Theses Doctoral

Conspiracies and Secret Societies in Interwar French Literature

Earle, Jason

This dissertation analyzes the central place that representations of secret societies and conspiracies occupied in literature in France in between the two World Wars, reappearing in various guises in works by authors across aesthetic and ideological traditions. My examination situates these literary representations within their political and social context, demonstrating that the instability of the French Third Republic created an atmosphere that contributed to a proliferation of conspiracy theories targeting every faction imaginable, from right-wing and leftist groups to Freemasons, Jesuits, and Jews. Serving as both the subject of fictional works and the object of critical study, the figure of the secret society allowed authors to position themselves and their texts within this context of uncertainty and suspicion.

The representation of conspiracies and secret societies permitted authors as varied as Jules Romains, André Malraux, Céline, and Paul Nizan to participate in and shape a widespread reevaluation of the political order by critiquing a dysfunctional system of parliamentary democracy and highlighting the cultural tensions of the day. My thesis does not just read these texts as reflections of larger political and cultural debates; it argues that secret societies and conspiracies served a specific literary function, particularly concerning the evolution of the avant-garde and the ideological novel in the interwar years. The invocation of these groups provided a charged metaphor for defining literary techniques and concerns of audience, genre, and language; and their representation helped shape the form and practice of interwar literature. I show, ultimately, how conspiracies and secret societies in literature participated in a larger discourse of fear and suspicion that heralded the decline of the avant-garde, the rise of the committed novel, and a growing literary interest in politics, ethnology, and sociology.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Ladenson, Elisabeth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 15, 2013