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Writing the Great War / Comment écrire la Grande Guerre?

Francophone and Anglophone Poetics / Poétiques francophones et anglophones


Nicolas Bianchi and Toby Garfitt

For France the First World War, or Great War, was a war of national self-defence, but for Britain it was not. Does that mean that French literary treatments of this unimaginably destructive war were very different from British ones? Not necessarily – but much can be learned from considering both traditions side by side, something that is rarely done.

The essays collected in this bilingual volume, by a range of scholars working on literature and history on both sides of the Channel, show that while the wider purposes of the war are striking for their absence in both French and British traditions, there are many common strands: realistic narratives of the trenches, humour as a safety-valve, imagination and creativity. Yet there are differences, too: for instance, there is plenty of French poetry about the war, but no real equivalent of the British «war poets». The volume looks at iconic figures like Owen, Brooke, Barbusse, Apollinaire and Proust, but also at a number of lesser known writers, and includes a study of «poetry of colour», recognising the active contribution of some four million non-Europeans to the war effort. The book includes a preface by the eminent war historian Sir Hew Strachan.

Engagée dans une guerre défensive sur ses frontières, la France connut une Grande Guerre bien différente de celle avec laquelle composèrent ses alliés britanniques. Faut-il en conclure que les deux nations furent amenées à produire des réponses au conflit radicalement différentes? Peut-on dégager des traditions nationales ou des tendances transnationales ouvrant la voie à des comparaisons encore rarement esquissées par la critique littéraire? C’est le pari des contributions de ce volume bilingue, réunissant autour de la question: «comment écrire la Grande Guerre?», les articles de spécialistes francophones et anglophones des domaines historique et littéraire. Il montre la variété des thématiques partagées par les deux traditions littéraires: récits réalistes des tranchées, usage de l’humour comme d’un exutoire salutaire, imagination et créativité; et souligne la présence de différences notables, comme l’absence de mythification en France de la poésie de 14, pourtant elle-aussi produite en masse tout au long de la guerre. L’ouvrage, tout en donnant une place de choix aux écrivains de premier ordre (Owen, Brooke, Barbusse, Apollinaire ou Proust), tente d’offrir quelque visibilité à un certain nombre d’auteurs moins connus, au nombre desquels des auteurs de couleur, à qui leur contribution à l’effort de guerre n’aura pas valu la reconnaissance littéraire attendue. La préface a été rédigée par Sir Hew Strachan, grand spécialiste de l’histoire de la période.


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Foreword (Hew Strachan)


Hew Strachan Foreword When veterans of the wars fought since the First World War have come to write about their wars, they have frequently referred back to the writings of those who fought in that conflict – ‘the great war’ – in order to con- textualise them. Of course they were not unmindful of earlier traditions, stretching back long before the twentieth century. The Iliad shaped the thinking of many Americans after Vietnam. Few of them were classicists in the ways understood by Paul Fussell in his study of the English literature of the First World War, The Great War and Modern Memory, published in 1975. They had not studied Greek and Latin at pre-1914 British public schools, and Homeric vocabulary could not provide the words for their daily lives in the late 1960s in the ways which Fussell imagined it did for young subalterns in 1916. They did not stand on fire-steps facing east to watch ‘the rosy-fingered dawn’, and they had not raised their heads from the Gallipoli peninsula to look across ‘the wine-dark sea’ to Troy itself. Instead, what caught their imaginations was Achilles, the psychologically wounded warrior, the flawed hero whose experience of war and its hurts was individual and personal. The dominant theme of those who have studied the literature of the First World War in both Britain and France since the 1960s, when its vet- erans (and some of the authors discussed in this book) were still alive, and today, its centenary when none of them...

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