes his experience of the creative process and examines his relationships with the outside world; external image and private reality are juxtaposed and their interrelation explored. Vous les entendez? questions, by means of a tiny incident and the picture of a family relationship which emerges from it, the validity of traditional views of art. The challenge represented by radical forms of modernism is recognized. We refer throughout to other writers whose work presents links, or interesting similarities, with that of Nathalie Sarraute. We end our study with a chapter which outlines Nathalie Sarraute's debt to a number of novelists and redefines her position within a tradition of twentieth-century fiction. Her work represents, we conclude, a development of, rather than a complete break with, previous fictional form. The theory of fiction which could best account for her work would be one which occupied a middle position between the extremes of mimesis and autonomy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: A M Boase
Keywords: French literature
Date of Award: 1976
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1976-74034
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Sep 2019 15:33
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2019 15:33

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year