Skip to main content

The Sunday of Fiction: The Modern French Eccentric

Peter Schulman

In a world of increasing conformity, the modern eccentric can be seen as a contemporary hero and guardian of individualism. With this notion of the eccentric in mind, Peter Schulman's The Sunday of Fiction defines the modern eccentric in twentieth-century French literature and compares the notions of the eccentric in nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature by tracing the eccentric's relationship to time, space, and society. While previous studies have focused on the notion of eccentricity in purely formal terms, The Sunday of Fiction delineates the eccentric as a fully fictional character. This work completes prior criticism by including twentieth-century authors such as Raymond Queneau, Jean Echenoz, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Georges Perec, and filmmakers such as Jacques Tati and Pierre Etaix.

Since the nineteenth century, notions of eccentricity have shifted from foppish, outlandish representations of aristocratic eccentrics toward a popular, discreet figure who is uniquely in tune with vanishing spaces of daily life: amusement parks, cafés, and grand movie palaces. While the modern world is obsessed with speed and technology, modern French eccentrics view daily life as a sort of holiday. In this way, The Sunday of Fiction details the various means modern eccentrics employ to successfully transform the humdrum into the marvelous, work time into free time, or rather Mondays into Sundays.

"The notion of the eccentric hero in literature —the character who is off-centered and cannot fit— can thus be considered constitutive of the genre of the novel, an essential aspect of it. It is curious that no one had so far systematically examined its history and its relations to modern literature. Peter Schulman's book fills this gap." —Ali Nematollahy, Romanic Review 93.4 (Nov. 2002): 478-81.

"[This study] examines the figure of the eccentric across a range of mainly post-1945 French literary texts and films. ... His interweaving of literary texts and film over a wide time-span is suggestive, juxtaposing material usually analysed in different contexts. Above all, he refreshingly rejects the formalist dogma of existing French research on eccentricity, which predictably focuses on eccentric narrative structures ... in favour of examining the topic in relation to characterization and psychology." —Miranda Gill, French Studies 57.4 (2003): 560-61.

"[Schulman's] point of view is multidisciplinary, including the visual and performing arts as well as literature....this slender volume is so vast in scope and comprises such a quantity of material in its pages that asking the author to do more is unreasonable.... —Kathryn E. Wildgen, Romance Quarterly 51.4 (Fall 2004): 314-15.

"The Sunday of Fiction is an impressive and seminal contribution to French Literature Studies and French Cinematic Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists." —Midwest Book Review

"This study attempts to document the passage of the modern French eccentric in literature and film from the 19th to 20th century....the representations brought forth here are also frightening critiques of the modern world and the depths these characters have to go to in order to find joy, peace, happiness and meaning in a fast-paced technological world too often devoid of spontaneous human feeling, contact and community." —Michael Standaert, Critique
For the complete online review, visit

"[a] subtly humorous book … Schulman's comparison of nineteenth-century eccentric literary characters with their modern counterparts is especially insightful, revealing social and literary trends that extend beyond the subject of this work." —Melissa Bailar, Nineteenth-Century French Studies 40.1-2 (2011): 170.

For more reviews, see
Reference & Research Book News 1 May 2003.
Les Cahiers de l'Institut
01 (2008): k-l. by Marc Décimo

Peter Schulman, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, is the co-author of Le dernier livre du siècle with Mischa Zabotin, a series of interviews on the notion of fin de siècle with over seventy prominent French personalities. He has written articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature and is the co-editor of Rhine Crossings: France and Germany in Love and War and The Marketing of Eros: Performance, Sexuality, and Consumer Culture, both volumes of essays.

2002. Vol. 25. xii, 195 pp. Cloth $29.95 PRICE REDUCED. Also available as an e-pub.