Trials of the Letter in Joyce and Proust – Journal of Modern Literature – article

Trials of the Letter in Joyce and Proust

Spurr | Journal of Modern Literature


The Alfred Dreyfus affair is the central political event of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, just as the history of Charles Stewart Parnell, including the Special Commission hearings of 1888, haunts the pages of Joyce’s work. For both writers, the respective cases serve as a kind of ironic measure by which different persons are defined according to their prises de position. Given the role of forgery in both cases, another consequence for the literary works in question has to do with the ambiguous nature of the letter and its unforeseeable consequences. Both Proust and Joyce produce fictional letters in their works that serve as analogies to the doubtful documents produced in court. Moreover, in these works, the function of the author as an implicit presence retreats progressively in the face of the enigmatic autonomy of the text, as if to acknowledge that the text has taken on a life of its own.


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