Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Jules Romains on Verdun

Fresh Troops Arriving in Verdun

In the 1930s French author and poet Jules Romains (1885-1972) wrote an epic 7.892 page novel, 27 volumes in the original French, 14 in the English language version.  It's umbrella title is Les Hommes de bonne volonté (Men of Good Will).  It tells the story of France over a quarter century from a day in October 1908 to October 1933  through the eyes and experiences many characters, but most-importantly, those of two friends,  writer Pierre Jallez (loosely based on Romains himself) and the politician and soldier Jean Jerphanion.  The most memorable volume  is titled Verdun  (in the American version), set during the battle where Jerphanion is serving as an officer.

Here as some of my favorite quotes from Verdun, published by Alfred Knopf, 1939

1.  A Letter from Jerphanion to Jallez

What produced the enthusiasm of the first days of the war? What produced it? Ignorance; love of the dramatic; and accumulated spiritual vitality which found no employment in the things of every day and so was ready for anything out of the ordinary; belief, too, that enthusiasm, given its head, would inevitably mould events. [p.143]


2.  What Helps Me [Jerphanion] Carry On?

Perhaps the thought I  might be worse off. [Looking after the men] and all that and numerous other details, divides my waking hours into small sections, each one thus easier to swallow and containing only a dose of poison so small that the organism can absorb it. [p.146]

The Height of the Battle


3.  The Inner Voice

There is in each of us a voice which whispers, "We are not sent into this world to live peacefully. When there is nothing to worry us, it's not natural, it's a bad sign. [p.150]

4.  How Verdun Managed to Hold Out

The first step is what counted.  Once you've begun a thing it exercises a terrible authority over you. . . [And also,] the pressure of society. Society today has willed that men should suffer and die on the battlefield. [p.446]


The Author: Jules Romains

5.  Fear

I've found one of the best cures for fear is to say to oneself it's completely useless. . . it won't make the slightest difference to the trajectory of the next shell or the path of the next bullets. [p.448]

No comments:

Post a Comment