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Literary Criticism 20th Century

Diplomacy and the Modern Novel

France, Britain, and the Mission of Literature

edited by Isabelle Daunais & Allan Hepburn

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2020
20th Century, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Diplomacy, French, 20th Century
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2020
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2020
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Between 1900 and 1960, many writers in France and Britain either had parallel careers in diplomatic corps or frequented diplomatic circles: Paul Claudel, Albert Cohen, Lawrence Durrell, Graham Greene, John le Carré, André Malraux, Nancy Mitford, Marcel Proust, and others. What attracts writers to diplomacy, and what attracts diplomats to publishing their experiences in memoirs or novels?


Like novelists, diplomats are in the habit of describing situations with an eye for atmosphere, personalities, and looming crises. Yet novels about diplomats, far from putting a solemn face on everything, often devolve into comedy if not outright farce. Anachronistic yet charming, diplomats take the long view of history and social transformation, which puts them out of step with their times – at least in fiction. In this collection of essays, eleven contributors reflect on diplomacy in French and British novels, with particular focus on temporality, style, comedy, characterization, and the professional liabilities attached to representing a state abroad. With archival examples as evidence, the essays in this volume indicate that modern fiction, especially fiction about diplomacy, is a response to the increasing speed of communication, the decline of imperial power, and the ceding of old ways of negotiating to new.

About the authors

Isabelle Daunais is a Canada Research Chair and professor in the Department of French Literature at McGill University.

Isabelle Daunais' profile page

Allan Hepburn is the James McGill Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature at McGill University.

Allan Hepburn's profile page

Other titles by Allan Hepburn