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Nathalie Sarraute: A Biography
My research project is a biography of the French writer Nathalie Sarraute (1900-99). This will be the first research-based biography of a writer who was associated first with Sartre and les Temps modernes, then with the Nouveau Roman, then with experimental theatre in the 1960s and 1970s, and finally with the new autobiography in the 1980s. She continued to write until her death, and her importance for French literature in the second half of the 20th century was confirmed when her complete works appeared in the prestigious Pléiade edition in 1996.
In her own lifetime Sarraute was always deeply opposed to biographical approaches to her work, but 15 years on from her death the time has come for a fresh assessment of her achievement to situate it in the full range of its varied contexts. In addition to her association with a series of different literary groupings,it is important to consider her Russian origins (she was born in Ivanovo-Voznesensk and had connections with Russia emigré circles in Paris), her European education (she was educated in Oxford and Berlin as well as at the Sorbonne), and her early interest in literature in the 1920s. These dimensions invite the exploration of a larger framework within which to trace the emergence of work which has hitherto been viewed almost exclusively in connection with French literary movements of the post-war period.
The research for the biography will consist principally of an examination of the archive Sarraute bequeathed to the Bibliothèque nationale. This contains correspondence and engagement diaries for which a detailed catalogue has recently been created. I have begun to consult this archive and now have a sense of the scale of the work required for the rest. The manuscripts for the literary texts remain closed to the public until 2039.
In addition to the many published interviews Sarraute gave a number of radio, TV and film interviews which constitute a valuable supplementary resource and the Bibliothèque nationale has a good number of these which require systematic examination.
Gallimard (the publisher) has an archive of correspondence with Sarraute as well as a press archive which I already have permission to consult.
The archives of Maria Jolas, Sarraute's English translator and close personal friend are in Indiana, and those of her English-language publisher Calder & Boyars are held in the Beinecke library at Yale. Both would be worth consulting.
Over and above all these written resources, there are the memories of those who knew Sarraute personally. I have already been in contact with some of these people and can confirm that this is a precious resource to be exploited while they are still alive. I anticipate that more of these personal resources, including the possibility of private archives, will emerge as the research develops.
I have a long acquaintance with Sarraute's work which was the subject of my D.Phil thesis. I have published widely on Sarraute, and was one of the editors for the Pléiade Oeuvres complètes (1996). I knew her personally and visited her frequently, especially during the preparation of the Oeuvres complètes. I am also personally acquainted with family members whose support I have for the project. I believe that my long-standing familiarity with Sarraute's work will be an important advantage in the research for the biography, while at the same time I anticipate that the biography will also reveal a new and larger picture of Sarraute.
Ann Jefferson has been Fellow in French at New College since 1987 and is a Professor of French in the Faculty of Modern Languages. She has held visiting professorships at Columbia University and the Sorbonne and is a Fellow of the British Academy.
Her teaching covers the modern period (C19th and C20th) of French literature and she also teaches French language at all levels.
She has research interests in French literature and thought from the eighteenth century to the present, but has concentrated chiefly on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature with a particular interest in the development of the novel and in autobiography. Her most recent book is on the history of the idea of genius in France from Dubos to Derrida, to be published by Princeton University Press in 2014. She is currently working on a biography of Nathalie Sarraute. She is also an occasional translator of modern French fiction and her translation of Pierre Michon’s Winter Mythologies and Abbots is due out (with Yale University Press) in 2014.
Le défi biographique: la littérature en question (French translation by Cécile Dudouyt of Biography and the Question of Literature) (Presses universitaires de France, 2012)
Biography and the Question of Literature in France (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Nathalie Sarraute, Fiction and Theory: Questions of Difference (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Editor, Nathalie Sarraute, Œuvres complètes, under the general editorship of Jean-Yves Tadié in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, (Gallimard, 1996)
Reading Realism in Stendhal (Cambridge University Press, 1988)
With David Robey and others, Modern Literary Theory: A Comparative Introduction (Batsford, 1982, revised and enlarged edition, 1986)
The Nouveau Roman and the Poetics of Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 1980)