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On Both Sides of the Tracks: Social Mobility in Contemporary French Literature By Morgane Cadieu Cover Image

On Both Sides of the Tracks: Social Mobility in Contemporary French Literature (Paperback)

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An analysis of social mobility in contemporary French literature that offers a new perspective on figures who move between social classes.

Social climbers have often been the core characters of novels. Their position between traditional tiers in society makes them touchstones for any political and literary moment, including our own. Morgane Cadieu’s study looks at a certain kind of social climber in contemporary French literature whom she calls the parvenant. Taken from the French term parvenu, which refers to one who is newly arrived, a parvenant is a character who shuttles between social groups. A parvenant may become part of a new social class but  devises literary ways to come back, constantly undoing any fixed idea of social affiliation.

Focusing on recent French novels and autobiographies, On Both Sides of the Tracks speaks powerfully to issues of emancipation and class. Cadieu offers a fresh critical look at tales of social mobility in the work of Annie Ernaux, Kaoutar Harchi, Michel Houellebecq, Édouard Louis, and Marie NDiaye, among others, shedding fascinating light on upward mobility today as a formal, literary problem.
Morgane Cadieu is associate professor of French at Yale University. She is the author of one book in French, Marcher au hasard: clinamen et création dans la prose du XXe siècle, and her articles and essays have appeared in publications such as Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, Comparative Literature, The Balzac Review, Fabula, and French Forum, among others.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226830360
ISBN-10: 0226830365
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: January 9th, 2024
Pages: 320
Language: English
“Incredibly wide-ranging and rich, On Both Sides of the Tracks stands to be the definitive account of social mobility and class in contemporary French literature. Cadieu tracks the figure of the parvenant—the social climber whose climbing can never really end—as it works its way through and reshapes contemporary French literature, transforming social mobility from phenomenon into experience, one that is fundamentally rooted in language. Cadieu incites us to read these texts as closely as their authors read their own lives.”
— Annabel L. Kim, Harvard University

On Both Sides of the Tracks shows the narrative of social mobility—at a time of increased immobility—to be an intimate, if ambivalent, structure of literary fiction and nonfiction. The intimacy works both ways: the parvenant is also an uncanny figure for the reader-writer, the class-crossing ‘I’/eye imparting to reality the force of the literary. Cadieu attends exquisitely to how details, language, style, tropes, punctuation, and intertexts encode the unending effort and self-consciousness of socio-symbolic passing. One can no longer write about class and the novel without engaging with this fine work.”
— Thangam Ravindranathan, Brown University

“In this lucid, well-documented, and engaging text, Cadieu shows that social mobility constitutes an important frame in terms of which contemporary French society and literature can be apprehended and that the figure of the (upwardly mobile) transclass individual provides an excellent entryway into the French landscape and literary field.”
— Gerald Prince, University of Pennsylvania