The purge of intellectuals in post-Liberation France has, over the years, generated a considerable literature, the latest among which is Jeanyves Guérin’s Les Listes noires de 1944: pour une histoire littéraire de l’épuration (Paris: Presses Sorbonne nouvelle, 2016; see French Studies, 71 (2017), 295–96). The volume under review here is of a quite different order, however, because of the vast scope of the research on which it is founded. Jacques Boncompain, former Director of the Société des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques (SACD), has published a number of works on the relationship between writers and their social and institutional context. This book is much more encyclopaedic than its title suggests, and should become an essential reference for those working on the cultural history of the Second World War. Because of the elevated status accorded to writers and artists in France — and owing to German policies that were designed to disguise German propaganda and censorship to soften the impact of the Occupation — special efforts were made to allow cultural life to continue, if not to flourish. Some French figures who were keen on closer rapprochement with Germany, and who accepted Goebbels’s invitations to travel to Weimar, were regarded as particularly treasonable. Writers and others active in the creative industries under the Occupation had to answer for their actions. According to Boncompain, the French ended up over-extending their purge, subjecting the members of each society to close scrutiny. The Société des gens de lettres (SGL) created its own purge commission composed exclusively of authors and without the presence of magistrates from the Ministry of Justice. Under accusation or suspicion of intelligence with the enemy, individuals wrote to explain themselves. The extraordinary details thrown up by this correspondence are but one of the fascinating aspects of the book. Jacques Chardonne, for instance, who visited Weimar twice, wrote pointing to his interventions in favour of writers in POW camps, and to his interventions on behalf of those of interest to the authorities: he claimed he helped Georges Duhamel, Marcel Arland, Jean Paulhan (‘d’une manière presque continuelle’), André Malraux, and others to avoid trouble (pp. 177–78). It was enough for Roland Dorgelès merely to have published in Gringoire to fall under suspicion, prompting the SGL President, Georges Lecomte, to intervene personally to exonerate him. Jean de La Hire, who explained that his anglophobic diatribes were inspired by the deaths of his two sons at Dunkirk and Mers-el-Kébir, was not to be exonerated. As for the SACD, unlike the SGL it sent a lengthy and ‘essentiellement accusatoire’ (p. 309) questionnaire to all its members, whether under suspicion or not, and to which they were obliged to reply. The vast trove of information culled from these hundreds of files yields up ‘nombre d’informations sur les conditions de vie sous l’Occupation, le comportement de l’Occupant, l’activité intellectuelle, la rétribution des auteurs, l’évolution des mentalités, et bien d’autres points’ (p. 307). All of which leads the author to the sombre reflection about this botched purge that ‘divisés, les Français n’ont pas de pire ennemi qu’eux-mêmes’ (p. 698). © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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