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Nancy Sloan Goldberg Gender in French Poetry Against the Great War Antiwar sentiment in French letters was significant during 1914-1920 and found almost prolific expression in verse. The works of more than fifty poets have survived, despite the publication difficulties inevitably encountered in an atmosphere of censorship and police harassment. Representing various literary orientations, economic backgrounds and religious and political beliefs, the French antiwar poets of World War I produced works of remarkable intensity, which were not limited to reflections of horrifying reality or revelations of personal despair, but which actively and directly called upon the readers to end the slaughter. The magnitude of the war's devastation and its particularly animalistic brutality were crushing psychological burdens, particularly for those intellectuals who had believed that modern science and technology could create a perfect society. Responding to an inevitable sense of vulnerability , resulting from the world's sudden instability, the poets chronicle in their writings a painful reassessment of their personal values and sense of self. The effects of such questioning and reappraisal individualize their opposition to the war, and an analysis of their poetic use of various elements, themes, and ideas demonstrates to a large extent the influence of the war on their social consciousness. This study will examine the use ofgender in the antiwar poetry of Charles Baudouin, Georges Chenneviere, Noelie Drous, Luc Durtain, Noel Garnier, Henri Guilbeaux, Pierre Jean Jouve, Marcel Martinet, Henriette Sauret, and Marcel Sauvage. Despite profound differences in the nature of the poets' opposition to the war, all expressed a paramount desire to reveal what each one individually defined as "the truth." These poets were united by their determination to illuminate the course of contemporary events and to nullify the extensive prowar propaganda in the mainstream French press, and as a result, their poetry is frankly didactic. Addressing the readers directly through an unashamedly personal discourse, the French antiwar poets demonstrate their firm belief in their own ability through art to bring a halt to the war's destruction. Given the poets' search to change the process of history, the issue of culpability for the war is of central concern in their writing. In fact, two antithetical and irreconcilable ideologies characterize the orientation of the antiwar poetry in this regard: liberal idealism and radical materialism. The majority of the poets establish traditional nineteenth-century social romantic values as universal principles: justice, fraternity, the preserva- 8 the minnesota review tion of the family unit. Their poetry emphasizes the overriding importance of the recovery of those values and the responsibility of the individual , who must first understand humanity's place within "the rhythm of the planets." A much smaller group of antiwar poets sought to bring about profound changes in the organization of society. These materialist and revolutionary poets argued that truth could only be known through concrete reality, and it was this linkage which validated the causal relationship they recognized between capitalism and violent conflict in general. Gender-specific portrayals are frequent in the French antiwar poetry and provide a particularly straightforward access to the various sets of values. Complex relationships of power and victimization unite the narrator , his male readership and all groups of society. Women poets are rare in this narrow group of writers, and in general address themselves to an exclusively female readership. ' While in their poems, the women often promote the same ideological orientation as that of their male counterparts, the process of explanation and application of those universal principles is essentially different. The following discussions will consider how gender portrayals in the antiwar works of both male and female poets validate and promote specific interpretations of a single historical event. When assigning blame for the war, Pierre Jean Jouve and Georges Chenneviere, representative of the vast majority of male liberal idealist poets, view other men consistently as individuals or judge them according to the nature of their activities during the war (generals, politicians, clergy). Conversely, these liberal poets view women statically and categorically, and two collective and biologically-determined portraits emerge: the woman as a malevolent force, completely responsible for the war, as in the works of Marcel Sauvage, and the mother as savior who redeems a culpable humanity through...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 7-17
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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