Written in 1983, the novella Gilles et Jeanne seems to be one of Michel Tournier's simpler works at first glance. Yet, for all of its simplicity, Tournier does not repress his desire to lace the tale with metaphoric and metaphysical symbolism. It is through a symbolic marriage on the battlefield that Tournier links the two characters in a sort of mystical union. All of the crimes following this ritual that precipitated Gilles descent into depravity were in fact an attempt to reunite with the departed spirit of his "spouse", either by mimetically recreating the circumstances of her death, or by metaphysically recreating the location of her eternal resting place. Joan of Arc was not canonized as a saint until 1920. Because she was burned at the stake for crimes against the church, Joan's place in Gilles' mind was in hell. This article focuses on the symbolism of catastrophic marriage in the novel. It traces the literary allusions to marriage that follow and prelude this central moment, and examine Gilles' subsequent deviant behavior through this lens. Once it has been established that this symbolic marriage was present in Tournier's work, this leads to the next important question: If Tournier deliberately employed marriage imagery in describing Gilles de Rais' relationship to Joan of Arc, what was his purpose in doing so? The article then uses the Tournier's own philosophy, the literary theory of Girard and Bataille, and examines the significance of the marriage allegory in a post-revolutionary, secularized France. The trauma of the rupture with the old regime is reflected in the violence and turmoil that is born of the titular characters' failed attempt at sacred union.



College and Department

Humanities; French and Italian



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Tournier, marriage, union, Gilles et Jeanne, secularization, Gilles de Rais