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    [I]n particular, it is with the literary movement known as unanimism (Romains coined the word
    'l'unanisme' and used it in print for the first time in 1905) that his name is associated.  Most simply,
    unanimism is the literary exploration of the life of groups as distinct from the study of the
    dynamics of the individual person.  It claims for the group a special status over and beyond the
    individual; the central task of the literary work is to examine and articulate the character,
    personality, and particular qualities of groups of all sorts, from the transitory collectivity of human
    beings who huddle under an awning during a quick shower to families and business and professional
    associates who spend significant parts of their lives together in subtle patterns of proximity.  Under
    Romain's leadership, unanimism flowered into something more than a cult; it became a generic
    name for a religious and social discipline, for a philosophic stance, and for an interpretive art.  The
    mystery of the group became the cardinal problem for the contemporary mind and it was to this
    problem that Romains addressed himself.
           -Maurice Natanson, Afterword to the Signet Classics edition (1961)

The Death of a Nobody is the first installment in what grew into a 27 volume cycle of novels, essays, poems, and plays called Les Hommes de bonne volonté (Men of Good Will), in which Jules Romains developed his theory of unanimism.  It concerns the death of Jacques Godard, a retired railroad engineer, who lived by himself in a flat in Paris.  His death is depicted as an event which effects a few acquaintances, his fellow tenants, his aged father, and a young stranger.  Romains suggests that Godard continues to exist for a time, to the extent that these people recall him, but with the death of his parents, is finally forgotten.  Romains uses a nearly cinematic technique, depicting various characters;' reactions to death in narrative sequence, but as if they are occurring contemporaneously.  The novel is interesting both for this stylistic innovation (keep in mind that when the book was written, cinema didn't even really exist) and for the philosophy expounded, but I'd imagine after a couple of entries in the series it would get pretty tedious.  This one is mercifully brief and worth reading.


Grade: (B)


See also:

French Literature
Book-related and General Links:
    -Romains, Jules (Louis-Henri-Jean Farigoule) (1885 - 1972) (xrefer)

    -ESSAY : Dermo-Optical Sensitivity and Perception: Its Influence On Human Behavior  (Yvonne Duplessis, Ph.D. Director, Study Committee on Dermo-Optical Sensitivity Paris, France)
    -REVIEW : of SYLVIA BEACH AND THE LOST GENERATION A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. By Noel Riley Fitch (Andrew Field, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SYLVIA BEACH AND THE LOST GENERATION A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. By Noel Riley Fitch (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)


You're wrong to say Death of a Nobody is the first novel in a cycle - Hommes de Bon Volonte is a later work. This self-contained novel is Romains' first.

However this review admirably points out some of Romains' technical innovations (such as simultaneity).

It's also a novel which has had more influence than it's given credit for - particularly on the work of Virginia Woolf.

- crasher

- Jan-16-2005, 18:29