“It’s only in the trenches that the poilu gets a front-row seat.” - Louis Barthas
My rendition of Louis Barthas... and a little info/thoughts about his writings, for those interested.
To repeat myself a little from yesterday- Louis Barthas was a husband, father, barrelmaker, socialist, pacifist…and soldier. He wrote and subsequently edited of a collection of notebooks about his experiences in WWI, which was not published in France until the 70s and was only translated into English fairly recently.
These collected notebooks are now available in (an eminently readable, as they say) English translation by Edward M. Strauss as “Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918.”
The majority of the contemporaneous works I’ve read about the war (both in full and excerpts) have been British and then some Canadian, American, German…this is the first book of this sort I’ve read offering a French perspective. Barthas’ account is also a bit different from many of those others because he was just a corporal and was close to and focused on the experience of the ordinary enlisted men.
Aside from the general accessibility issue (I don’t speak French), the translation struck me as feeling very natural/colloquial (I am a US-American- ymmv). Barthas was obviously an intelligent and well-read man, but his writing felt very relatable in its “regular-ness.” Some parts are surprising and some pretty funny.
I don’t want to spoil stuff for you, but perhaps some highlights might serve as teaser? More changes in who he served with than I expected, that sixth sense that saves some people from danger, uncaring officers (and a few exceptions), the soldiers’ mutiny, and all that fraternization with the Germans?!
——-now, a few links, if you want to see some artistic representations of him by someone other than me:
(and if you speak French, you might get more out of the first two links below than I can ^^)
+ see Fredman’s art of Louis Barthas!
+ Maël and Kris’ art, including Louis Barthas!
The fraternization with the Germans sounds entirely plausible (so many people involved on both sides, any number of unusual things could be in the realm of probability).
The barrel-making + related illustrations certainly intrigued me. XD; I've yet to go into detail about the origins of Pete's steamwagon, but it's worth exploring in the future in drawn form as well...
I was surprised by how much fraternization there was. There were several interesting circumstances described regarding this type of thing. (The officers really did not like it.)
There isn't too much said about that in the book itself, since Barthas is away from his regular work there, but just that he is a regular guy with a trade is interesting (compared to the life circumstances of many of the other memoir-writers I've read about).
(I suppose they wouldn't...!) It's interesting to see what pacifists were actually doing if they were serving on the front...
Well, I suppose it depends on the person, but there were conscientious objectors in England who refused to serve in the war at all (and went to jail) and I know I read about someone of that sort who got a job as an ambulance driver.
Hmm, yeah. I think you might have linked me a story about conscientious objectors who were facing execution in England.
I know Maurice Ravel served as an ambulance driver for that very reason. The war still left a grave impression on him and affected his composing from then on.
Yes, I think so.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised because of the war's scale, but I'm continually becoming aware of more and more writers/musicians/artists/etc that were heavily impacted by it one way or another.