Brasillach, Robert 1909-1945
BRASILLACH, Robert 1909-1945
PERSONAL: Born March 31, 1909, in Perpignan, France; executed, February 6, 1945, in France. Education: Studied at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, 1925–28, and École Normale Supérieure.
CAREER: Journalist, novelist, biographer, and poet. Literary critic for L'Action française, beginning 1931; staff writer for La Revue Universelle, c. 1930s. Military service: French army, served during World War II; prisoner of war, released 1941.
Le voleur d'étincelles, 1932, reprinted, Plon (Paris, France), 1968.
L'enfant de la nuit, Plon (Paris, France), 1934.
Le marchand d'oiseaux, 1936, reprinted, Le Livre de Poche (Paris, France), 1974.
Comme le temps passe, 1937, translated by Warre Bradley Wells as Youth Goes Over, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1938.
Les sept couleurs, 1939, new edition, Plon (Paris, France), 1970.
La conquérante, Plon (Paris, France), 1943, reprinted Livre de Poche (Paris, France), 1975.
Six heures à perdre, Plon (Paris, France), 1953.
Les captifs (unfinished manuscript), Plon (Paris, France), 1974.
Présence de Virgile, 1931.
Portraits, Plon (Paris, France), 1935.
(With Maurice Bardèche) L'histoire du cinéma, Denoël et Steele (Paris, France), 1935, new edition published in two volumes, A. Martel (Givors, France), 1953–54, original edition translated by Iris Barry as The History of Motion Pictures, W. W. Norton/Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), 1938, reprinted, Arno Press (New York, NY), 1970.
Animateurs de théâtre, Éditions R. A. Corrêa (Paris, France), 1936.
Léon Degrelle et l'avenir de Rex, 1936.
(With Henri Massis) Les cadets de l'Alcazar, Plon (Paris, France), 1936, translated as The Cadets of the Alcazar, 1936, original Frnch edition published as Le siège de l'Alcazar, Éditions d'Histoire et d'Art (Paris, France), 1939.
Pierre Corneille, A. Fayard (Paris, France), 1938.
(With Maurice Bardèche) Histoire de la guerre d'Espagne, Plon (Paris, France), 1939.
Notre avant-guerre: mémoires, 1941, published as Une génération dans l'orage, 1941, published as Une génération dans l'orage, mémoires: Notre avant-guerre. Journal d'un homme occupé, Plon (Paris, France), 1968, translated and edited by Peter Tame as Notre avant-guerre/Before the War, Mellen Press (Lewiston, NY), 2002.
Le procès de Jeanne d'Arc, 1941.
Les quatre Jeudis, 1944.
Poèmes, Éditions Balzac, 1944.
Chénier (biography), Sept Couleurs (Paris, France), 1947.
Poèmes de Fresnes, 1949.
Morceaux choisis, edited by Marie Madeleine Martin, 1949.
Lettre à un soldat de la classe soixante, suivie de Les frères ennemis, dialogue tragique, Sept Couleurs (Paris, France), 1950.
Lettres écrites en prison (correspondence), 1952.
Bérénice (five-act play), 1954, published and produced as La reine de Césarée, 1957, reprinted, Plon (Paris, France), 1973.
Journal d'un homme occupé, 1955.
Lettre à un soldat de la classe soixante, suivie de Textes écrits en prison, 1960.
Poètes oubliès, E. Vitte (Lyon, France), 1961.
Domrémy (play), 1961.
Oeuvres complètes (collected works), twelve volumes, edited by Maurice Bardèche, Club de l'Honnête Homme (Paris, France), 1963–66.
Écrit à Fresnes (contains Journal d'un homme occupé, Les frères ennemis, Lettre à un soldat de la classe soixante, Lettres écrites en prison, Poèmes de Fresnes, Le procès de Robert Brasillach, and Le jugement des juges), Plon (Paris, France), 1967.
Vingt lettres de Robert Brasillach, 1970.
Trente-cinq poètes chantent Robert Brasillach: anthologie des poèmes à la mémoire de Robert Brasillach, selected and with introduction by Jean-Pierre Hamblenne, Altair (Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium), 1984.
La chronique littéraire de Robert Brasillach dans le Petit parisien, collected by Gérard Sthème de Jubécourt, Pensée Universelle (Paris, France), 1985.
Contributor to periodicals, including Le Coq Catalan, L'Intransigeant, Nouvelles Littéraires, Combat, L'Assault, Gringoire, Nouvelle Revue Française, Revue de Paris, and Candide. Member of editorial board, Je Suis Partout, 1936–44.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Brasillach was a French literary critic and author who became an infamous fascist sympathizer during World War II and was ultimately executed by firing squad for his views after Paris was liberated in 1945. His sympathies for the regimes of Nazi Germany under Adolph Hitler and Italy under Mussolini developed in reaction to his despair over bourgeois culture and his desire to preserve France's national identity, which he saw as threatened by Americans, British, and Jewish influcence. The only way to save his country, Brasillach felt, was to form an alliance with Germany; therefore, he became a strong, supportive voice for France's collaborationationist Vichy government. Because of his unpopular political views, Brasillach was neglected by literary critics and academics for much of the twentieth century, although his novels gained renewed attention.
Brasillach's first career was in journalism. He joined the staff of L'Action française in 1931 and was greatly influenced by its editor, Charles Maurras, a royalist and French reactionary. He also worked for the right-wing newspaper Je Suis Partout, and from 1936 to 1944 served on its editorial board. Another influence on Brasillach, which would become evident in his fiction, was his admiration for classic civilizations and Mediterranean culture. Having twice failed his final exams at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, Brasillach concentrated on his newspaper career and became a prominent literary critic in France during the 1930s.
Believing that France could only avoid another disastrous experience similar to that suffered during World War I by forming close political ties with Germany, Brasillach became an enthusiastic fascist. An essayist for the Guide to French Literature: 1789 to the Present explained the author's political beliefs this way: "Brasillach's own fascism grew out of his view that the West needed a new 'myth' or value system to replace both exploitative capitalism and bureaucratic communism." Brasillach was misled in his views, however; "He came to believe in the myth that Hitler and Mussolini had succeeded in imposing on their respective countries, not realizing that it was not exportable and was incompatible with Maurras's fierce French nationalism."
A love of myth also permeates Brasillach's fiction, and the theme of escapism runs through many of his novels. In his first, Le voleur d'étincelles, for example, the protagonist, Lazare, tries to escape the bourgeois world surrounding him by living in a dream reality. Similarly, L'enfant de la nuit is about a man named Robert who escapes the bourgeoisie lifestyle by rediscovering the joys of the common Parisian life of the lower classes. Robert reappears in Comme le temps passe, this time finding relief from a troubled world by escaping into the past. "Some critics have seen this as his best fictional effort," noted David O'Connell in an essay for the Reference Guide to World Literature. The author also gained acclaim for his novel Les sept couleurs, which was nominated for the prestigious Prix Goncourt. The story of a young Nazi sympathizer named Patrice, "it combines in potent form [Brasillach's] interest in ancient Mediterranean culture (rekindled in Italian fascism) with the desire to escape into a world of dreams (as represented in the disciplined and anti-bourgeois mise en scéne at Nuremburg)," according to O'Connell, who called the work "Brasillach's major literary achievement."
When World War II broke out, Brasillach dutifully enlisted in the French army. However, his sympathies lay with the other side, and in 1941 he allowed himself to be captured. After the fall of Paris and the installation of the Vichy puppet regime, Brasillach was released from prison and was assigned to work for the country's film industry. Out of this would come his book L'histoire du cinéma, which he wrote with his brother-in-law Maurice Bardèche. He also resumed work with Je Suis Partout, which continued as an official voice of the Nazi-controlled government. When the Allies liberated Paris in 1944, Brasillach did not flee, as his friends had advised him, but allowed himself to be imprisoned. Though he had committed no violent crimes during the war—and despite pleas for clemency from many of his writing peers—he was tried and executed in February of 1945.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guide to French Literature: 1789 to the Present, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Reference Guide to World Literature, 2nd edition, Volume 1, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Times Literary Supplement, July 26, 2005, John Fletcher, review of Notre avant-guerre/Before the War.