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Fragmentation in the middle novels of Claude Simon: Le vent to Histoire Dybikowski, Ann Margaret


This study of narrative fragmentation concentrates on three major novels of Claude Simon's central period — La Route des Flandres, Le Palace and Histoire — though it also looks at the foreshadowing of their composition in the theme of fragmentary vision in Le Vent; a work which, while it does not fully realize its own stated aims, constitutes the novelistic credo of the central period. By narrative fragmentation is meant the discontinuity produced by dechronologization, abrupt sequence shifts, and other devices that disrupt the accustomed continuity of narrative. Only what Ricardou has called "la fragmentation majeure", that is, the major breaks between sequences, and not the minor interruptions or digressions within sequences, are dealt with in detail. It is considered first in the general context of the fragmentedness of much twentieth century fiction and art, with special reference to the parallel with Cubism. Some of the forms fragmented narrative may take are suggested, together with their possible functions and significance as well as the effect of fragmentation on the reading process. The fragmentedness of Simon's novels was viewed initially by many critics as a mimetic reproduction of mental processes, notably those of memory. One aim of this study is to examine narrative fragmentation in the light of that interpretation, showing how and to what extent it serves to evoke mental processes, but also how it often fulfils an anti-realist function, undermining the coherence of the recit. Analysis of the breaks in the narrative and the transitional devices connecting juxtaposed or interwoven sequences in La Route shows that far from imitating the workings of memory, they fulfill mainly thematic functions, serving to superimpose related scenes and figures in a spatial composition in which every element reflects the others. Narrative fragmentation in Le Palace is analyzed for its rendering of a certain experience of the passage of time (discontinuity, alternate slow-motion and lightning progression) through the alternation of two sequences in a rhythmic pattern of interruptions and reprises. In Histoire narrative fragmentation is shown to play a significant role in suggesting the fragmentariness and discontinuity of memory, but here, in this the most fragmented of the three novels analyzed, the exploration of the possibilities of fragmented form is carried to its furthest extent, resulting in a collage type composition of great inventiveness. Narrative fragmentation in the novels of Simon's central period is thus shown to contribute to a certain psychological realism in the twentieth century tradition of stream of consciousness fiction. But its thematic and formal role is shown to be of far greater importance and originality. The replacing of chronological order by a compositional method that juxtaposes or interweaves fragmented sequences emphasizes thematic relations between narrative elements and favours the creation of formal symmetries and patterns. Beneath the surface incoherence and disorder of fragmented narrative lies a tightly knit and formally rigourous composition, made possible by that very fragmentation.

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