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Egalitarian StrangenessOn Class Disturbance and Levelling in Modern and Contemporary French Narrative$
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Edward J. Hughes

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781800348424

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781800348424.001.0001

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Tales of Distribution in À la recherche du temps perdu

Tales of Distribution in À la recherche du temps perdu

(p.185) Chapter Eight Tales of Distribution in À la recherche du temps perdu
Egalitarian Strangeness

Edward J. Hughes

Liverpool University Press

In Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu [In Search of Lost Time], the figure of the wordsmith is found across all classes. The chapter explores the material culture surrounding the written and printed word within a hierarchical social order (for example, the circulation and consumption of a newspaper, the postal service, book production). Likewise, a domestic servant’s interest in poetry and writing becomes a cause of intriguing disturbance for the narrator, while a servant’s letter to an aristocrat similarly intrigues the recipient. In a related way, Proust’s novel considers the link between language use and the subordination of women, among them Marcel’s mother, the servant Françoise, and Albertine. The narrator analyses in often non-hierarchical ways the performances of each of these characters. The minutiae of daily verbal exchange frequently form the vehicle for this analysis, the novel busily showing transactions occurring in the social distribution of emotion, prestige, and power. The sections of the Recherche explored in the chapter are shown to work dissensually to the extent that they throw up disturbances of stereotypes and hierarchical forms of perception. Yet the novel’s often ludic tone means that such disturbance may ultimately reinforce a prevailing social order.

Keywords:   hierarchy, knowledge, mass readership, public space, servants, sexuality, Victor Hugo, Laurent Nunez, emancipatory gesture, recitation

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