Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

First Advisor

Jeff Humphries


This dissertation is a comparative study of first person narrative in Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), and selected novels of William Faulkner, primarily those in which the character of Quentin Compson appears: The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! This comparison is based upon the assumption that the attempts to represent the patterns of thought, memory, or consciousness in these novels is symptomatic of many twentieth-century novels, which dramatize an anxiety about the possibility of a solid ground for knowledge of the world or of the self. The language of these novels displays the instability or incoherence of human knowledge of self and world, thus destabilizing the notion of the individual as a coherent, self-knowing entity. Subjectivity is portrayed as the weaving of relations between signifiers. This implies a conception of being which is not that of a positive, substantial entity, but of relation. In chapter two, the role of language in the formation of memory, and the relationship between narrative and time is examined in Proust. In chapter three, the narrative structure of Faulkner's novels is examined from the perspective of Suassurian linguistics and through Continental criticism of Proust. In chapter four, the role of the proper name in the formation of a sense of social hierarchies is seen as central to the narrating hero's formation of a sense of self and other, and is one aspect of the role of sign systems in the formation of memories and personal identities. The role of art and representation in the formation of self-awareness leads to a consideration of the mises en abyme, or textual mirrors, in the novels, in chapter five. Finally, the question of identity and its expression in language gives rise to a consideration of the problems of reading and interpretation. These problems are also raised by the narratives under consideration. The activities of reading, interpretation, and literary studies are best understood, not as the pursuit of meaning, but as the production of meaning through the ongoing activity of recontextualization.