French crime fiction and the Second World War explores France's preoccupation with memories of the Second World War through an examination of crime fiction, one of popular culture's most enduring literary forms. The study analyses representations of the war years in a selection of French crime novels from the late 1940s to the 2000s. All the crime novels discussed grapple with the challenges of what it means for generations past and present to live in the shadow of the war: from memories of French resistance and collaboration to Jewish persecution and the legacies of the concentration camps. The book argues that crime fiction offers novel ways for charting the two-way traffic between official discourses and popular reconstructions of such a contested conflict in French cultural memory.
This introduction sets out the conceptual, historical and literary-critical foundations on which this book is built. It begins by exploring some of the conceptual approaches to the study of collective memory. It focuses in particular on cultural memory and the influential role of fictional texts. It then examines the fraught historical legacies of the Second World War and evaluates Henry Rousso's pioneering model of the evolutions in French memories of the Second World War, the ‘Vichy syndrome’. Lastly, the introduction examines critical approaches to the study of popular culture. It investigates the narrative template of crime fiction and identifies the specific contribution crime fiction can make to our understanding of the wartime past.
Challenging the epic in French crime fiction of the 1940s and 1950s
This chapter examines representations of the Resistance in early post-war French crime fiction. It begins by setting out the main features of the resistance epic so prevalent in France in the late 1940s and early 1950s and how this ideal came to be embodied in the figure of the male resistance fighter. The chapter then examines narratives that contested such a vision of wartime heroism, focusing on the French roman noir. Finally, the chapter explores representations of resistance in the work of three French roman noir writers of this period, André Héléna, Léo Malet and Gilles Morris, all of whom presented resistance in a different light to the official discourse of national bravery and sacrifice. Their work reflects the mismatch between the Resistance as myth and the multiple histories and experiences of resisters as individuals.
Representing Jewish wartime experience in French crime fiction of the 1950s and 1960s
This chapter explores representations of Jewish wartime persecution and extermination in novels by Léo Malet and Hubert Monteilhet from the late 1950s and early 1960s. It locates such fiction as produced during years when Jewish wartime experiences were largely unrecognised in France. However, it argues that the revelation of crimes against the Jewish community in these novels activates complex processes of disclosure and disavowal of French anti-Semitic persecution. The chapter contends that such popular crime fiction can be read as part of an emerging reflection on French wartime guilt and complicity at a time of apparent forgetting.
Revisiting collaboration in French crime fiction of the 1980s
This chapter discusses representations of collaboration in French crime fiction of the 1980s. It begins by reviewing cultural stereotypes of collaboration in early post-war fiction and philosophy, such as Jean-Paul Sartre's essay ‘Qu’est-ce qu’un collaborateur?’ It then analyses revisionist readings of collaboration proposed by American and French historians of the 1970s and 1980s before examining the work of three crime novelists: Didier Daeninckx, Jean Mazarin and George-Jean Arnaud. Their work demonstrates the extent to which crime fiction has popularised historical reassessments of the past and how, in the narrative template of crime fiction, such reassessments gain a heightened emotional and ethical charge.
Representing persecution and extermination in French crime fiction of the 1980s and 1990s
This chapter analyses representations of wartime persecution and extermination in the work of three French crime writers from the 1980s and 1990s. It begins by setting out the context for the reappraisal of Jewish memories of the Second World War in France during these years, above all the trials for crimes against humanity which reignited public debate on the extent of French state collusion in the Holocaust. It then discusses novels by Gérard Delteil, Thierry Jonquet and Konop. The chapter investigates how each crime novelist grapples with the moral dilemma of representing the concentration camps in fiction just as the survivor generation begins to disappear.
Reading the Second World War in children’s crime fiction of the 1990s and 2000s
This chapter discusses representations of wartime Jewish persecution in children's crime fiction of the 1990s and 2000s. It examines the reframing of war memories in these decades and the emergence of a civic memory of the Second World War structured around questions of collective responsibility and an ethics of remembrance. This mobilisation of memory is explored in crime fiction aimed at younger readers, specifically the work of Robert Boudet, Murielle Szac and Romain Slocombe. The chapter argues that such crime fiction furthers our understanding of the complex negotiations required to transmit war stories from one generation to the next.
This conclusion identifies the major contributions crime fiction has made to our understanding of the Second World War in French cultural memory. It reasserts the power of popular culture to help shape the landscape of memory