Never Say I

Sexuality and the First Person in Colette, Gide, and Proust

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 4 illustrations Published: November 2006

Author: Michael Lucey

Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Never Say I reveals the centrality of representations of sexuality, and particularly same-sex sexual relations, to the evolution of literary prose forms in twentieth-century France. Rethinking the social and literary innovation of works by Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Colette, Michael Lucey considers these writers’ production of a first-person voice in which matters related to same-sex sexuality could be spoken of. He shows how their writings and careers took on political and social import in part through the contribution they made to the representation of social groups that were only slowly coming to be publicly recognized. Proust, Gide, and Colette helped create persons and characters, points of view, and narrative practices from which to speak and write about, for, or as people attracted to those of the same sex.

Considering novels along with journalism, theatrical performances, correspondences, and face-to-face encounters, Lucey focuses on the interlocking social and formal dimensions of using the first person. He argues for understanding the first person not just as a grammatical category but also as a collectively produced social artifact, demonstrating that Proust’s, Gide’s, and Colette’s use of the first person involved a social process of assuming the authority to speak about certain issues, or on behalf of certain people. Lucey reveals these three writers as both practitioners and theorists of the first person; he traces how, when they figured themselves or other first persons in certain statements regarding same-sex identity, they self-consciously called attention to the creative effort involved in doing so.


Never Say I is a clear, cogent literary history of the articulation of the discourses and representations of same-sex desire and homosexuality in early twentieth-century French literature, and it is an important addition to our understanding of the literature and culture of the period.” — Lawrence R. Schehr, Modern Philology

“Highly recommended….[A] fascinating first volume. Though what Lucey will achieve in his highly anticipated second volume remains to be seen, it is hoped that the work in progress will be just as impressive, consequential, and valuable as the first to scholars of gay and lesbian studies and French literature alike.” — Brian Gordon Kennelly, French Review

“Lucey’s impressive volume is an original and insightful exploration. . .“ — Rachel Mesch, Symposium

“Michael Lucey constructs a deft and innovative model for thinking about the problems Colette, André Gide, Marcel Proust, and others faced as they struggled to articulate a first person that might aptly speak about — and, just as often, speak for — same-sex sexualities in a fraught linguistic, literary, social, and political arena. . . . This notion of the I as a figure—rather than as a subject—is one of the most important and exciting contributions Never Say I makes. . . . Lucey’s formulation of the I as a figure allows us to see how each I can indeed be read, so long as it is read with care and attention to the fields within which it occurs. And it allows us to see more clearly the sophistication and simultaneous earnestness and playfulness with which these novelists, theorists of the self, handled the critical task of learning to articulate a queer first person.” — David Namie, GLQ

Never Say I offers detailed, closely argued readings of a substantial corpus of novels, letters, review essays, and journalistic pieces, and represents an important contribution not only to our knowledge of the three authors in question, but also to the historiography of sexuality.” — Madeleine Dobie, Modern Fiction Studies

“Since same-sex-attracted men and women still argue about how to define themselves and others today, it is all that much more interesting to see how three particularly masterful users of language went about doing so when the field was new and virtually wide open.” — Richard M. Berrong, Gay & Lesbian Review

“This is a brilliant and important book. I have been entirely won over by it.” — Emma Wilson, French Studies

“This is an inspired book by a seasoned scholar. . . . Essential.” — C.B. Kerr, Choice

“Though the book’s title highlights the role of Gide, Proust, and Colette in this process, Lucey’s study offers much more than a rereading of these three well-studied figures and their work. Instead, he not only investigates the “position-taking” that came to characterize their literary output but also seeks to understand these positions in the context of an intimate web of writers, critics, and others in the cultural elite in France in this period.” — Patricia Tilburg, Journal of the History of Sexuality

"Engaging and often entertaining and, by dint of its diversified engagement, will be very useful to scholars in disciplines beyond sexuality studies and narratology." — J. Marina Davie, Novel

“A breakthrough book. Never Say I isn’t just an ‘important contribution,’ as people say. It is a necessary one, disturbing many simplistic assumptions about the writing of same-sex subjectivity in modern France.” — Ross Chambers, author of The Writing of Melancholy: Modes of Opposition in Early French Modernism

“In this abundantly helpful work, Michael Lucey retrieves a vital moment in modern culture when saying ‘I’ required not only a certain courage but also a certain art.” — D. A. Miller


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael Lucey is Professor of French and Comparative Literature and Chair of the Department of French at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Misfit of the Family: Balzac and the Social Forms of Sexuality and translator of Didier Eribon’s Insult and the Making of the Gay Self, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Referring to Same-Sex Sexualities in the First Person 1

1. Gide, Bourget, and Proust Talking 29

2. Questions of Register in and around 1902 57

3. Colette, the Moulin Rouge, and Les Vrilles 94

4. Gide and Posterity 165

5. Proust’s Queer Metalepses 193

6. Sodom and Gomorrah: Proust’s Narrator’s First Person 215

Epilogue 250

Notes 259

Works Cited 303

Index 317
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3897-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3857-4
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