After the Fall

After the Fall: War and Occupation in Irène Némirovsky's Suite française

Nathan Bracher
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    After the Fall
    Book Description:

    In this work, the first critical monograph on Suite française, Nathan Bracher shows how, first amid the chaos and panic of the May-June 1940 debacle, and then within the unsettling new order of the German occupation, Némirovsky's novel casts a particularly revealing light on the behavior and attitudes of the French as well as on the highly problematic interaction of France's social classes

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1926-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxvi)

    One would be hard-pressed to make a more compelling case for the enduring potency of World War II in contemporary French culture than that offered by Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française, which was finally and dramatically discovered and published in 2004, over sixty years after the author’s tragic death. A Russian Jewish émigré who had achieved literary stardom during the twenty years she had lived in France, Némirovsky wrote her novel during the first years of the Occupation from 1940 until 1942, when the persecutory measures imposed by both the Germans and the Vichy government had (among other things) forbidden Jews...

    (pp. 1-27)

    With respect to the traumatic events in 1940, Némirovsky presents an intriguing paradox that may explain a good deal of the present-day confusion surrounding her attitude toward the war. In the wake of Hegel, who, in surveying the succession of human events claimed to read the “prose of the world” written by the Absolute Spirit, and Marx, who saw the universal struggle of the exploited and oppressed as a progressive march toward the instauration of the classless society, History with a capital H was deified by nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideologies. For her part, however, Némirovsky maintains a veritable agnosticism that...

    (pp. 28-64)

    Irène Némirovsky, as we have seen, refused to rally her Suite française under any particular banner and resolved to maintain her composure in the face of the increasingly sinister events of the early war years. In her fictional narrative as well as in her personal life, she displayed neither cynical detachment nor wounded isolationism. By all accounts, her situation was indeed highly precarious and warranted a great deal of reserve. She was after all the sole breadwinner for her household, and her husband had been fired from la Banque des Pays du Nord after the May–June 1940 debacle in...

    (pp. 65-97)

    For a close paraphrase of Némirovsky’s perspective on private lives and collective destiny during the May–June 1940 debacle, we can cite one of Tempête en juin’s major protagonists, Philippe Péricand, the priest who takes on the task of accompanying a group of delinquants and orphans to safety in the southern provinces. As he assumes leadership of these youth just before setting out on the journey, he seeks to create a sense of unity and cohesion with the following words:

    Dieu seul . . . connaît le sort réservé à chacun de nous dans les jours qui vont suivre. Il...

  8. CHAPTER 4 ACCOUNTING FOR DISASTER: Tempête en juin and Its Contemporaries
    (pp. 98-129)

    The specific contributions of Némirovsky’s narrative of the May–June 1940 debacle, including not only its strengths, but also certain limitations, come into sharper focus when we compare Tempête en juin with several other prominent narratives of the defeat and exodus also written during the early years of the Occupation by authors who occupied distinctly different, yet highly significant, positions in the French intellectual arena of the time: René Benjamin’s Le Printemps tragique, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Pilote de guerre, Marc Bloch’s L’Étrange défaite, and Léon Werth’s 33 jours. The curious notion that the traumatic events of 1940 still remain cloaked...

    (pp. 130-163)

    Given the traumatic events and divisive discourses occasioned by Hitler’s conquest and occupation of French territory, there is no little audacity in Némirovsky’s choice of Suite française and Dolce as titles. These musical terms would normally suggest a set of artful, delicately elaborated musical compositions in the French style and some sweetly lyrical but perhaps wistful or plaintive adagio. They readily conjure up to the mind’s eye many images¹ of la douceur de vivre championed and immortalized by eighteenth-century French painters, writers (Voltaire and Diderot, among others), and revolutionaries (e.g., Saint-Just) intent on decreeing the happiness of the world,² or...

    (pp. 164-195)

    France’s stinging defeat brought into full public view the Wehrmacht soldiers marching down the Champs-Élysées, relaxing in countless provincial Cafés de Commerce, and camping in farms and châteaux, in each case profoundly changing the visible texture of everyday life. Philippe Burrin points out that the presence of German troops in the most venerated sites in France’s urban and rural landscapes also crept into the innermost nooks and crannies of the French mind, even into their dreams.¹ The extended stay of these uninvited guests who had overrun the French army, thrown the nation into chaos, and taken prisoner some two million...

    (pp. 196-228)

    After the sound and fury of Tempête en juin, the second installment of Némirovsky’s war narrative portrays a relative return to normal. Suggesting a “soft” or “sweet” musical interlude, the title Dolce functions as a metaphor for the whole series of plot developments. The term also serves as a metonymy of the part for the whole, since it points to the thematic and compositional centrality of the relationship between Némirovsky’s most prominent feminine protagonist and the German officer Bruno von Falk, who so uncannily resembles Vercors’s von Ébrennac.¹ The paradigmatic quality of this musical trope resonates on both the biographical...

    (pp. 229-260)

    In order to fully discern the implications of Lucile’s intimate but never-consummated conversations with Bruno that lead up to her decisive refusal to make love with this culturally refined and emotionally sensitive member of the Wehrmacht, we cannot take her at face value. Although the highly articulate expressions that Némirovsky attributes to her in both direct and indirect discourse often do echo the pronouncements found in the author’s personal notes, we have to go beyond what Lucile explicitly states. We must once again take into account the particular historical context while at the same time analyzing the highly suggestive configurations...

    (pp. 261-264)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 265-268)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-270)