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Memory and Desire

Rétif de la Bretonne, Autobiography and Utopia

Peter Wagstaff

This study challenges the conventional view of Rétif de la Bretonne as a chronicler of eighteenth-century France and notorious exponent of 'la littérature galante', to provide both students and scholars with a fresh analysis focusing on two themes — autobiography and utopianism — which feature prominently in his writing. It suggests that each is the product of similar impulses, reflecting common polarities between public and private, self and others, past and future.
In tracing Rétif's persistent but frustrated attempts to reconcile the conflicting elements of the world he inhabits — rural and urban, old and new, stable and changing — this volume analyses the failure of his utopian dream of a well-ordered and harmonious society. By exploring his absorption in the autobiographical project, and in particular Monsieur Nicolas ou le cœur humain dévoilé, it offers an interpretation of his work as a sustained reflection on selfhood and on the power of memory which enables Rétif to create, within the confines of the text, a utopian space where self and world are reconciled, and time and space no longer count.
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Jörg Schulte, Olga Tabachnikova and Peter Wagstaff

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Jörg Schulte, Olga Tabachnikova and Peter Wagstaff

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Edited by Jörg Schulte, Olga Tabachnikova and Peter Wagstaff

The Jewish emigration from Russia after the Revolution of 1917 changed the face of Jewish culture in Western Europe. Russian Jews brought with them the visions of a national Jewish literature in Hebrew, Yiddish or Russian, and new concepts of secular Jewish music and art. Often they acted as intermediaries between Jewish centres in Europe, which resulted in the creation of a single sphere of Jewish culture common to all parts of the European diaspora. Although some stayed in Western Europe for only a few years before moving on to Palestine, the budding Hebrew culture in Palestine would not have been the same without this relatively short period of intense contact between Russian Jewish and Western European cultures.