- The Sunday of Fiction: The Modern French Eccentric
Schulman's subtly humorous book on the modern French eccentric is primarily concerned with twentieth-century representations of such figures in novels and films and their relationships to others, space, and time. While previous eccentrics were often well-to-do and outlandish in their rebellion against the status quo, Schulman notes that a seemingly paradoxical ordinariness defines eccentric characters in major works of the twentieth century. Beginning with a table naming French fictional eccentrics through the ages, the work then indicates the difficulty of both defining the term and finding eccentrics through modern databases, provides an overview of some early eccentrics and an explanation of the key prototypes of eccentrics during the nineteenth century, and engages in close readings of some contemporary works in order to tease out the modern typology of eccentricity.
Schulman's comparison of nineteenth-century eccentric literary characters with their modern counterparts is especially insightful, revealing social and literary trends that extend beyond the subject of this work. In his opening chapter, he notes that nineteenth-century eccentric characters typically were excessive in their behaviors and interests as they sought to express their free will. These included the Dumasian romantic adventure hero, Huysmans's decadent idler, Verne's technological traveler, and fin de siècle farcical performers. These types were immediately recognizable as ex-centric through their dress, obsessions, and actions.
Schulman proposes that in contrast, twentieth-century eccentrics at first may appear ordinary, much like Magritte's bowler-hatted figure. Rather than overtly rebelling against social conventions, modern eccentrics instead actively create a new reality slightly different from the norm through subtle expressions of free will. The types that he discusses (the bureaucrat, the executive, the trickster, the lover, and the adventurer) have produced a slight swerve, much like Lucretius's clinamen, that demonstrates their freedom from various social constraints.
In the third chapter, Schulman points out that many twentieth century eccentrics distance themselves spatially and/or temporally. They resist what Schulman terms the "modern eraser" that bulldozes spaces and moments for interpersonal connection and individual expression. Some reside in disappearing amusement parks, cafés, or movie palaces, while others, such as Tati's Monsieur Hulot, live life at a more antiquated rhythm than the rest of society. Other eccentrics are less nostalgic and might, as in Toussaint's La Salle de bains, playfully reside in a bathtub while redefining the passage of time as circular rather than linear. In each case, modern eccentrics create a way of being that ultimately reveals the absurdity of aspects of the quotidian.
This book is an engaging study for scholars of contemporary fiction and film, specifically those interested in the works of Jean Echenoz, Raymond Queneau, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, and their literary and cinematographic colleagues. The exclusion of women eccentrics in these analyses is unfortunate, an omission that Schulman acknowledges. His inclusion of multiple genres (literature, film, and painting), however, indicates the pervasiveness of the trends he delineates. [End Page 170]