Since 1975, French literary writing has been marked by an autobiographical turn which has seen authors increasingly tap into the vein of what the French term écriture de soi. This coincides, paradoxically, with the 'death of autobiography', as these authors self-consciously distance themselves and their writings from conventional autobiography, founding a 'nouvelle autobiographie' where the very possibility of autobiographical expression is questioned. In the first book-length study in English to address this phenomenon, Claire Boyle sheds new light on this hostility toward autobiography through a series of studies of estrangement in autobiographical works by major post-war authors Nathalie Sarraute, Georges Perec, Jean Genet and Hélène Cixous. She identifies autobiography as an arena for conflict between writer and reader, in which authors struggle to assert the unknowableness of their identity in the face of a readership eager for privileged knowledge.
‘Perhaps the most effective chapter is on Genet’s Miracle de la rose, Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs, and Journal du voleur, where resistance to a subjectification threatened by both social and literar y institutions (the prison and the confessional mode, respectively) is sought by tactics of abjection geared (not entirely successfully, Boyle argues) towards thwarting readerly identification.’ — Ian Maclachlan, Modern Language Review 104.4 (2009), 1154-55 (full text online)
‘Attempts at writing autobiographies in the second half of the twentieth century, Claire Boyle shows in her concise, precise and deftly argued essay, have been subject to a curious paradox... The discrediting of autobiographical attempts has been paralleled by an increasing demand for first-person testimony narratives.’ — Karlis Racevskis, French Review 82.5, April 2009, 1065
‘Une épreuve de force: le moi autobiographique, est-il contrôlé par l'autobiographe estimant que ce moi ne peut pas être entièrement connu, ou par le lecteur qui le 'consomme' afin de pouvoir s'identifier avec une personne supposée réelle?’ — Jeanette den Toonder, French Studies 65.2, April 2011, 269
‘Boyle’s thoughtful and sophisticated study of autobiography brings an original focus on the role of the reader, and on the ways in which readers are interpellated and caricatured by, or even excluded from, certain forms of autobiographical writing... If we had thought that autobiography had had its day, Boyle demonstrates both that the genre itself is dynamic in ways we might not have previously imagined, and that the theory of autobiography continues to evolve in challenging and provocative ways.’ — Jane Hiddleston, Biography 31.4, Fall 2008, 763-65
‘This is a well researched and broad-ranging work, and is a useful discussion of the survival of the autobiographical impulse despite the critical death of traditional autobiography... a stimulating study, which lucidly applies key theoretical concepts of 20th century French thought.’ — Dervila Cooke, Modern and Contemporary France 17.1, 2009, 83-121
Boyle, Claire, Consuming Autobiographies: Reading and Writing the Self in Post-War France (Cambridge: Legenda, 2007)
First footnote reference:35 Claire Boyle, Consuming Autobiographies: Reading and Writing the Self in Post-War France (Cambridge: Legenda, 2007), p. 21.