When the American Seventh Army and the French First Army landed in southern France last August they were accompanied by a unit of writers, newspaper editors, publishers, radio engineers, script writers, program directors, leaflet writers expert in French or German, from the Psychological Warfare Branch of Allied Force Headquarters. The unit included Frenchmen and Americans, and was known as the Allied Information Service, attached to headquarters.
For the first week we were of help. While the small bridgehead on the Riviera was being deepened and broadened, we held only one small flatbed press in a town called Draguignan, capital of the Department of the Var. From that press we issued surrender leaflets for German troops, and the first newspaper of liberated southern France, La Resistance du Var, with the assistance of a team of newsmen and writers designated by the French resistance movement.
By the end of the week our forces had smashed out of their bridgehead. We split our unit into teams. The largest team moved north, to Grenoble. There French radio engineers cleverly had replaced the good radio tubes with old ones, which the Germans then smashed in their hasty retreat. Radio Grenoble was back on the air with a few minor adjustments within a day of our surprise entry. The first free newspaper, Les Allobroges, was rolling off a giant, modern rotary press within three hours of Grenoble’s liberation; by the next morning four papers were on the streets.
The story was much the same in other towns and cities. As we arrived in each place we found that not only were newspaper writers and editors present to begin their work, but the resistance-designated chiefs of radio, news, newspaper, book, and film output and distribution were at their jobs, directing output in their field, approving the arrests of collaborators in their profession, co-ordinating their varied operations. Usually they reached their posts before the last spasms of shooting had ceased, and worked while bullets still ricocheted off the walls.
Our assistance was hardly needed. In North Africa and Italy our special Psychological Warfare teams had been useful in helping to restore a free press and a free radio. Here the French themselves already were on the job.
Where had these men come from? Where had they been during the occupation? What role had they played in the resistance movement? Almost all of them, in the decisive early months of 1944 preceding the Allied landing in Normandy, had been working at the very jobs they were now doing. Every paper which appeared openly in the first days after the liberation had been published clandestinely for a long time before. Most of their editors and writers had been well-known French writers before the war; many were journalists. They were all members of the French National Committee of Writers or the National Journalists Committee, both formed in the second year of German occupation.
The resistance of French writers began shortly after the armistice in 1940. Because of the division of France into two zones, the beginnings of organization among them took place at a different tempo, and under different circumstances, in the north and south. Their clandestine operations rapidly centered in France’s two leading cities, Paris and Lyons. It was only natural that the first successful steps at organization took place in the southern, unoccupied zone, where the early confusion of the Vichy regime and the absence of German occupation troops made underground operations easier to establish.
It is a significant fact that among the most active organizers of the clandestine literary movement righting for the liberation of France were a number of poets, some of whom had been classed in their younger years among the surrealist writers. Outstanding for their energy, drive, determination, and contagions organizing skill were Louis Aragon, in the south, and Paul Eluard in the north. It does not diminish the role played by other leading French writers to state the fact that these two men did more than any others towards forging the French writers into a dynamic, fighting group. Most Frenchmen, authors as well as the reading public, agree in paying this tribute, as they agree that these two men also penned the most eloquent and moving literature of the occupation period.
The debacle and armistice did not stun all French writers into silence for long. In the south a number of the younger writers found themselves demobilized from military units which had been pushed into what was to become the unoccupied zone, or escaped from prison camps and fled south across the demarcation line. Among them were Andre Malraux and Louis Aragon (leading young French writers who had been consciously, actively anti-fascist and anti-Nazi for years). Near Toulouse, Aragon found his wife, Elsa Triolet (a distinguished writer herself). There they discussed the fate of their country with Jean Cassou (poet, writer, critic) and with a circle of writers which quickly grouped itself around Cassou. They could not accept this defeat and they determined to fight on in the only way still open to them—with the weapons of the mind—and to mobilize as many of their colleagues as they could to help carry on the struggle. It was agreed that Cassou should remain in his native town of Toulouse and organize the writers of that area. Aragon and Elsa moved on to Carcassonne, to stay at the home of the crippled poet, Joe Bousquet, an old friend.
Then in August, 1940, Aragon learned that under the guidance of Pierre Seghers a number of other poets were congregating near Avignon. He moved on, leaving Bous-quet to his writing and to the task of organizing poets and writers in the Carcassonne area of the eastern Pyrenees. To Seghers, in his little house at Villeneuve-les-Avignon, Aragon brought his first wartime poems—parts of the well-known “Le Creve-Coeur” and the first stanzas of “Les Yeux d’Elsa.” In December, 1939, Seghers had obtained permission from the War Ministry to print a review of poetry written by soldiers and officers of the French army. It was called Poetes Casques 39-40 (or P. C. for short) and had issued its first number in December, 1939. By the time Aragon arrived in Villeneuve in August, 1940, a dozen former contributors, survivors of the debacle, were already there, and it was decided that publication should be resumed, under the simpler title of Poesie 40.
The first number after the defeat, printed and distributed in the unoccupied zone of southern France, opened with the first moving stanzas of “Le Creve-Coeur,” and included articles and poems by Loys Masson, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Pierre Emmanuel, Louis Parrot, Paul Seghers, and Joe Bousquet. Persistent pressure on the new Vichy censorship department had won a license for the publication, and the German censors either did not scan its pages too closely or were too thick-skulled to understand the pointed barbs of its poems.
These poems were the first reactions from the scenes of horror on the beaten roads of France, the silent, broken rivers of refugees, the drugged movements of fatigued, demoralized soldiers. They were an outlet to profound spiritual suffering; their bitterness did not carry with it much hope; the stigma of defeat was branded deep. Yet defiance was there—implicit in the very existence of the little magazine at a time when, as Jean-Paul Sartre was to put it much later, “every clear thought was a conquest.”
Aragon stayed in Villeneuve-les-Avignon only a short time. Having delivered himself of the remaining poems of “Le Creve-Coeur” and “Les Yeux d’Elsa,” he moved on to Nice, where another small community of writers had assembled, including Andre Malraux, living at Roquebrune and busy writing his first wartime novel, “La Lutte avec TAnge”; Benjamin Cremieux (later killed by the Nazi Gestapo) and Tristan Tzara at Sanary; and Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Jean Prevost.
But early in 1941 the writers congregating on the Riviera found conditions intolerable. It was now the assembly point for those who proposed to weather out the occupation. In the midst of this corrupt, unsympathetic horde, numerous Gestapo and OVRA agents became pestiferous.
It was necessary for the writers to be close to their own people, where a wall of comradeship and of discreet understanding would hide their movements and their words; where a careful, silent people would respect their anonymity as the mountains respected their security. And so it came about that many of the French writers moved into the mountain area where the French Huguenots had fled after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Writers, scientists, artists, and teachers gravitated to the villages surrounding the hidden little town of Dieuleflt (“God-made-it”) in the Drome; they chose as their secret refuge a village which Huguenots fleeing from the Atlantic coastal towns centuries before had founded with a prayer for the safety these towering, broken mountains gave them. These same mountains were also to shelter the maquis groups who comprised the first islands of armed resistance in France; and it was here, too, that after the liberation the main Jewish community saved from destruction in France was found, hidden away by men and women whose forbears, over three centuries before, had fled persecutions on account of their religion.
Dieulefit soon became the intellectual capital of unoccupied France, a title it was to keep for four years. It was only sixty kilometers from Avignon—where Seghers, assisted by Masson, was busy not only editing Poesie, but also assembling the first texts for the publication of separate books— and hardly one hundred kilometers by inner mountain roads to Lyons and Grenoble. It was the hiding place and workshop for those who had been denounced by Nazi or Vichy police for their past writings or current activities and were sought by the long arm of the Gestapo. And, thanks to the active maquis forces in the area, it was an island of resist-. ance that the Germans were never able to penetrate throughout the occupation. From this relatively safe hinterland, the writers began their serious work.
In Lyons the writers solicited the aid of Rene Tavernier to found a second legal literary review. Son of a rich Lyons silk manufacturer, Tavernier, while a student in Paris, had been one of the group of young surrealist writers and poets gravitating around Aragon, Eluard, and Malraux, and had published several books of poetry. At the Tavernier house in Lyons, Louis Aragon secretly received the visits of those writers who had withdrawn to the south with Figaro after the armistice. Figaro, which resumed publication in Lyon immediately after the defeat, made early contact with its contributors even as far away as Paris. Georges Duhamel, Francois Mauriac, Jean Paulhan, Jean Guehenno, Jerome and Jean Tharaud, Paul Valery, Andre Gide, still living in the capital, continued to be regular contributors, despite the strictly guarded line of demarcation.
Through Andre Rousseaux, Catholic literary editor and critic of Figaro, the resistance writers in the south received their first literature from Paris and began to exchange messages with their friends still in Paris. Aragon and Rousseaux also talked with other writers congregated in Lyons, with Albert Camus, Louis Martin-ChaufTier, Jean Cassou, Pierre Courtade, Pierre Emmanuel, Andree Viollis, Georges Sadoul, and a score of others, all ready to pledge their activity as well as their writings to the resistance movement.
It was agreed that Tavernier should launch another legitimate literary review. In early 1941 Confluences appeared at the junction of the Saone and the Rhone. Profiting from the laxity of Vichy censorship, Confluences early became the vehicle for dozens of writers actively engaged in the resistance movement. To the discerning eye it damned with faint praise the collaborationist literature of Vichy, while throwing wide its pages to the subtle, but very understandable, literature of the real writers of France.
Another publication begun in Lyons at this time was Sept Jours, a weekly literary review, edited by Louis Martin-Chauflier, which discovered some notable new talent. Almost every contributor and member of its staff was an active personality in the liberation movement from the start. Its audience grew to astonishing proportions until the Germans became alarmed at its influence and suppressed it, arresting and deporting its editor to Germany, where he was released only after VE day.
A third outstanding literary publication begun in early 1941 in Lyons was the hand-set, hand-printed quarterly, L’Arbalete, which carried in almost every issue, besides unedited material by French writers, extensive extracts of international literature, including previously untranslated works of leading English, American, and Russian authors. Printing only four hundred copies set in Garamont type on fine vellum, in large quarto format, the youthful editor, Marc Barbezat, set a standard for beautiful printing, excellent editorial choice, and fine paper which could hardly have been exceeded in peacetime.
A number of independent Cahiers were also edited, culminating in the outstanding clandestine literary review, Cahiers de la Liberation, which Jean Cassou came to Lyons to edit. There was one serious loophole in the Vichy and German censorship regulations. Only regularly published newspapers and periodicals or books required the official censor’s imprimatur. The result was a plethora of Cahiers, pretending to be single-edition reviews on one topic, which innocent-appearing printers explained had been produced on a job-lot contract without any formal need of censorship. The editors rarely lingered. Some, like L’Arbalete and Cahiers de La Liberation, had long and uncensored careers.
Thus, within a year after the armistice, there had sprung up in the “unoccupied” portions of French territory a network of reviews whose editors, cutting their cloth just within the tested limits of Vichy censorship, provided a means for the patriotic writers of France to reach their countrymen. To what extent the Vichy censorship bureau itself played a passive part in diverting Nazi complaints, pretending to ignore direct allusions to current events in the most scholastic of articles, forgetting to read texts until they had already appeared in print, cannot be determined fully yet. But certainly this all-powerful department (directed by Rene Johan-net) made some over-sights which astonish the reader who today thumbs through the collected numbers of Poesie, Confluences, L’Arbalete, Sept Jours, Fontaine, Les Cahiers du Sud, Les Etoiles de Quercy, Figaro, and others among the first literary reviews which appeared in unoccupied France.
Their editors, constantly shadowed by agents, subject to persistent police search, interrogation, and even arrest, served as a broad front for their many colleagues. But they provided even more practical assistance. They sat on clandestine editorial boards to decide which works should be openly printed under Vichy approval, which should appear in Switzerland or abroad to throw the Gestapo off the scent of a particular writer, and which should be printed in secrecy, on clandestine presses, and delivered throughout the country by the underground. Under their guidance stocks of newsprint and fine-quality paper were bought and hidden away, presses found, and printers engaged in the clandestine work to publish whatever would be needed.
Their tasks were made immensely easier by the assistance of a young Swiss writer from Geneva, Pierre Lachenal, newly appointed Swiss Consul-General in Lyons. Through him contact was established and regularly maintained with the Swiss writer and critic, Albert Beguin, and arrangements completed for the printing in Switzerland of works which were certain to be condemned in France. Printed copies could easily be smuggled back across the mountain frontier for distribution in France.
Through Beguin, two French-language reviews, Traits and Lettres, were started in Geneva and Lausanne in 1941, and it was in these that the first works of French writers openly denouncing the German occupational forces appeared. The outstanding publishing center soon became Les Cahiers du Rhone, edited by Beguin himself in Geneva. Beguin also served as intermediary with those French exiles abroad who thirsted for a sign of internal struggle against the “National Revolution” of Marshal Petain and Pierre Laval. He saw to it that copies of the manuscripts that reached him should go by air to French publications in all the Allied countries.
Meanwhile, in Paris, the Germans were busily trying to win French writers over to their side. But they met with very limited success; and most of the writers who consented to support them already had succumbed, in their pre-war writings, to Nazi ideology. These writers either openly supported the German “new order,” even criticizing the “senile” Vichy regime for failing to gear all of France behind the Nazi machine, or championed the “National Revolution” which they claimed would assist a corrupt, decadent, guilty nation to purge its soul by wallowing in the suffering and self-pity of a well-merited defeat.
Their vehicles were half a dozen magazines and newspapers which had boasted literary sections in pre-war days and over which the Germans soon had complete control: La Gerbe, Gringoire, L’Appel, L’Action Francaise, Je Suis Partout, and LTllustration. Most of these had had clearly Nazi tendencies before the war; LTllustration was the only one whose editorial staff had to be changed. Most of the other literary and intellectual reviews of Paris ceased publication with the defeat and never resumed, despite all German offers and Vichy blandishments. Those of their leading contributors who were still in Paris retired to their studies and refused to write for the Nazi-controlled press.
By the time the writers in the southern zone were able to get in touch with their colleagues in Paris, the city already had at least one clandestine literary review—Messages, founded by Jacques Decour, Paul Eluard, and Jean Les-cure. Decour was a thirty-two-year-old author, critic, and translator of German literature, who had edited an antUNazi literarv review called Commune before the war. His new venture was a small mimeographed sheet intended chiefly to propose a program of action to the writers opposing German control in Paris, and to carry a few poems and short articles pillorying the occupiers. It was at first circulated to only a few hundred authors and intellectuals. But in May, 1941, when a broad resistance committee known as the Front National was secretly formed in Paris, the writers offered to constitute a specialized group which would be attached to the committee and would help conduct the literary and journalistic battles of the liberation movement.
Messages was anathema to the Germans, and its unpopularity with them grew in proportion to its influence on French intellectuals. Another thorn in their side was their inability to get their hands on the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, which before the war had been the leading literary periodical of France. Since the armistice its editor, Jean Paulhan, had remained in Paris and insisted upon occupying his offices, while refusing either to resume publication or to declare the magazine officially defunct. The Germans decided to kill two birds with one stone. They arrested Paulhan on the pretext that he had a mimeograph machine hidden in his home for the production of anti-Nazi writings. When, some time later, he was released from secret confinement in the Sante prison, he found his offices at the N. R. F. occupied by Drieu la Rochelle, who had seized the magazine and turned it into a collaborationist sheet. Whereupon Paulhan immediately did join the staff of Messages.
It was the Messages group which, with the help of the indefatigable Aragons (who had come up from the south after being arrested crossing the demarcation line clandestinely and held for ten days by the Germans at the Tours prison) founded in September, 1941, the Comite National ties Ecrivains, or C. N. E. This organization, from its small start in Paris, linked with the writers’ group in the south and swiftly became a network embracing patriotic writers in every corner of French territory. Its influence was to extend far beyond the writing profession: it was to be instrumental in organizing national committees of journalists, jurists, teachers, university jwofessors, doctors, and scientists; each dealing with the many problems of the profession it represented; each conducting its own campaigns of sabotage of Vichy and support of the men of the maquis; and all assisting the work of the National Committee of Liberation which eventually grew out of the score of separate resistance groups within the country.
It was decided that the C. N. E. should be organized in two sections, one operating in each of the zones of truncated France, and that each section should issue its own publication. When the plans were drawn up, the Aragons went back to Lyons—smuggling in their baggage manuscripts by the men who had remained in Paris—to found the southern C. N. E. review, Les Etoiles, which succeeded in publishing twenty-one numbers before the end of the occupation.
In Paris, Decour and Jean Lescure replaced the interim Messages with Les Lettres Franchises, which published nineteen numbers before the liberation of the capitol. Starting as a six-page mimeographed sheet, Les Lettres grew to be a large eight-page printed newspaper. Its articles on current events, often based on forbidden broadcasts over the Allied radio, kept readers in touch with the outside world and with other parts of France; its editorials encouraged resistance to such German campaigns as the deportations of the Jews, the round-ups of slave labor for the Reich, and the constant insidious German attempts to weaken the country by setting Frenchman against Frenchman. Its purpose, as the chief mouthpiece of the intellectuals of France, was to combat what Decour referred to in his first editorial appearing in Les Lettres, as Hitler’s “plan for the assassination of French intelligence.”
In this struggle Decour himself was one of the first to fall. As the number of clandestine publications in Paris increased, their editors were sought more intensely by the Germans and by the Vichy French police who, urged on by Fernand de Brinon, Petain’s “ambassador” to Paris, co-operated with them. In March, 1942, in a dragnet raid, the French police arrested Decour and two other young writers. One was Georges Politzer, teacher and philosopher, who before the war had written for such reviews as Commune, La Pensee, Europe. The other was Jacques Salomon, son-in-law of the well-known French physicist, Paul Langevin. The men were picked up through an agent who had traced back to them an early underground philosophic review, La Pensee Libre, which they had established before the formation of the National Writers Committee.
None of these men betrayed their literary comrades. In the end the Vichy authorities, embarrassed by their silence and the hue and cry which had arisen throughout the country for their release following the campaign on their behalf by the National Writers Committee, turned them over to the Gestapo. The Germans set up no trial. The prisoners were offered one last chance to buy their personal safety by “working to reform French youth.” Refusing, they were shot at the end of May—three of the ten thousand people of the Paris region whom, it was estimated, the Germans liquidated within the first six months of 1942.
With these events the C.N.E. took its final form. Even after the German occupation of southern France, it was decided that the division of the country into two zones, established to meet the conditions of the demarcation line, should be maintained. Communications were growing daily more acutely difficult, literary production was increasing rapidly, secret newspapers and reviews were bulky to carry, especially when the price was death. The regional writer groups planted at key transport centers could best continue to solve all paper, printing, and transport problems by their now well-organized systems. Meetings between the leaders of each of the zones became more frequent, and the exchange of manuscripts and finished work was regular.
In the last two years of German occupation, the writers’ groups were remarkably successful in protecting their members against the Gestapo and the Vichy secret police. This was due partly to the practical sense of organization displayed. Each step in the process of publishing underground literature was carefully compartmentalized, so that the seizure of any group would not affect the whole organization. From the small central or two-zone committees of writers, the original texts went out, and automatically, within a few weeks, thousands of copies of each work had appeared in every corner of France.
It was an intricate mechanism, demanding the contribution of thousands of workers from every resistance organization and group, men and women from all walks of life. One part of each organization, headed by skilled printer journeymen, was charged with finding paper and presses. Another, composed chiefly of women, was charged with carrying manuscripts from place to place, as part of their regular secret resistance courier service. Onlv a few men and women knew all the ramifications of these co-ordinated working sections. It was an automatic rule for each person who received a manuscript to type and distribute ten copies to selected persons in other organizations in his own area. It was obligatory that distribution in eacli area should be completed within forty-eight hours of production, so that the police could never trace back any work once it had become public.
Excellent as their organization became, the underground reviews and newspapers still had to keep their size to a minimum and concentrate on presenting to their readers the most effective anti-Nazi material they could get into a small space. News reports, polemic articles, poems, and even short stories could be printed, but there was no way to publish longer works asserting the independence of French thought. As early as December, 1941, a small group of Paris writers, acting on a suggestion made at the founding session of the C. N. E. three months before, agreed to undertake the clandestine publication of books. The complications of book manufacture made such an enterprise far more dangerous than the production of clandestine papers, but Jean Bruller, a well-known illustrator of reviews and books, said he had had enough experience in typesetting and format to be willing to make a try. He also said he had a book whose real author he could not reveal, and passed around among the writers a novelette called “Le Silence de la Mer” and signed with the pseudonym “Vercors.”
When the little group of writers met again a few days later, all agreed on the literary quality of the book and on its effectiveness as a weapon to combat passive collaboration, the cautious policy of wait-and-see.
Assisted by his writer friend, Pierre de Lescure, and by Yvonne Paraf, (known as Mme. Desvignes), Bruller sought a printing press. A small printshop was located in the Latin Quarter, and its owner, A.M. Aulard, agreed to run off so many pages at the end of each day of his normal job printing. The paper problem was solved by secretly buying small lots of vellum writing paper at a number of separate Parisian stationery houses. Each night a few printed sheets were carried off and stored in Mine. Desvignes’ apartment, where they were finally assembled and neatly bound in plain white glazed paper covers.
Three hundred and fifty copies were printed in this first clandestine edition. Parisian writers and their friends snapped them up and spread them to every corner of France, where countless editions were made from each single copy. I remember, upon our arrival in southern France, finding copies of “Le Silence de la Mer” in more than ten separate editions issued in Lyons from a single copy that had been smuggled across the demarcation line to the southern zone. Some were typewritten in neat, tight pages. Some were mimeographed, blotchy, and ink-stained. And some had been printed secretly in neat, compact Deberney type on the presses of L’Arbalete and Confluences.
The success of this first venture led to the establishment of a regular underground book publishing house, the Editions de Minuit, under Bruller’s direction. The C. N. E. was anxious that the best works written under the occupation should be published in their full, original form, not only in summaries and extracts in the clandestine press. Moreover, they felt that newspaper publication was inadequate because it was quickly dated, and some of these works, in their original form, were timeless. Now that German occupation was complete and every publication was muzzled by a strict censorship, it was no longer so easy to issue novels, essays, long poetic works, or collections of short stories in one of the authorized reviews in the south, or to endanger the precious usefulness of these reviews by using their presses to run off unauthorized books.
The Editions de Minuit can be regarded as having been born in the spring of 1942 when the first edition of Vercors’ first book came off the Aulard press. As a matter of historical fact, it did not issue its first work as the official publishing house of the National Writers Committee, using the Editions de Minuit frontispiece, until the spring of 1943. But in just oyer one year, it published twenty-three new books.
The selections were carefully calculated to respond to specific needs of French public opinion. Once the choices were made, editing was an exacting job, because the volumes had to be small enough to slip into a jacket pocket, which meant that they could not be much over one hundred pages in length. It was necessary to keep the essential parts of books which were often many times,that length, and still not kill their spirit or diminish their message.
The first book issued by the official Editions de Minuit was Jacques Maritain’s “A Travers le Desastre.” The only other book which the Editions de Minuit published under its author’s real name during the occupation was John Steinbeck’s “The Moon Is Down,” translated as “Nuits Noires.” The rest of its list of twenty-three titles were all printed under pseudonyms—Francois Mauriac was called Forez; Louis Aragon, Francois la Colere—or anonymously. Several were collections of poems or stories by various authors—in one case, of French soldier prisoners-of-war in Germany whose work had been smuggled back through Switzerland. One of the books, a collection of thirty-three sonnets by Jean Cassou, had been composed while its author was in solitary confinement and had no access to writing materials. He etched each word of these sonnets in his mind and wrote them down for the first time after his release.
Other clandestine book publishing houses were also set up in 1943, although the Editions de Minuit did by far the most important work. Poesie, Confluences, and other reviews continued to publish occasional clandestine books in spite of the increased danger, and popular newsprint editions of books for mass distribution were made by the Bibliotheque Franchise, established by the Front National and headed by Paul Eluard, with republication plants in various parts of France.
Several of the literary reviews of the clandestine period have become today the leading reviews of liberated France. Poesie and Confluences are among the most widely read of them, and are honored by receiving the manuscripts of the leading French writers. The Editions de Minuit continues its work as one of the leading publishing houses of the new France. Its first venture, to meet collectors’ demands, is an exact reprint of all its clandestine editions.
French literature can boast that during the period of clandestine activity its writers produced some of the best wartime literature of any country during these past four years. Instead of destroying, or even diminishing, the vigor of French writing, the German occupation succeeded in sharpening and improving it. A host of vigorous new writers has been formed, whose literary careers will be worth watching.
French writers are unanimous in attributing this renaissance largely to their co-ordinated efforts, and the mutual support they gave each other in these trying years. They go further. They insist that their mutual activity has made them more powerful and socially conscious writers than they ever might have been.
The C. N. E. today groups almost all the leading writers of France, None joined out of compulsion; almost all of them voluntarily joined its ranks when to do so meant to risk deportation and possible death. Their heart is in it. Never has a national organization of writers been so devoid of cliques, of professional jealousies, of unjust criticism of the beliefs and literary styles of its members.
Writers who are Catholics or Communists, liberals or conservatives, romanticists or realists, both in their style and social outlook, mix freely in its ranks. I remember discussions at luncheons and dinners together with these writers, both in Lyons and Paris, that were remarkable for the intimate comradeship among men of such diverse backgrounds, and of such different literary temperaments. They knew each other well, they admired each other’s work with a mutual esteem that .only close co-operation in dangerous work could have given them.
The handicap of limited space and small editions had its effect upon their literary style. Some of the best poetry produced in any comparable period of French literature has been written in these past five years. Some of it will go down among the finest French lyrical writing of any time. Good novels were written, short and concise it is true, but where every word seems to have been doubly weighed and chiseled before being printed. Short stories and plays of real literary and dramatic worth have been produced.
Through all of this writing there runs a powerful humanism, a comprehension and a loving care for people which is so general that it seems something new in French literature. French writing before the war, and from long tradition, had been individualistic in approach and in treatment. Today French writers have learned, almost overnight, how to convey a group or social experience. When reading a poem or a short story produced under the occupation, you are always conscious that each man or woman is but one of many undergoing the same personal crisis. And the writer has made you aware that this crisis is not an isolated psychological or personal experience, but that it has its setting in a social community.
The reality of military occupation, the intensity of national suffering and struggle in this strange, internal, and very civilian war against the conqueror, the bitter lessons of working under the watchful eyes of enemy spies, censors, and police have somehow brought a new realism to French writers which has already carried them beyond the influence of those American writers who had had such a profound influence in France just before the war. The renaissance of French literature during the occupation has brought it to a new maturity.
We have seen thus far only a small portion of the literature, much of it still unpublished, which has been written in France in these years. We have seen none of the new writing which is now being penned under the accumulated impact of a five-year period which has crowded more than a normal lifetime of experiences and emotions into so many writers. Certainly, the present high level of French literature will not diminish for some time.