380 pages
Purdue University Press, 2002
ISBN 1-55753-290-7 (PB)
Oh, 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 eccentrics.
        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 and transcendence.