JOFIS 4 Call for Papers: ‘Writing the War’/ ‘Écrire la Guerre’.
‘We had fought for Peace, for a decent world; we found we had won trophies of hatred and greed, of national passion and commercial profiteering, of political reaction and social retrenchment…’ – Herbert Read, ‘Essential Communism’, Anarchy and Order (1954, p.75)
For the English poet and critic Herbert Read, it was the aftermath of the Great War rather than the muddy carnage itself that sounded the death-knell on his youthful illusions. By contrast, for the French writers Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Jean Giono, the same righteous, crusading spirit began to dissipate almost immediately after their arrival at the Front. While there would seem to be a good deal of truth to the popular image of the young men of Britain and France marching off to the recruitment office in rhapsodies of patriotic indignation from the outbreak of the War to its wretched final days, the 140,460 or so Irishmen who enlisted in the British forces between 1914 and 1918 were not necessarily acting with any greater sense of detachment than their counterparts. Indeed, the absence of any comparable degree of compulsion in Ireland is, in some cases, testament to the depth of their convictions. The poet Francis Ledwidge, for one, explained his actions thus: ‘I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions’. (quoted in Jeffery, Ireland and the Great War, 2000, p.104)
The subsequent sense of conflict in Ledwidge’s verse, between the nobility of his cause and the degradation of the battlefield, is by no means unique, and is to be found elsewhere in the writings of Blaise Cendrars, a Swiss native who took up a rifle for France, just as Ledwidge did for Britain, in 1914. Not everyone who went to the Front, however, was left with such feelings of ambivalence.
If the works of those who experienced the Great War represent a tangle of emotions, the task of writing the war at some remove (spatial or temporal) brings with it an altogether different set of traps. With the passage of time, on the threshold of the centenary, the task is now, if anything, more challenging, as ideas about the reality of the War run the risk of becoming too settled. Recent histories, for example, have protested at the casual use of words like ‘futility’ in relation to the War, and warned against hasty assumptions about the ‘manipulation’ of the men who went to battle. The historian David Woodward has gone further, vehemently deploring the notion of literature as proper evidence in any serious analysis of the event. Could it be then, that we gain even less insight from Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932), based on first-hand experience of Ypres in 1914, than Sebastian Barry’s A Long, Long Way (2005), based largely on historical research?
As the world prepares to commemorate one hundred years since the outbreak of the Great War, the fourth issue of the Journal of Franco-Irish Studies takes as its theme the task of ‘Writing the War.’ Possible areas of exploration could include:
- Instinctive sense of detachment of the soldier-writer
- Reliability of memory in writing about the war
- Upheaval of pre-War value system reflected in the literature of the day
- Poets of the Great War
- Writing the war at a distance
- The Great War as a presence in the theatre or fiction of the day
Papers are invited on any relevant aspect on the theme as it relates to France or Ireland. In general, we ask for papers of approximately 5-6000 words to be submitted in electronic format. A style sheet will be provided in due course. Abstracts of about 250 words should be submitted to the guest editor Gerard Connolly (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 8 January 2014 with a view to final submission by 28 February 2014.