Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kaplan, Alice


Under the Third Republic, social and political theorists responded to national crises by advocating for a strengthening of the traditional patriarchal family. After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1, officials put faith in the family as a panacea for the various demographic and moral ills that led to the defeat. The interwar period again saw the return of such calls, but authors of the interwar period carry out clear critiques of the patriarchal family as a source not of moral and reproductive strength, but rather of prejudice and stagnation. The interwar period is often overlooked by scholars or studied only for what it can tell us about the World Wars or the rise and fall of France’s first socialist government in the 1930s. But the 1920s and 1930s were a period of intense cultural production, when artists and authors experimented with new methods and new forms of social and political engagement through art. The novels studied in this dissertation engage actively with the contemporary social and political situation in France as well as with the French literary tradition, rewriting the roman d’éducation and the domestic novel for a new century. In this dissertation I study the place of the family in novels and novellas by Louis Guilloux, Paul Nizan, Irène Némirovsky, François Mauriac, Colette, Roger Martin du Gard, André Gide, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Each chapter of the project moves through different relationships — fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, siblings. Finally, the last two chapters turn to different alternatives to the family that those on the margins of bourgeois society might seek out — political groups, friendship, mentorship, romantic relationships, crowds. By centering the family in their novels, these interwar French authors ensure that their social and political critiques of the Third Republic get right to the heart of the traditionalist assumptions on which the republican social order was based. Further, by showing young peoples’ rejection of the existing order, interwar authors explore new models of citizenship and social engagement. Though their adolescent protagonists struggle to turn their rebellious energy into effective political action, the rebellious energy that bubbles up throughout these works provides hope for national renewal after the first World War.