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“Le Témoin compromis” : Diaries of Resistance and Collaboration by Edith Thomas Dorothy Kaufmann T HE PUBLISHED WORK of Edith Thomas includes eight his­ torical and critical studies, seven novels, a collection of Resistance short stories and a significant corpus of journalism. Research in Paris led me to a wealth of unpublished work, the most extraordinary of which materialized during a long conversation with the writer Dominique Aury, Thomas’s intimate friend. As I was turning the interview tape, Mme Aury leaned over the arm of her chair and handed me a large shop­ ping bag, which contained all the material she had decided should not be given to the Archives Nationales. The papers in Dominique Aury’s possession include about 1500 pages of unpublished documents, most of them handwritten. My paper will examine three of these documents, two diaries and a political memoir, as they inscribe collaboration and resis­ tance during the early period of the Occupation: 1. A satiric fictional diary, dated from October 17, 1940 to May 2, 1941, written from the point of view of a Pétainiste collaborator. This scribbled but apparently complete manuscript is narrated by Monsieur Célestin Costedet, veteran of World War I, member of the Legion of Honor, family man, and owner of the Paradis des Dames, a large depart­ ment store in an unnamed southwestern coastal city of occupied France.1 2. Edith Thomas’s personal diaries, specifically the three notebooks of journals she wrote during World War II, which elaborate her early and continuing resistance to Pétainiste ideology.2 In the self-imposed silence of the Occupation years, Thomas’s need to write, what she calls her “graphomanie,” found in the freedom and discontinuity of the diary form its ideal vehicle. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus on the period which coincides with the dates of Thomas’s fictional journal. 3. “ Le Témoin compromis,” Thomas’s title for her political memoir, a completed book length manuscript which looks back at her itinerary from the vantage point of 1952. In Thomas’s ethical vocabulary, the only justification for writing is to bear witness and to tell the truth, im­ peratives that are made unproblematically synonymous. As her choice of title suggests, however, Thomas’s ethical confidence is subverted by the VOL. XXXIII, NO. 1 17 L ’E spr it C réa teu r suspicion that any witness implicated in the events she describes will risk compromising her testimony. After situating the diaries in relation to Thomas’s life, I will compare the rhetorical structure of the two diaries and examine entries of public events and attitudes as they are registered by Thomas and by her “ bour­ geois pétainien.” Finally, contrasting the memory of this period in “ Le Témoin compromis” with the reflection on immediate experience recorded in the diaries, I will consider the question of why Edith Thomas, who died in 1970, did not seek to publish any of these writings about the Occupation. In May 1939 Thomas was diagnosed as having pulmonary tubercu­ losis. She spent the next two years at Arcachon, on the southwestern coast of France near Bordeaux, first at a sanatorium and then in a private villa which she shared with her brother Gérard, who also was suf­ fering from tuberculosis. Although her illness imposed a rest cure, it seems to have allowed long walks, enabling her to observe daily life in Occupied France in the community where she found herself. In contrast to the great majority of the French who welcomed or resigned themselves to the armistice with Nazi Germany, Thomas’s immediate response in her diary was resistance, in entries which combine local anecdote with the prophetic tones of a Cassandra warning her com­ patriots of what lies ahead. From Arcachon on June 26, 1940, the day after the signed armistice took effect, Thomas writes: “ Chez le libraire, chez le pharmacien, on est très content: ‘Cette fois ça va être de l’ordre, vous verrez ça.’ L’ordre qu’ils méritent: celui des cimetières et des camps de concentration; l’ordre moral des morts.” Thomas remained at Arca­ chon until the fall...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 17-28
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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