The Papin sisters, two maids who shocked France by savagely butchering their mistress and her daughter; Violette Nozieres, arrested for poisoning her mother and father; the serial murderer Eugen Weidmann, the last man to be publicly guillotined in France; Pierre Bastian, accused and tried for keeping his sister imprisoned in the same room for twenty-five years in conditions of unspeakable squalor; the mysterious 'affaire Gregory' which involved Marguerite Duras in a nationwide scandal for publishing an article in a national daily accusing a mother of murdering her own infant son: these sordid tales, widely disseminated by the French press in articles known as 'faits divers', have inflamed the imaginations of French writers and intellectuals from Zola and de Beauvoir to Barthes, Foucault and Lacan. Such news reports are the basis for some of the most enduring characters in French fiction - Julian Sorel, Emma Bovary and Therese Desqueyroux - and continue to enthrall readers on a daily basis.
This rigorous and fascinating book is the only systematic study of the creative relationship between French writers and intellectuals and the 'fait divers'. In addition to finding inspiration in these items, many French novelists and intellectuals have been moved to comment on the psychological, social and judicial issues to which they habitually give rise. The study of this phenomenon underscores the powerful hold the sensational has exerted on the nation's psyche and shows how the more lurid aspects of popular culture have fired the imaginations not only of the 'masses' but of the intelligentsia as well.
"Worth the read for the purely historical information about criminals who were famous in the 1920s and '30s, this volume is recommended for all readers interested in modern French literature." --Choice
"Walker's research and analysis is equally impressive whether applied to individual works or wider social phenomena." --Journal of European Studies
"This remarkable book deals wit what, in poor imitation of Queneau, one might call the factidiversoid aspect of literary representation." --Modern & Contemporary France
"Combining traditional literary scholarship with cultural history, David Walker has produced a rich, well-researched volume that makes a usefully divergent contribution to the continuing definition of French cultural studies." --MLR
"alert, original, and very thought-provoking" --AUMLA