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date: 26 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The primacy of history as an educational in France and Germany kindled a taste for literary modes that could accommodate ever-changing social experience by reflecting the spirit of both the time and place in which events unfold, recalling Germaine de Staël’s ideas from De la littérature (1799). Crucially, the abyss which Hugo thought the Revolution opened up between present and past raised specific problems for the ambitions of the historical novel in France. How were writers to capture the vast interplay of different ideologies and discourses that had been energized by 1789, and how was meaning to be negotiated amidst the complex matrix of rival desires and reciprocal demands which it had generated in society? This chapter examines three major novelists’ attempts to narrate both the general contemporary desire for human experience to mean something, and the writer’s self-consciousness of the difficulties of finding a style answerable to this ambition.

Keywords: History, legibility, narrative, fantasy, realism, French Revolution, France

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