Sensing the Self
: Subjectivity and the Representation of Sensory Experience in Apollinaire’s Lettres à Madeleine

  • Rachel Hindmarsh

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


During the First World War, Guillaume Apollinaire embarked on an epistolary relationship with schoolteacher Madeleine Pagès. The letters trace the pleasures and pressures of sustaining a long-distance love affair, but also the multifarious challenges of writing while being immersed in the violent reality of a world-shaping historical event. Out of these encounters with the corporeally absent, but textually present, other and the material world of the trenches, Apollinaire’s self comes into being on the epistolary page. Where Apollinaire scholarship has sensitively explored Apollinaire’s written subjectivity in his challenging and varied poetry collections, the letters to Madeleine remain undervalued as biographical documents that can merely clarify or provide context for his other works. This thesis readdresses this critical lacuna, exploring how Apollinaire’s letters to Madeleine reveal a self tentatively coming into being through language.
The thesis argues that the representation of the non-visual senses in Apollinaire’s letters to Madeleine provide a fresh critical perspective on Apollinaire’s construction of the epistolary self. The non-visual senses operate as a receptive interface between the self, other, and material world. By calling into question the integrity of the body and its boundaries, they work to deny or displace pre-formed and fixed concepts of selfhood. This thesis will trace a three-part narrative of the sensory body in Apollinaire’s letters in order to explore this newly vulnerable selfhood: it considers how Apollinaire touches the skin of the exterior of the body, how he crosses this boundary to explore the interior of the body through taste and smell, and finally how he responds to the fracturing of the body in the act of listening. By drawing attention to normally marginalised sensory experiences, this thesis opens up fresh vistas for the study of Apollinaire’s epistolary selfhood that resonates beyond Apollinaire scholarship into war literature studies and modernism more generally.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorSusan R Harrow (Supervisor) & Albertine Fox (Supervisor)

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