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A Fiction of the French Nation

The Émigré Novel, Nostalgia, and National Identity, 1797–1815

Mary Ashburn Miller

Keywords: emigration; French Revolution; national identity; nostalgia; novel; sentiment

This article examines fictional representations of the emigration of the French Revolution. It focuses on the novels Eugénie et Mathilde, Les Petits émigrés, and Le Retour d’un émigré, which were published in France between 1797 and 1815 as émigrés were seeking to return to the nation they had fled. It argues that these novels should be interpreted as making claims about the ability of émigrés to reintegrate within the nation. The sentimental novels responded to two key anxieties about the émigrés’ return by demonstrating that émigrés had not been transformed into foreigners during their time abroad and that they were not seeking to reconstitute Old Regime France. These novelists redefined the émigré as an isolated and pitiable wanderer, and redefined France as a nation bound by common suffering and sentiment.

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