La Soif d’Assia Djebar : pour un nouveau roman maghrébin

Valérie Orlando


French 20th century literary modernism, certainly the Nouveau Roman, emphasized "the death of the subject" as a defining trait of novels written from 1948 to 1968. Critics often faulted the French New Novelists of the period for lacking socio-cultural and political commitment. What is most sure is that the French New Novel of the 1950s represents a body of literature that founded a new narrative voice which melded the subject with its environment as never before. This “fragmented subject” was born from two world wars, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the genocide of 6 million under the Nazis’ regime, and the emergence of armed struggles against colonialism. The introspective, descriptive form of narration, found present in the works of New Novelists Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor, Claude Ollier, among others, was also influenced by absurdist theatre, prose and French existentialist philosophy of the mid-20th century. The characteristics of the new novel are many, yet what stands out most about the literary goals of the genre is the author’s 1) questioning or probing of a troubled identity that is fragmented and “fused” with its environment; 2) a manipulation of narrative time through the use of flashbacks, flash forwards, palimpsests; 3) the importance of objects over humans and the bitterness of Man in capitalist societies where objects have become the defining weight on the conscious of the individual; and 4) the questioning of the viability of the literary word as a means to communicate the reality of Man while industrialization is increasingly encroaching on his environment and sense of human being-in-the-world.

I argue in this paper that the advent of the French Nouveau Roman as a radical mode of narrative representation also influenced the development of a certain, unique literary “North African modernism” in the 1950s. Maghrebi authors, particularly Algerian writing in French in the 1950s, such as Mohamed Dib, Kateb Yacine, Mouloud Mammeri, and Assia Djebar present marginalized characters, cast out from their environments, as they also try to navigate in an era that was violently transforming as France’s colonial empire came to an end. I will make the case in this paper that Assia Djebar’s first work, La Soif, published in 1957 when she was only 20, is exemplary of the themes mentioned above which make up the overall 20th century modernist literary project of the 1950s. Often criticized because she did not address the raging, anti-colonial struggle taking place in Algeria at the time, Djebar’s work should be studied as one that focuses on the “tentative processes by which a young woman achieves a sense of self through her relationship with others”.[i] Reflection on the Franco-Algerian war of independence is absent from this novel due to the literary mode in which Djebar was working and which was characteristic of the 1950s. Her modernist novel reflects the psychological introspection that characterized most novels of the era. The introspection and internal monologues throughout the novel provide a means for the young, female protagonist to establish her subjectivity in an environment of rapid transformation. Djebar captures the essence of an Algerian woman emerging into a new way of being. Her protagonist, Nadia, explores the principal, existential Sartrian question asked in novels by writers of French expression writing in the 1950s: To what extent can an individual remain disconnected from the responsibility of taking action in societies that call on authors to construct the social conscious of their era?

[i]-Jane Hiddleston. Assia Djebar: Out of Algeria. (Liverpool: Liverpool Press, 2006), 23.

Texte intégral :



-Jane Hiddleston. Assia Djebar: Out of Algeria. (Liverpool: Liverpool Press, 2006), 23.

-Dejeux qui cite “L’avenir de la culture algérienne”, Les Temps modernes, no 209, octobre 1963, pp. 733-734.

-Jane Hiddleston. Assia Djebar: Out of Algeria. (Liverpool: Liverpool Press, 2006), p. 23.

- Traduit de l’anglais par moi-même.

-Traduit de l’anglais par moi-même.

-Dans l’avant-propos des Chroniques algériennes publié en 1958, Camus écrit: «Une Algérie constituée par des peuplements fédérés, et reliée à la France, me paraît préférable, sans comparaison possible au regard de la simple justice, à une Algérie reliée à un empire d’Islam qui ne réaliserait à l’intention des peuples arabes qu’une addition de misères et de souffrances et qui arracherait le people français d’Algérie à sa patrie naturelle» (Paris : Gallimard, p. 28).


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