A scholar of the French literary style "Nouveau Roman," Franklin & Marshall College’s Carrie Landfried recently published the writings of Nouveau Roman author Nathalie Sarraute.
In May 2017, Landfried, F&M associate professor of French and program chair of comparative literary studies, co-edited a book of Sarraute's previously unpublished letters, “Lettres d’Amérique” (“Letters from America”), published in French by Editions Gallimard. Her co-editor was Olivier Wagner, an archivist in the manuscript department of the National Library of France in Paris.
The book received positive reviews, including in Le Monde des Livres. More recently it was the subject of a conference and lecture tour. The Nouveau Roman or New Novel movement, which came to prominence in France in the 1950s, represented a departure from the traditional literary form toward a more experimental style.
Sarraute, born in 1900, came to writing relatively late in life and to recognition even later. In 1964, she came to the U.S. for a conference and stayed to traverse the country. She wrote her husband about her impressions and the various people she met. By that point, she had published four novels and two essays in the Nouveau Roman style.
“The letters are important because Sarraute realizes to what extent she had a reputation internationally,” Landfried said. “Because she came to writing rather late, she was always kind of insecure about herself as a writer. This marked a turning point in her understanding of her own literary reputation.”
Landfried’s connection to “Lettres d’Amérique” was set in motion when she reached out to Wagner with a question about a different project regarding Sarraute’s work. Wagner told Landfried about the letters, which were donated to the National Library of France. He thought they were worth publishing.
Wagner transcribed the letters, and the duo began working on the manuscript in 2015. They submitted it to Editions Gallimard and received a positive response within two weeks.
“You can have an idea with somebody, but it doesn’t always pan out that you work well together. In our case, Oliver has access to the papers and to literary publishers. I have the literary scholar background. As an American, I had a lot to contribute with contextualizing the trip she made and the people she met. We both have an editor’s eye for things,” Landfried said.
Landfried and Wagner presented the work at a March conference at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale and gave four stateside lectures at New York University, Librairie Albertine in New York City, Wellesley College, and Harvard University in April and May.
Landfried noted how these letters depart from Sarraute’s signature style.
“Her reputation as a writer is that she has a very specific, ‘difficult’ writing style, and these are completely different. Here, she writes in short sentences. In her literary writing, she’d do 30 or 40 drafts of a paragraph, but she wrote these letters quickly and wasn’t worried about finding the perfect word. It shows a different aspect of her and her style.”
Landfried hopes to translate the letters into English. Meanwhile, she and Wagner continue work on another project this summer transcribing a new volume of polyphonic correspondence among six Nouveau Roman authors.
“It’s a project bearing fruit,” she said.