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  • A Return to the Soil:René Barjavel’s Pétainist Utopia
  • Andrew Sobanet

"C'est par le travail, le respect des traditions, l'ordre, la famille, que nous nous relèverons" (Pétain 99). So declared Marshal Philippe Pétain on the 18th of November 1940, just a few short months after he was granted full power as the head of the French state in the aftermath of a catastrophic military defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany. His statement touts the values embraced by his far-right-wing government, which was enmeshed in a collaborative relationship with the Nazis and was charged with the administration of the southern "unoccupied" zone of wartime France. Pétain's domestic program, known as the National Revolution, sought not only to infuse those values into the national consciousness through Vichy France's new slogan—Travail, Famille, Patrie, which temporarily replaced Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité—but also to re-establish the "traditional" foundations of French society through a host of new domestic policies.1 Indeed, the goal of the National Revolution was nothing less than a radical transformation of French society. As Henry Rousso writes, "Pour le maréchal Pétain et le nouveau régime, la défaite est l'occasion de transformer en profondeur la société française" (96). Rousso argues that Vichy's goal was to change the basic structures of French society, veering away from liberal capitalism, individualism, and universalism (96). To promote and encourage such change, the Vichy regime conducted a prodigious propaganda campaign, on a scale unprecedented in France, that was launched in 1940 and that continued throughout the Nazi occupation period (Jackson 253).2 That propaganda took many forms, in image and text, from ubiquitous portraits of the blue-eyed Maréchal to newspapers and novels published by a host of ready and willing intellectuals. In promoting the National Revolution, wartime propaganda in France exalted institutions that would contribute to the [End Page 171] French "redressement," or recovery, while utterly relegating other more familiar Republican concepts. As a number of historians have pointed out, the individual as a social actor was forced into the background of the new national discourse behind other more privileged entities, like family, province, and country.3 Moreover, Vichy propaganda offered the French a series of idealized figures to admire, like mothers, veterans, peasants, and artisans (Peschanski 29).

Many writers and intellectuals freely contributed to the flow of information tailored specifically to promote far-right-wing values and ideas during the occupation period.4 The publisher Robert Denoël, for one, was an eager participant in such pro-collaboration affairs: his firm produced several extremist works by Céline and Lucien Rebatet and also published some of Hitler's speeches.5 This article will focus on René Barjavel's science fiction novel Ravage which was published by Denoël in 1943, but whose events take place in 2052. Completed on September 6, 1942—just two months before the invasion of the unoccupied zone by German troops—Ravage portrays an ideal society that has a successful post-apocalypse renaissance. That societal rebirth is founded upon a strict adherence to traditionalist priorities and values similar to those promoted by the Vichy government, such as discipline, loyalty, hard work, and a high birth rate. Indeed, I argue that Barjavel uses the utopia—a traditional convention of speculative fiction—to illustrate the potential for national regeneration and renovation promoted by those Pétainist ideals.

To be sure, one cannot consider Ravage an extremist work simply because it was published by Denoël. The firm, after all, published works by Elsa Triolet and a collection of speeches by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Still, there are a number of other important clues—in addition to substantial evidence in the novel itself—pointing toward wartime right-wing extremism in the case of Barjavel, a fact that is often either neglected, or mentioned cursorily in studies of Ravage.6 For not only did Barjavel have his work published by Denoël, but he worked for fifteen years as "chef de fabrication" at that same firm (Assouline 110). And once published as a novelist, Barjavel cited Robert Denoël as a formative influence...


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