PLV I Love You: Albertine Sarrazin’s Letters to Julien from Prison

PLV I Love You: Albertine Sarrazin’s Letters to Julien from Prison
3 December 2020, 4.00pm - 5.30pm

Confinement in French and Francophone Literature and Film

Speaker: Polly Galis (Bristol)

Albertine Sarrazin (1937-1967) produced numerous novels, journals, poems and letters during her brief lifetime, written largely from prison during the 1950s and 1960s. This paper will explore her love letters to husband and fellow convict Julien, invariably signed off with such loving flourishes as PLV – Pour la vie. I will evaluate the representation of a radical change represented in these letters, in the way Albertine approaches imprisonment, writing, time and life itself after meeting Julien. I will also compare the different permutations and uses of these love letters. For example, Albertine and Julien exchange official letters that are reviewed by prison officers, as well as secret and more extensive missives that they smuggle to each other via empty condiment bottles. The former are conservative and formulaic in content, while the latter contain more elicit and private materials such as escape plans, sex-talk, and deep existential musings that Albertine attributes to incarceration. Once Julien is freed, Albertine grows desperate for freedom, and writing to Julien becomes a means for her to speed-up time and prepare for her release. Generally speaking moreover, she uses letters to solicit financial and legal support, and to experiment with language, honing her multi-generic and polyphonic writing style. This study will thus evaluate the diverse benefits of the epistolic form for Albertine Sarrazin as a prison inmate, wife and writer, and reveal ingenious communication strategies that occurred within mid-twentieth-century French spaces of confinement. These will be presented as exceptional opportunities for self-development and -realisation.

Polly Galis was recently awarded the Society for French Studies Postdoctoral Prize Fellowship to conduct research at the University of Bristol, under the title Narratives of Pleasure and Protest by Francophone Sex Workers. This project examines literature by authors from France, Switzerland, and Algeria, from the 1950s to early 2000s. Polly completed a PhD in French at the University of Leeds and is now revising her thesis for publication with Peter Lang as a winner of the Young Scholars Competition (Frank French Feminisms: Sex, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of Ernaux, Huston and Arcan). She is also co-organising the next Women in French conference taking place virtually in May 2021, in collaboration with academics at Maynooth University. Previous publications include a co-edited special issue for L’Esprit Créateur (‘Challenging Spaces and Gazes: The Body in 20th- and 21st-Century Francophone Culture’) and a co-edited volume with Peter Lang (Queer(y)ing Bodily Norms in Francophone Culture).

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Cathy Collins
020 7862 8738