Purdue University Press, 2002
ISBN 1-55753-290-7 (PB)
if every day were Sunday. For the characters who populate modern
French novels and the works highlighted in the academic study The
Sunday of Fiction
by Peter Schulman, every day and every minute
is an endless Sunday. These Monday evaders are the modern French
Compared to those French eccentrics of the 19th century such as
Verne’s ever-searching Captain Nemo or the time obsessed
Phileas Fogg, modern examples do not need to climb high and low
to find happiness. Their sources of order and harmony are closer
to home – all day binges on jazz records, the micro-habitats
of amusement parks, living in a bathtub, riding the Paris metro,
the fantasy world of movie houses, the safety and unique character
of the neighborhood café in an every homogenized society.
Just as the 19th century fictional French eccentrics attempted
to shape and define their own realities against a forward moving
modern landscape, those of the 20th century rail against a backdrop
of conformity in search of a bulwark for individualism.
This study attempts to document the passage of the modern French
eccentric in literature and film from the 19th to 20th century.
The main hurdle, which is not comfortably overcome, is what defines
an eccentric and is the eccentric a fully fictional character type.
The problem lies in the fact that what is considered eccentric
is an ever-shifting thing. Schulman centers the definition in time,
analyzing characters’ relationship with prevailing societal
archetypes. He admits that the definition of an eccentrics has
become blurred. In a time when acting eccentric can be considered
normal, the normal becomes the eccentric. The striking term here
is acting, for the real, reality-harnessing eccentric is not an
actor but a creator.
For those interested in modern French fiction or writers searching
for new ideas on constructing characters in the post-modern era
of fiction, Schulman’s work is a well-organized foray into
a little-studied corner of modern literature. This study seems
to touch only the tip of the tongue, however, focusing only on
the male representations of the modern eccentric in French literature.
While it does gather comparisons from 19th century literatures,
its reach is rather limited. Still, Schulman provides an in-depth
look at how French writers such as Raymond Queneau, Jean-Echenoz,
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Georges Perec and filmmakers Jacques Tati
and Pierre Etaix have transformed and used eccentric characters
in their works. In these works, for one example, the generic 19th
century and aristocratic adventure hero has been recreated as an ‘ordinary
man’ who leads an eccentric lifestyle and happens to find
himself embroiled in thriller novel style adventures.
However incomplete and simplified this work may be, Schulman’s
study does lay an impressive groundwork for further exploration
into characterizations in modern literature. Ultimately, the representations
brought forth here are also frightening critiques of the modern
world and the depths these characters have to go to in order to
find joy, peace, happiness and meaning in a fast-paced technological
world too often devoid of spontaneous human feeling, contact and
community. The worlds, spaces and times these characters choose
to inhabit seem empty escapism, and as such sadly rely on fantasy,
inanimate objects and superficial surroundings for love, meaning