A long list of canonical writers in Western literature have experienced incarceration and have subsequently written celebrated works about the imprisoned and the condemned. The French tradition is no exception: writers who produced noteworthy texts while incarcerated or who later wrote about their experiences in prison are found on the literary-historical landscape from the medieval era through the twentieth century. Prison writing by inmates, former guards, chaplains, teachers, and doctors is firmly established as part of the fabric of popular culture and has long attracted the attention of culture critics and scholars. Nevertheless, scant analysis exists of the prison novel-a literary genre that, as Andrew Sobanet argues in Jail Sentences, uses fiction as a documentary tool. Its narrative peculiarities, which are the main subjects of Sobanet's study, include the use of autobiographical and testimonial techniques to critique the penitentiary system.
Jail Sentences is the definitive study of the legacy of the Western tradition of prison writing in twentieth-century French literature. Although Sobanet focuses primarily on French writers-Victor Serge, Jean Genet, Albertine Sarrazin, and Francois Bon-his keen sense of literary dialogue pulls into the orbit of his study an international corpus of work, from Dostoyevsky to Malcolm X. Jail Sentences arrives at a coherent definition of the genre, whose unique conventions stem from the innermost regions of our understanding of stories, truth, fiction, and belief.