Dans quelle mesure peut-on dire que Enfance n’est pas une autobiographie traditionnelle ?
Nathalie Sarraute’s 1983 novel Enfance has been subject to much speculation regarding its generic status. The argument surrounding its genre as autobiography or fiction is debatable and has been ongoing for sometime. The only way to address this point in question is to first define an autobiography, toanalyse the factors that constitute an autobiography. Personally, I would recognise an autobiographical piece of work as being an entirely factual recount of events, true to their chronological order, blatantly retroactive and most importantly the author must correspond with the principal character. An autobiography often comes across as a quest for ratification of the author’s own identity, aneffort to deduce the reason for their own existence. My own interpretation of what forms an autobiography corresponds almost exactly with Philippe Lejeune’s widely accepted definition from his 1974 work Le Pacte Autobiographique. In this he states that an autobiography must assume the form of a « Recit rétrospectif en prose qu’une personne réelle fait de sa propre existence; lorsqu’elle met l’accentsur l’histoire de sa vie individuelle, sur l’histoire de sa personnalité ». By extracting each determining factor posed in this definition I will examine Nathalie Sarraute’s Enfance with the following things in mind; Is it or is it not merely a recount in prose? Does it adhere to the condition of being strictly retrospective? Do the experiences recounted refer to Sarraute’s own individual life?Does the story encapsulate the history of the author’s personality? Is it clear that the author, the narrator and the main character are the same person and finally, does the story relate to and resolve the meaning of the author’s existence?
Firstly, I argue that it cannot be justified to refer to this piece of work as a mere “récit”. Sarraute’s novel is not just an account nor is it a meredescription of her childhood memories. It acts more as a summoning of the past, an evocation as she calls forth emotions, feeling and responses from her childhood. « Alors, tu vas vraiment faire ca? Evoquer tes souvenirs d’enfance » In this way, it surpasses Lejeune’s definition as purely being a « récit ». Moreover, Lejeune’s definition states that the autobiography must be recounted in proseform. The word “prose” suggests non-rhythmic, almost monosyllabic style of writing and this, in no way, reflects Sarraute’s style. Enfance is full of poetic, metaphorical, emblematic writing. The author does not employ the use of metaphor in a conventional sense. The words become true living objects in a sense that they become metaphors for their true meanings. This is apparent when Sarraute speaksof the “malheur” that ensnared her after the comment made by the maid; “Quel malheur quand même de ne pas avoir de mère.” Young Natacha’s response “le mot frappe. . .de plein fouet” portrays her discontent as a child. The word “malheur” is given a power which truly conveys the author’s imprisonment in the emotion. The words become “offensive missiles”, with the main function of communicating to thereader the way in which the young child has become a slave to her sorrow. The word is given further meaning when she says that “le malheur qui ne m’avait jamais approchée, jamais effleurée, s’est abbatu sur moi”. Natacha is inside the word. The words act as a powerful force which serve to inspire her recollection of past emotions. This is just one example of striking employment of metaphor whichresonates throughout the text. However, the point I am trying to put across is that Enfance does not purely assume the form of a non rhythmic narration. It is very much written in a poetic and metaphorical style and therefore does not correspond to this part of the definition given by Lejeune.
My second point is one of the most important factors to take into consideration when defining an...
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