- Writing the Great War / Comment écrire la Grande Guerre?: Francophone and Anglophone Poetics / poétiques anglophones et francophones ed. by Nicolas Bianchi and Toby Garfitt
This volume stems from a 2015 conference that had the admirable aim of bringing together international scholars researching francophone and anglophone First World War writing. As Hew Strachan emphasizes in his Foreword (p. xii), 'national narratives matter' in war writing, and the diverse range of literary responses examined here highlight national specificities as well as common traits and themes. Nicolas Bianchi's Introduction asserts that the war resulted in a crisis — of writing, language, and representation — that crossed national borders. This was rooted in the psychological impact of what for many was an unprecedented and disorientating experience, and often led to an evolution of existing styles and genres (a trajectory that Bianchi illustrates in his later chapter on comic characters in combat novels). It should be noted, though, that the 'abyss' (p. 11) separating combatant from civilian and front from rear that Bianchi identifies as an element of this crisis is not always in evidence in war writing, as demonstrated by Jane Potter's expert analysis of Wilfred Owen's 'evocative and shocking' (p. 122) war letters to his family, Ashley Somogyi's exploration of the diversity of responses by soldier-poets to returning home, Flavie Fouchard's insight that the multiple voices of French realist combat novels offer alternative visions of the war to that of their soldier-narrators, and Nancy Martin's discussion of the prominence at certain moments of 'the perceptions and desires of the civilian self ' in British combatants' writings (p. 328). Some contributors offer helpful reflections on the interactions and intersections between francophone and anglophone military and literary worlds. Alissa Miller considers poetic cross-Channel exchanges such as Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren's championing of Rupert Brooke in order to construct a vision of 'Allied brotherhood', and Margaux Whiskin offers a stimulating study of the function of British and French stereotypes in André Maurois's comic novel, Les Silences du Colonel Bramble (1918). Other chapters focus on the war as an essential ingredient in the [End Page 638] development of French authors' literary styles: Laurence Campa and Philippe Wahl analyse the wartime correspondence of avant-garde luminaries Jacques Vaché and Guillaume Apollinaire; Frédéric Saenen assesses Drieu La Rochelle's war poetry (which he returned to and re-edited in 1940); Troels Hanson reflects on the war as a 'dark illuminator' of Céline's prose (p. 173); Camille Kerbaol discusses Léon Worth's attack on wartime language as falsification or obfuscation of its bitter realities in Clavel soldat (1919); Pascal Ifri summarizes the impact of the war on Proust, Céline, and Jean Renoir; and Pierre Vaucher points to the sometimes contradictory combination of ironic and heroic discourse in Georges Duhamel's novel of 1918, Civilisation. While the majority of essays focus on canonical texts and authors, others introduce fresh perspectives: Toby Garfitt's survey of poets of colour offers a fascinating and welcome glimpse of their varied responses to the war, and Sarah Montin's study of British 'light verse' reflects on a much less studied poetic response to war. In sum, this volume contains some fine essays that will interest and inform both historians and literary critics of First World War writing.