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||Nathalie Sarraute (1900-1999) - born Nathalie Ilyanova Tcherniak|
Russian born French novelist and literary critic, whose works have been published in some 24 languages. Sarraute became one of the pioneers and leading theorists of the nouveau roman with Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon, Marguerite Duras, and Michel Butor. She discarded conventional ideas about plot, chronology, characterization and the narrative point of view. From her early works Sarraute concentrated on the subconscious and conscious mind. In Tropismes (1939, Tropisms) she used a series of brief passages, "tropisms", which, according to Sarraute, govern behaviour and become the unifying thread throughout her novels.
['Tropisms' are] "...things that are not said and the movements that cross our consciousness very rapidly; they are the basis of most of our life and our relations with others – everything that happens within us which is not spoken by the interior monologue and which is transmitted by sensations." (from Tropisms)
Nathalie Sarraute was born in Ivanova-Voznessensk, Russia, into an
assimilated Jewish family. Her father, Ilyanova Tcherniak, was a
chemist and her mother, Pauline Chatounovski, an author, who wrote
under the pseudonym of Vikhrovski. Sarraute's parents divorced when she
was two, and her mother took her to Geneva and then to Paris. From the
age of eight, she lived in Paris with her father, who had settled
Sarraute studied literature and law at the Sorbonne, spent one year at Oxford in 1921, and continued her studies of legal science in Berlin, before becoming a member of the French bar (1926-41). In 1925 she married a fellow law student, Raymond Sarraute; they had three daughters. Sarraute read everything she wrote to her husband: "I would know at onece what worked and what didn't." When Raymond Sarraute died in 1985, she found herself for the first time without someone, whose reactions he could count on.
Until about 1940, Sarraute practised law, and then became a
writer. During the Nazi occupation of France, Sarraute, being Jewish,
was forced to go into hiding – she posed as the governess of her
own three daughters. When Samuel Beckett, who was involved in the Paris
Resistance and was afraid of being arrested, asked her to hide him in
her attic she said: "My father is hiding there." So Beckett spent for
about a year in the attic with Sarraute's father. (The Playwright's Workbook by Jean-Claude van Italie, 2001, p. 63)
Sarraute's first book, Tropismes, a collection of twenty-four brief sketches, appeared first in 1939, but gained more understanding when it was republished in 1957. She had already in 1932 started to write the work. Sarraute indicated that the words are the verbal translation of a non-verbal communication. The sketches presented nameless people caught up in the web of their interdependence. With "tropisms" she referred to inner movements of the mind, which are involuntary and which guide our behavior. Psychologizing is rejected; the emphasis is on speech and gestures, the "dramatic actions".
In the 1950s and '60s Sarraute developed the ideas of the new novel in such works as Portrait d'un Inconnu (1947, Portrait of a Man Unknown), an 'anti-novel' according to Jean-Paul Sartre, in which she took from Balzac's Eugénie Grandet
the central theme – the relationship of a miserly father and his
daughter. The characters have no fixed personalities and undermine the
reliability of the narrator's observations. Narratorial norms are
changing as our observations and moods change. Sarraute, like other
theorists of the nouveau roman, accepted the messiness of the external world.
This view was articulated by Alain Robbe-Grillet in For a New Novel (1963): "How could style have remained motionless, fixed, when everything around it was in evolution – even revolution – during the last hundred and fifty years? Flaubert wrote the new novel of 1860, Proust the new novel of 1910. The writer must proudly consent to bear his own date, knowing that there are no masterpieces in eternity, but only works in history; and that they survive only to the degree that they have left the past behind them and heralded the future." Mary McCarthy promoted Sarraute for the Prix International de Littérature, which she won in 1964.
Martereau (1953) was a story about the internal tensions of a
family. The family friend Martereau is a solid, calm man, whom Sarraute
uses as the focus of the inner monologue, and whose character she
gradually disintegrates, along with other members of the family, a
stone-hearted uncle, the silent mother, the unpredictable daughter and
the insecure young man living at his uncle's house. Finally there is
nothing much left of Martereau's character than a bundle of
possibilities. Claude Mauriac
described the work as "ce livre étonnant," and one
of the most original novels that he had read for a long time.
Le planétarium (1959, The Planetarium) eliminated the ever-present narrator for a more suggesting representation of the inner world – the novel can also be read as a parable of the creative process and an ironic comedy of manners. The aspiring writer becomes only one among a number of voices. Many pages are devoted to the contrast between the bergère and leather armchairs as manifestations of different cultural values. Sarraute deliberately made it difficult for the reader to determine from whose perspective her stories are told. Noteworthy, though her central characters rarely had names, they were often male, the masculine was for her the "unmarked" gender.
L'Ère du soupçon (1956, The Age of Suspicion) is a collection of Sarraute's critical essays, in which she attempted to analyze what she as an author tried to achieve in her work. Sarraute dismissed the need for a cohesive narrative, and welcomed the death of the "character" in fiction, to be replaced by "a matter as nameless as blood, a magma." She argued that Virginia Woolf's work is the very opposite of hers: ". . . the consciousnesses which she depicts are consciousnesses that are open to the world and into which the world is absorbed. In my work they are not passive, they are always in a state of agitation like souls in torment, always searching for something, engaged in conflict, strugge and effort."
Sarraute published L'Enfance (1983,
Childhood) when she
was over eighty. It is a story of the
childhood of a young girl who divides her time between her divorced
parents in Russia and France. Denying that the book is an
autobiography, she argued: "People who write their adult
autobiographies claim to write their whole lives. First of all they
deform it completely, we always see ourselves in a certain light [ . .
. ] it is as if Landru wrote his memoirs. [ . . . ] He would tell us
how much he loved his wife and child [ . . . ] this would be correct. [
. . . ] He would simply leave out the seven women in the oven. And this
is how autobiographies are made." (From Split to Screened Selves: French and Francophone Autobiography in the Third Person by Rachel Gabara, 2006, p. 27)
Again Sarraute uses short flashes from
her past, and torn lines from discussions, the colors of her memories
are faded like in an old photograph. Sarraute is constantly questioning
herself: "Try to remember... something must have happened..." "Be
careful, now you are exaggeration..." The book was adapted for the
stage in Broadway, starring Glenn Close. "Sarraute's voice casts its
own spell – a cross between a French hypnotist and a Russian bear's –
and Mlle Benmussa has squeezed as much action out of, or into, stasis
as is humanly possible. . . . Still, when after an hour and a half of
exquisitely intelligent torture, the author informed us that she had
reached the age of 11, I sighed, "Funny, I would have sworn 85."" ('Not Quite Close-shavian' by John Simon, in New York Magazine, June 10, 1985)
Since 1964 Sarraute wrote radio and stage plays, in which she integrated undercurrents of half conversation into a commonplace banal conversation. Often the actors speak words which would normally remain unspoken. Although Sarraute's early works were precursors of the New Novel, some critics have placed her in the great tradition of Proust and Henry James as a theoretician of a psychological novel. She was also interested in Paul Valéry and Gustave Flaubert; her essays on these writers were republished in book form in 1986. Sarraute defended in the essays the novelist's need for formal experimentation. Sarraute died on October 19, 1999, in Paris. Her last novel, Here (1995), examined the nature of memory, efforts to be patient, to hope, when reality is formless and full of holes.
For further reading: Nathalie Sarraute by M. Cranaki and Y. Belaval (1965); Natalie Sarraute by R.Z. Temple (1968); Natalie Sarraute; ou. La recherce de l'authenticité by M. TisonBraun (1971); French Fiction Today by L.S. Roudiez (1972); Natalie Sarraute by Gretchen Ross Besser (1979); Nathalie Sarraute: The War of the Words by V.Minogue (1981); The Novels of Nathalie Sarraute by Helen Watson-Williams (1981); Sarraute Romanciere by Sabine Raffy (1988); Sarraute, Le Planetarium by Roger McLure (1988); Natalie Sarraute and the Feminist Reader by Sarah Barbour (1993); Contemporary World Writers, ed. by Tracy Chevalier (1993); Natalie Sarraute: Metaphor, Fairy-Tale and the Feminine of the Text by John Phillips (1994); Nathalie Sarraute by Bettina Knapp (1994); Reading Nathalie Sarraute: Dialogue and Distance by Emer O'Beirne (1999); Nathalie Sarraute, Fiction and Theory: Questions of Difference by Ann Jefferson (2000); Psyche of Feminism: Sand, Colette, Sarraute by Catherine M. Peebles (2003); Telling Anxiety: Anxious Narration in the Work of Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Nathalie Sarraute, and Anne Hébert by Jennifer Willging (2007); Echo's Voice: the Theatres of Sarraute, Duras, Cixous and Renaude by Mary Noonan (2014); Le roman moderne: le monologue intérieur, le point de vue et le discours indirect libre: Marcel Proust, Claude Simon et Nathalie Sarraute by Houcine Bouslahi (2018); Unbecoming Language: Anti-identitarian French Feminist Fictions by Annabel L. Kim (2018) - Suom.: Sarrautelta on myös suomennettu näytelmiä ja kuunnelmia. Nouveau roman, see also Marguerite Duras, Claude Simon, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor.