A long list of canonical writers in Western literature have experienced incarceration and have subsequently written celebrated works about the imprisoned and the condemned. The French tradition is no exception: writers who produced noteworthy texts while incarcerated or who later wrote about their experiences in prison are found on the literary-historical landscape from the medieval era through the twentieth century. Prison writing by inmates, former guards, chaplains, teachers, and doctors is firmly established as part of the fabric of popular culture and has long attracted the attention of culture critics and scholars. Nevertheless, scant analysis exists of the prison novel—a literary genre that, as Andrew Sobanet argues in Jail Sentences, uses fiction as a documentary tool. Its narrative peculiarities, which are the main subjects of Sobanet’s study, include the use of autobiographical and testimonial techniques to critique the penitentiary system.
Jail Sentences is the definitive study of the legacy of the Western tradition of prison writing in twentieth-century French literature. Although Sobanet focuses primarily on French writers—Victor Serge, Jean Genet, Albertine Sarrazin, and François Bon—his keen sense of literary dialogue pulls into the orbit of his study an international corpus of work, from Dostoyevsky to Malcolm X. Jail Sentences arrives at a coherent definition of the genre, whose unique conventions stem from the innermost regions of our understanding of stories, truth, fiction, and belief.
Andrew Sobanet is an assistant professor of French at Georgetown University. He lives in Washington DC with his wife, Amanda.
"Drawing on a wide range of authors whose works are synonymous with prison studies—Michel Foucault, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Malcolm X
—this cleverly titled book makes for fascinating reading about the prison experience as both punishment and inspiration."—C. B. Kerr, Choice
"In a world where the public hardly ever hears from the majority of detainees, Jail Sentences invites readers to ponder what kinds of stories those impounded on the inside, or recently released, might have yet to tell."—Ari J. Blatt, French Forum
"A fascinating study of the prison novel in French fiction over the twentieth century."—Claire Gorrara, French Studies
"Jail Sentences's close analysis of literary mechanics, at a time when such an approach is critically unfashionable, makes the book all the more valuable."—Elissa Gelfand, H-France Review