Interview with Helen Craske (DPhil Year 2 in French)
Helen Craske, a 2nd year DPhil student at Merton, was recently co-awarded the 2018 Naomi Schor Memorial Prize for her conference paper ‘Selling Scandal: Infamy and Complicity in Rachilde and Lorrain’, presented at the 2018 NCFS Annual Colloquium, ‘Celebrity/Obscurity’, Manhattan Beach L.A.
She had already won the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes’ Postgraduate Prize in 2017 for ‘The Decadent Ideal of Impenetrability’, presented at the SDN Annual Conference, ‘Spleen et Idéal’, University of Kent, 10-12 April 2017. An article-length version of this paper has recently been published in Dix-Neuf*. We asked Helen a couple of questions about her doctoral work.
Tell us a little about the subject of your DPhil.
My DPhil project explores the evocation and creation of shared crime and guilt in fin-de-siècle French literary culture. I analyse the ways in which texts implicate readers, writers, and critics in illicit or provocative material, creating structures of subversive solidarity. My corpus includes avant-garde and Decadent literary production, combining various prose forms (novels, short stories, and journalism).
What is your recent prize-winning article about?
In the essay, I explored the relationship between two controversial French writers at the turn of the century: Rachilde and Jean Lorrain. I analysed a series of articles in a weekly review called ‘Le Zig-Zag’, suggesting that Rachilde and Lorrain used media exchanges as a means of mutual self-promotion. I suggested that this relationship exemplifies a certain form of literary complicity, whereby writers, readers, and critics are implicated in the construction of provocative media personae.
What are you writing about now?
As part of a research exchange at the ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure) in Paris, I am exploring archives related to avant-garde literary production, especially periodical culture. Part of this research feeds into a chapter I am writing on “polissonnerie”, analysing forms of eroticism that encourage the creation of complicity between writers and readers (whether real, imagined, or otherwise).
Which book in your corpus would you suggest everyone should read? And why?
“Nono”, by Rachilde (published in 1885).
“Nono” is a melodramatic romance / murder mystery, written by a Decadent writer made infamous in 1884 with the publication of “Monsieur Vénus”. Although Rachilde’s slightly improbable plotline and emphatic symbolism might not be to everyone’s taste (!), the novel is a real page-turner. Its exploration of guilt and innocence is deliberately haunting. “Nono” abounds with recognisably Rachildean and Decadent tropes, whilst offering an intriguing attempt to manipulate the appeal of “popular” literary forms, such as melodrama and crime fiction.
*Dix-Neuf. (2018, Vol.22, Issues 1-2, pp.23-38).