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Gender and War Narrative in La Route des Flandres Lynn A. Higgins KISS YOUR MOMMA GOOD-BYE,” orders an Army recruit­ ment advertisement.’ Leave the soft life behind, join the Army and become a real man. To replace the feminine comforts of home, recruits are offered initiation into brotherhood: “these are your buddies.” War has traditionally been considered the quintessential prov­ ing ground for masculinity. The recruitment ad invokes the dominant cultural understanding of masculinity defined as a flight from the femi­ nine.2The ad’s imperative further implies that military behavior and dis­ courses do not confirm as much as they actually construct “masculinity.” In the literary domain, concepts of military masculinity are engaged, often embodied in war narratives. Now, the women left behind come back into the picture. Whenever it is time to tell stories, women provide someone to talk about (to other men, to pass the time in the trenches, or in prisoner-of-war camps); and as someone to tell stories to, after the war is over, when the returned soldier tries to make discursive sense of his experiences. Georges, the narrator of La Route des Flandres, is not typical of what Klaus Theweleit calls a “soldier male” or a member of what Barbara Ehrenreich calls a “warrior elite,” glorifying war as a means to mascu­ line self-affirmation.3Rather, he is a disillusioned and broken veteran of the Second World War who has lost most of his war comrades (including his friend Blum and his cousin and commanding officer, de Reixach), who is losing his faith in the coherence of history and the power of lan­ guage, and who has renounced a career as an intellectual to bury himself in farming. Nevertheless, his representation of women and of “Woman” (especially as seen in the case of one particular woman) falls within the notions of masculinity suggested by the Army recruitment poster. This essay will examine the importance of Corinne in the ruminations of Georges, the narrator of La Route des Flandres (Paris: Minuit, 1960). Corinne plays two roles in Georges’ narration. First, to pass the time of their captivity in a German prisoner-of-war camp after the fall of France in 1940, Georges and his buddies, Blum and Iglesia, fantasize her together and recount her real or imagined sexual adventures. Then, six Vol.XXVII, No. 4 17 L ’E sprit Créateur years after the war’s end, Georges spends a night of lovemaking and reminiscing with Corinne herself. Lying beside Corinne, Georges relates his experiences with death and destruction. His postwar quest is both erotic and epistemological: he wanted to find this woman around whom his wartime fantasies revolved; he also wants to solve the enigma of her husband’s death. Georges’ anguished desire to know the truth about the past circles around the question of whether de Reixach succumbed to a German machinegun as a sort of suicide, an honorable way out for a man faced with his wife’s infidelities. The novel has most often been read in the light of its radically dis­ rupted narrative form, with primary focus on the backward quest for memory and understanding as it is frustrated by the creative forward movement of time and language.4By shifting our attention to “la femme couchée invisible à côté de lui” (p. 100) throughout Georges’entire retro­ spective narration, and by listening to the few words Corinne does speak, it will be possible to ask what might unite Georges’ twin quests to “know” in the two senses of the word. Why does he seek Corinne in the first place?—surely not for what she might be able to tell him, since his monologue fills virtually the entire novel. Why is his epistemological quest embedded, so to speak, in an erotic one, and a military debacle framed within an amorous one? Ultimately, though, I want to ask about the nature of representation: what is the role of “Woman” in the construction of Georges’ discourse both during and after the war? My argument will be that Corinne is important to Georges’ war narrative not because of the lovers she might or might not have had, or even because of...


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pp. 17-26
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