Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French & Italian

First Advisor

Warren Motte

Second Advisor

Christopher Braider

Third Advisor

Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield


This dissertation examines the return to story in the French novel that begins in the mid-1980s, some decades after the New Novelists called into question the most fundamental elements of the traditional novel. The first chapter focuses on certain hallmarks of literary innovation in the twentieth century, from Marcel Proust's A la Recherche du temps perdu to the novels published by Philippe Sollers and Pierre Guyotat. In the body of the dissertation, I devote one chapter each to five writers-- Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Marie Redonnet, Éric Chevillard, Christine Montalbetti, and Xabi Molia--who reconsider the potential of "the critical novel," namely, novels that call into question literary norms and explore new narrative possibilities through innovations of form and content. In his triptych Faire l'amour (2002), Fuir (2005), and La Vérité sur Marie (2009), Jean-Philippe Toussaint seek to capture what he has described as "a pure literary energy," combining sheer novelistic pleasure with rigorous formal structures. Marie Redonnet's novel Diego (2005) builds upon her earlier works, amplifying and developing some of her most distinctive themes, while striking off in a new direction toward a more explicit sense of social and political engagement. Éric Chevillard exploits what André Gide describes as the "lawlessness" of the novel, expanding its bounds beyond all measure as he deals with the limitations, possibilities and potentialities of language and writing. Parodying a wide variety of literary genres and a staggering number of scientific discourses, Chevillard is beholden to no logic but his own. An accomplished literary theorist, Christine Montalbetti has published critical works on topics such as narrative digression, the status of readers and characters, and the relations between fiction and reality. Her fiction writing, however, calls our scholarly certainties into question, blurring narratological categories and exploding the boundaries between her fiction and the phenomenal world. Xabi Molia's Reprise des hostilités (2007) weaves a dense web of fiction and reality as he considers the cultural and literary heritage of the twentieth century, constructing a virtual space within his novel where voices from the past and figures from the present mingle together.