By Andrew Sobanet
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Extra info for Jail Sentences: Representing Prison in Twentieth-Century French Fiction (Stages)
However, the existence of important differences among spaces of conﬁnement and testimonial discourses and forms does not mean that comparisons among various types of literature of witnessing are not fruitful. Indeed, such comparisons — which will be evoked when applicable in the following chapters — sharpen the speciﬁcity of the prison novel as a literary modality with its own traditions and conventions. Comparisons also contribute to the description and analysis of narrative strategies used in many types of documentary and testimonial texts.
E ve ry ma n i n p r i s o n resembles the novel’s depiction of the repercussions of the conﬂict. Like the narrator of the novel, Serge the memoirist expresses disbelief and disappointment at the knee-jerk nationalism displayed by many of his fellow prisoners at the outset of the war: blind patriotism diminishes solidarity among the men in prison, who are of diverse national origins. While information in the memoirs reveals that the novel is partly based on Serge’s experience, it also shows that the ﬁctional narrative aims to promote the author’s ideological message forcefully and convincingly.
Bon conducted twenty-one separate writing sessions with a total of sixty-two inmates, many of whom were homeless or resided in low-income housing before being arrested. A number of them were also either immigrants or from the ﬁrst generation of their families to be born in France. As workshop director, Bon proposed a number of themes and introduced the prisoners to well-known literary texts from which they were expected to ﬁnd the beginnings of a narrative thread. The themes and literary texts imply engagement with a set of marginalizing socioeconomic factors, as the author sought to elicit testimonies from the inmates about delinquency, racism, and the vicissitudes of urban and suburban life.