Suite française (Irène Némirovsky)

Suite française (Irène Némirovsky)

Infobox Book |
name = Suite française
title_orig = Suite française
translator = Sandra Smith

image_caption = Cover to Eng. translation
author = Irène Némirovsky
cover_artist = Roger Viollet
country = France
language = French
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Gallimard-Jeunesse
release_date = 31 October 2004
english_release_date =
media_type = Paperback
pages = 434 pp (first edition, paperback)
isbn = ISBN 978-2207256459 (first edition, paperback)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Suite française" is the title of a planned sequence of five novels by Irène Némirovsky, a French writer of Ukrainian Jewish origin. In July 1942, having just completed the first two of the series, Némirovsky was arrested as a Jew and detained at Pithiviers and then Auschwitz, where she died of typhus. The notebook containing the two novels was preserved by her daughters but not examined until 1998. They were published, in a single volume entitled "Suite française", in 2004.

The sequence was to portray life in France in the period following June 1940, the month in which the invading German army rapidly defeated the defending French; Paris and northern France immediately came under German occupation on June 14th. The first novel, "Tempête en juin" ("Storm in June") depicts the flight of citizens from Paris in the hours preceding the German advance and in the days following it. The second, "Dolce" ("Sweet"), shows life in a small French country town, Bussy (in the suburbs just east of Paris), in the first, strangely peaceful, months of the German occupation. These first two novels seem able to exist independently from each otherFact|date=May 2008 on first reading. The links between them are rather tenuous; as Némirovsky observes in her notebook, it is the history, and not the characters, that unite them.

The third novel, "Captivité" ("Captivity"), for which Némirovsky left a bare plot outline, would have shown the coalescing of a resistance, with some characters introduced in "Tempête en juin" and "Dolce" now under arrest and under threat of death, in Paris. The fourth and fifth novels would perhaps have been called "Batailles" ("Battles") and "La Paix" ("Peace"), but these exist only as titles in Némirovsky's notebook, against which she had placed question marks. Nothing can be said about the storylines of "Batailles" and "La Paix". To quote Némirovsky's notes, they are "in limbo, and what limbo! It's really in the lap of the gods since it depends on what happens."

Tempête en Juin: Storm in June

The narrative follows several groups of characters who encounter one another rarely if at all. All are impelled to flee from Paris in advance of the impending German entry into the city. As transport and distribution collapse under German bombardment, all have to change their plans and nearly all lose their veneer of civilization.

The Péricands are making for Nîmes, where they have property. They reach the city, but in the course of the journey Charlotte Péricand's senile father-in-law is left behind (forgotten!) while her second son, Hubert, runs away to join the army and shares in its collapse. Her elder son, Philippe, is a priest and is shepherding a party of orphans, who eventually kill him (in a death scene perhaps in need of revision, Némirovsky comments in her notebook, because it is "melo" [melodramatic] ). Gabriel Corte, a well-known writer, flees with his current mistress and makes for Vichy where he may or may not find refuge and employment. Charles Langelet, an aesthete, flees alone in his car, filching petrol from too-trusting acquaintances in order to get as far as the Loire; he returns to Paris and is killed, accidentally and memorably.

Maurice and Jeanne Michaud, minor employees at a bank, are instructed to go to Tours though deprived at the last minute of the transport promised by their employer. Their son, Jean-Marie, is with the army, and they have no word of his fate. They cannot get to Tours and eventually return to Paris, jobless and almost resourceless, but destined to survive. Jean-Marie is in fact wounded; he is being tended by the Sabarie family at their small farm near Bussy, where he is nursed back to health by Madeleine, the Sabarie's foster daughter. At the end of the novel, as postal services are restored, Jean-Marie is able to contact his family and return to Paris. The Michauds, alone among major characters, grow in moral stature as chaos spreads.

Dolce: Sweet

The small town of Bussy and its neighbouring farms are the scene throughout. The German occupation seems sweetly peaceful, but there is no doubt over the balance of power: the Germans get whatever they ask for, official notices promise the death penalty for those who disobey their regulations, and French collaborators, including the Péricands, make their own settlement with their German overlords.

The major storyline concerns Lucile Angellier, whose unfaithful husband is a prisoner of war. She lives, uneasily, with her mother-in-law. Theirs being the best house in the village, it is where the German commander, Bruno von Falk, an accomplished musician, is billeted. Unwillingly Lucile finds herself falling in love with him. In this and several parallel strands, the novel explores the deep, perhaps unbridgeable, differences, and the perhaps superficial sympathies, between military Germans and rural French. The lesser storyline concerns the family of Benoît Sabarie, a prisoner of war who escapes from German captivity, returns home to the family farm near Bussy, marries his fiancée Madeleine, and believes (with some justification) that she still pines for Jean-Marie Michaud, whom she nursed during his recovery. Jealous by nature, Benoît also believes that Madeleine risks being seduced by the German interpreter, Bonnet, who is billeted in their house. Caught poaching, arrested for possessing a gun, Benoît struggles free and shoots Bonnet dead. (In her notebook, Némirovsky mentions a possible revision where Bonnet is wounded, not killed.)

The novel's two storylines come together when, at Madeleine's request, Lucile conceals Benoît in her house: it is widely assumed that Bruno's presence in the house, and his liking for Lucile personally, will protect her against searches. The need to conceal Benoît brings Lucile and her mother-in-law closer; it drives her apart from Bruno, though he never knows why.

After an astonishing and powerful scene in which German troops celebrate the first anniversary of their entry into Paris, "Dolce" ends in July 1941, when, far across Europe, Germany begins its invasion of the Soviet Union. The troops occupying Bussy are posted to the Eastern Front. Both Lucile and Bruno fear that he will not survive. She has no difficulty in persuading him to give her a travel document and petrol coupon which (unknown to him) will enable her to drive Benoît to a new refuge.

The title of "Dolce", like that of the whole sequence, intentionally recalls musical terminology: "dolce" means "sweet" or "soft" in musicians' Italian. This title is truthful but also ironic. Bitter emotions exist under the surface, and a far less peaceful sequel was to follow.

Captivité: Captivity

The plot of Némirovsky's third novel exists as a plot outline, with some contradictions, in her notebook. Benoît has "friends" (the nascent Communist resistance) in Paris. Lucile drives him to the city, where he is concealed by the Michauds, whom the Angelliers met briefly in "Tempête en juin".

In Paris, both Benoît and Jean-Marie Michaud are eventually denounced and arrested and, in prison, meet Hubert. Jean-Marie is pardoned by the Germans when Lucile contacts Bruno von Falk on his behalf. Benoît and his friends organize an escape and release Jean-Marie and Hubert. Jean-Marie and Lucile meet and fall in love. But after learning that she is still in love with Bruno, he leaves to fight against the Germans and dies heroically. On the Eastern Front, Bruno is also killed. Lucile loses both her French and German beloveds.

In a second storyline, the writer Gabriel Corte, a relatively minor and unsympathetic character in "Tempête en juin", emerges as a propagandist and politician, initially collaborating with the Germans, later, perhaps, disaffected. Benoît dies brutally and full of hope.

The manuscript and its rediscovery

"Suite française", so far as it was completed, was written in microscopic handwriting in a single notebook; "Tempête" and "Dolce" together filled 140 pages, corresponding to 516 published pages. It was possibly the earliest work of literary fiction about World War II, and is remarkable as a historical novel sequence written during the very period that it depicts, transformed far beyond the level of a journal of events such as might be expected to emerge from the personal turmoil and tragedy Némirovsky experienced.

Ironically, her elder daughter, Denise, kept the notebook containing the manuscript of "Suite Française" for fifty years without reading it, believing that it would indeed be a journal or diary too painful to read. In the late 1990s, however, having made arrangements to donate her mother's papers to a French archive, Denise decided to examine the notebook first. At last discovering what it contained, she instead had it published in France, where it became a bestseller in 2004.

French publication

"Suite française" was published by Denoël, Paris, in 2004. ISBN 2207256456; pocket edition (Folio) ISBN 207033676X. The edition includes a preface by Myriam Anissimov, notes by Némirovsky about the revision and planned continuation of the sequence, and correspondence between Némirovsky herself, her husband Michel Epstein, her publisher Albin Michel and others in the period before and after her deportation.

"Suite française" won the Prix Renaudot for 2004. This is the first time that the prize has been awarded posthumously.


An English translation by Sandra Smith was published by Chatto & Windus, London, 2004, and by Knopf, New York, in 2006. ISBN 1400044731.

Critical reception

The book received very good reviews from critics. The review aggregator Metacritic reported the book had an average score of 95 out of 100, based on 19 reviews. [cite web|url= |title=Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: Reviews |accessdate=2008-02-15 |publisher=Metacritic]

Controversy: Was Némirovsky an anti-semite?

Several reviewers and commentators [ [ Nextbook: Behind the Legend ] ] [ [,,2018357,00.html Stuart Jeffries on Irène Némirovsky | World news | The Guardian ] ] have raised questions regarding Némirovsky's attitude toward Jews, her generally negative depiction of Jews in her writing and her use of anti-semitic publications in advancing her career. A review of her work published in "The New Republic" states:

Némirovsky was the very definition of a self-hating Jew. Does that sound too strong? Well, here is a Jewish writer who owed her success in France entre deux guerres in no small measure to her ability to pander to the forces of reaction, to the fascist right. Némirovsky's stories of corrupt Jews-- some of them even have hooked noses, no less!--appeared in right-wing periodicals and won her the friendship of her editors, many of whom held positions of power in extreme-right political circles. When the racial laws in 1940 and 1941 cut off her ability to publish, she turned to those connections to seek special favors for herself, and even went so far as to write a personal plea to Marshal Pétain. [ [ Scandale Française ] ]

A reviewer, Paul La Farge, notes:

Némirovsky's "discomfort" with respect to her own identity mars "David Golder", and clouds "Suite Française", despite the fact that not a single Jew appears in the novel, nor a single concentration camp. For all its immediacy, Suite Française is a curiously apolitical novel. [ [ Nextbook: Behind the Legend ] ]


External links

* [ Irène Némirovsky website] informally linked with the French publishers of "Suite française"
* [ "As France Burned"] : review of the English translation of "Suite Française" by Paul Gray, "New York Times Book Review", 9 April 2006
* [ Excerpt from Suite Francaise]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Suite francaise (Irene Nemirovsky) — Suite française (roman) Suite française Auteur Irène Némirovsky Genre Roman Pays d origine  France Éditeur Éditions Denoël Date de parution …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Suite française (Irène Némirovsky) — Suite française (roman) Suite française Auteur Irène Némirovsky Genre Roman Pays d origine  France Éditeur Éditions Denoël Date de parution …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Suite française (irène némirovsky) — Suite française (roman) Suite française Auteur Irène Némirovsky Genre Roman Pays d origine  France Éditeur Éditions Denoël Date de parution …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Irène Némirovsky — en 1928, âgée de 25 ans. Activités Romancière Naissance …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Irene Nemirovsky — Irène Némirovsky Irène Némirovsky en 1928, âgée de 25 ans Irène Némirovsky, née le 24 février 1903 (ou 11 février selon l ancien calendrier remplacé en 1918) à Kiev et morte le 17 août 1942 à Auschwitz, est une romancière de langue française …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Irène Nemirovsky — Irène Némirovsky Irène Némirovsky en 1928, âgée de 25 ans Irène Némirovsky, née le 24 février 1903 (ou 11 février selon l ancien calendrier remplacé en 1918) à Kiev et morte le 17 août 1942 à Auschwitz, est une romancière de langue française …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Irène Némirovsky — im Alter von 25 Jahren Irène Némirovsky (* 11. Februar 1903 in Kiew, Russisches Kaiserreich; † 17. August 1942 im KZ Auschwitz, Deutsches Reich) war eine französische Schriftstellerin …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Suite française (roman) — Suite française Auteur Irène Némirovsky Genre Roman Pays d origine  France Éditeur Éditions Denoël …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Suite française — ist der Titel eines auf fünf Teile geplanten, aber unvollendet gebliebenen Romans von Irène Némirovsky, einer französischen Schriftstellerin mit ukrainisch jüdischen Wurzeln. Nachdem sie nur zwei Teile des Romans fertiggestellt hatte („Sturm im… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Suite francaise — Suite française Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Suite française est le titre de quelques œuvres de compositeurs classiques, dont : Suites françaises de Johann Sebastian Bach Suite… …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”