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Writing the Great War / Comment écrire la Grande Guerre?

Francophone and Anglophone Poetics / Poétiques francophones et anglophones


Edited By 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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1 Poetry of colour (Toby Garfitt)


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1    Poetry of colour

Until recently the enormous contribution of non-white troops and ancillary workers to the war effort was barely recognised. In the last ten years or so a considerable amount of research has been done, indeed most of the research on which this chapter is based has been published in the past five years. In this country Santanu Das in particular has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of these forgotten men (for of course they were virtually all men) and their writings. As well as editing Race, Empire and First World War Writing (2011), the Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War (2014), with its remit of giving a sufficient place not only to women but to poets of the British Empire and colonies, and India, Empire and the First World War (in press), Das has contributed to a number of online resources such as the International Encyclopedia of the First World War (1914–1918 Online). Another collective volume to which he has contributed is edited by a team of mainly German scholars, and takes a less Anglo-centric approach: The World in World Wars: Experiences and Perspectives from Africa and Asia (2010). From the French side there has been less active interest in the colonial dimension of the war, although Marc Michel was an early exception: his L’appel à l’Afrique: contributions et réactions à l’effort de guerre en A. O. F, 1914–1919 (1982) is...

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