Je Sois Autre Moy-Mesmes: Generic Blending and French Heritage in Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life

Caterina Calafat

Abstract


“Indeed his [Montaigne’s] essay project is neither a monographic memoir nor an intimate journal” (Calhoun 2).
The English writer Julian Barnes (Leicester, 1946) published Levels of Life (2013) a few years after the sudden and untimely passing of his wife Pat Kavanagh, in October 2008. The three parts of the text are very subtly intertwined, the first two being an exercise in historiographic metafiction with real-life characters from the past and the last, a unique intimate portrait of the author’s own grief. Inventiveness is a distinctive trait of this postmodern British narrator who has cultivated it with generic blending in the metafictional practice, excelling in the tension between fictional and non-fictional writing because of the unreliable nature of reconstructing the past accurately, whether far-removed or immediate, unconnected or personal: “As memory researchers from fields as diverse as neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and philosophy have argued, remembering involves a reinterpretation of the past in the present”(Smith and Watson 22).
In order to discover the originality of a similar work given that Barnes is also a staunch Francophile, borne out of a thorough knowledge of the French language and culture —Gustave Flaubert being his personality cult—, which permeates both his fiction and non-fiction oeuvre. In the vein of Montaigne’s essayistic style and deeply influenced by him, his inspiration also stems from the posthumous journals of Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) and Jules Renard (1864-1910): La Doulou (1929), translated by Barnes himself, and Journal (1925-1927), respectively. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to outline this French legacy in the original conceptualisation of this author’s postmodern autographical narrative which is beyond a clear genre categorization.

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