Michel Tournier Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to long fiction, Michel Tournier (tewr-NYAY) produced a one-act play, the monologue Le Fétichiste (pr. 1974; The Fetishist, 1983), the title of which reveals a great deal psychologically about many of Tournier’s fictional characters. It was followed by a travel journal, Canada: Journal de voyage (1977; Canada: travel journal), about a country that symbolizes a sort of promised land in some of his stories, as well as by Le Vent paraclet (1977; The Wind Spirit, 1988), a volume of essays that are not up to the level of his novels. Thirteen short stories and Tournier’s one play were published under the title Le Coq de bruyère (1978; The Fetishist, and Other Stories, 1983). In his short stories, Tournier explores briefly, pointedly, and often amusingly areas treated at greater length in his novels. Equally interesting is the group of what he calls “images and prose,” a sort of intellectual autobiography titled Des clefs et des serrures: Images et proses (1979; some keys and some locks: images and prose).

Tournier has also published in two other areas, both of which illuminate aspects of his fiction. The first is children’s literature. Under the title Vendredi: Ou, La Vie sauvage (1971; Friday and Robinson: Life on Esperanza Island, 1972), Tournier adapted his interpretation of the story of Robinson Crusoe to a form suitable for young readers. He...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Tournier’s first great literary achievement was a work of nonfiction. With his intimate knowledge of the German language, he published, between 1950 and 1953, four volumes of French translations of the secret archives of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (located on the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin during the years 1937 to 1939) as Les Archives secrètes de la Wilhelmstrasse. The volumes contain more than twenty-five hundred pages of text on the subject of the Ministry from the tenure of Konstantin von Neurath to that of Joachim von Ribbentrop, covering Germany’s relations with Czechoslovakia, the Spanish Civil War, and the aftermath of the Munich Accords.

Born in 1924, Tournier belongs to the generation of Robert Pinget (born 1919), Alain Robbe-Grillet (born 1922), and Michel Butor (born 1926). His colleagues began to publish in the 1950’s and were soon grouped together loosely, along with others, as the New Novelists, not because their works resembled one another but because their novels represented a radical departure from the traditional form of the genre. Unlike the New Novelists, however, Tournier did not begin to publish until 1967. In his first novel, Friday, Tournier returned to a much more traditional form, in which he combined the omniscient narrator with excerpts from Robinson’s logbook—unlike Daniel Defoe, who recounted his tale of Robinson Crusoe entirely in the first person, although he did include pages from...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Discuss Michel Tournier’s use of myth and legend.

What is Tournier’s attitude toward Germany and German culture?

What changes did Tournier make in adapting Friday: Or, The Other Island for younger readers?

How does Tournier’s account of the main characters in The Four Wise Men differ from traditional Christian accounts?

Discuss Tournier’s use of twins and pairs.

To what extent are readers meant to identify with Tournier’s characters?

What is the significance of geographical setting in Tournier’s novels?

How has Tournier approached literary experimentation?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anderson, Christopher. Michel Tournier’s Children: Myth, Intertext, Initation. New York: P. Lang, 1998. Focuses on Tournier’s writing for and about children, especially his use of myth and patterns of rites of passage in his narratives.

Cloonan, William. Michel Tournier. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Biographical information and overviews of the critical response to major works.

Davis, Colin. Michel Tournier: Philosophy and Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Davis provides a reliable, comprehensive study.

Edwards, Rachel. Myth and the Fiction of Michel Tournier and Patrick Granville. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1999. A comparative study.

Gascoigne, David. Michel Tournier. Washington, D.C.: Berg, 1996. A solid introduction to Tournier’s life and works.

Petit, Susan. Michel Tournier’s Metaphysical Fictions. Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1991. A reliable, comprehensive study.