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Abstract

Haunting our collective imagination, the madman has always been laden with symbolic significance. The myth of madness is abundantly present in literature, however those characters with an actual mental illness are ultimately overshadowed. While mental patients are pushed to the margins of literature, just as they are pushed to the outskirts of society, this particular cultural legend of madness develops during the nineteenth century in Romantic and fantastic literature and stays in the spotlight at the beginning of the following century through the avant-garde artists. In contrast to the aforementioned representation of madness, a number of novelists of the twentieth century, including Georges Duhamel, André Baillon, Julien Green, Henry de Montherlant or Alexandre Vialatte, brought on a literary shift away from “madness” towards “the madman” – from the myth to the individual. The focus of this piece of work is on the modality and logic leading to the emancipation of the figure of the madman and its affirmation as an autonomous subject – in every sense of the world – in the literary field. These fictional stories, where the alienated consciousness is both the focus and the main subject of the narrative, present the reader with an almost familiar madness. They don’t idealize insanity but provide representations of almost ordinary disorders, which affect a banal character living a modest life. Through their semantic, syntactic and pragmatic preferences, these stories form a fictional “sub-genre”, called “histoires de fous”. This research aims at determining the generic features of these novels and at considering the way madness questions the means and powers of fiction. Another purpose is to shed light on how literature helps us understand this inconceivable experience, which represents the other side of the commonly shared human experience of reason and logic, and to study how novelists help to reveal as well as reshape the characterization of this social and cultural topic.

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