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REVIEWS FRENCH TRAGEDYI French tragedy-in the literary and histrionic ,sense-has always been distinguished from the allied art in other nations by its greater concentration , .-its complete ,and overwhelming character, unrelieved by comic or lyric int~rludes, its streamlined sweep from prosperity to disaster so different from the groping, lumbering, reluctant descensus Averni of an' Elizabethan drama, for example. Political and military tragedy in the form of literal actuality seems often to take .on the same 'catastrophic aspect in France. How frequently has France been plunged from the height of glory into the depths of humiliation in a sudden manner that seemed almost to betray the master hand of a classic dramatist observant of the unities of action, time, and place! The Hundred Years' War after the Crusades, the "Ligue" and the Religious Wars after the Renaissance splendour of Francis, th~ Seven Years' \iVar and the loss of an Empire after the Grand Siecle, the ' Allies bivouacking in the Champs Elysees after the Napoleonic e,pic, the severance of Alsace-Lorraine and the great indemnity after the gallant- "adventures of the Second Empire-what a rhythmic beat of tragic vicissitude these successive dramas set up in French history, and what reserves of energy and faith a 'people must have always to survive them successfuJly! The latest of these tragedies has been enacted before our eyes, but most of us have been too far from the stage to catch the finer 'points of the performance, to note the facial expression of the actors, or to overhear their asides; above all, few of us are in a position to view'this particular drama in its proper perspective as part of the French tragic cycle. The two books before us~ both written by men singularly qualified .for their task-the one a ' great French political journalist, the other a distinguished English historian-are the best instruments yet available to remedy these deficiencies . Unequal in scale and importance, they yet are complementary to ' each other, the Frenchman's book being more impassioned in spirit 'and also infinitely more circumstantial regarding the recent crisis, the Englishman 's more detached in tone and valuable for the way in which it relates this crisis to previous crises in modern French history. But both worksespecially that of Pertinax-should appeal to a much wider audience than that comprising students of French history; they should not be left unread by anyone interested in the present mores and the prospects of survival of what we ordinarily call democracy anywhere in the worid. Guedalla's The Two Marshals is the slighter' of the two books, but also IThe Gravediggers of France: Gamelin, Daiadie'r, Reynaud, Pefain, and LaMi; Military Defeat, Armistice, Counter-Revolution. By P~RTINAX. Garden City, New York: Doubleday , Doran & Company. 1944. Pp. xii, 612. ($7.50) The Two A1ars)wls: Bazaine-Petain. By PHILIP GUEDALLA. London: Hodder and Stoughton [Toran to: Musson Book Company]. 1943. Pp. 384. ($3.50) ?O() REVIEWS 207 the better composed) the more readable, the more easily dig·estihle. It is, indeed, a very accomplished specimen orthat contemporary English school of historical and biographical writing whose origins seem traceable to the manner of the late Lytton Strachey. It is history based on sound erudition, and even original research, but served up to the average in.telligent reader in a style marked by precision and lightness of touch without irrelevant pedantry or alarming foot-notes (the "authorities" are "kennel'd in the rear"), and garnished with piquant anecdote, picturesque descriptive touches) and shrewd reflections condensed into witty epigrams. A pervasive note of ironic detachment puts the most moving events at a cool distance from the reader ·and gives .them the aspect of "scenes from the human comedy," without, however, prejudicing an occasional note of deep though restrained emotion when the author judges that the situation deserves it. . This is a difficult team of effects to keep pulling abreast, and the general impression of ease and smoothness that.emanates from the booJc is a tribute to the author's skill. . The origin of the book is obviously to be found in the author's stated intention "for many years" to follow his work on the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 206-210
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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