Barrès, Maurice (1862–1923)

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BARRèS, MAURICE (1862–1923)


French novelist and politician.

Maurice Barrès is best known for his theories of individualism and for his intense nationalism. Born in the small town of Charmes-sur-Moselle in Lorraine, Barrès was educated at the lycée in Nancy and in 1883 went to Paris to pursue legal studies. After an initial foray into the world of journalism as a contributor to the monthly periodical Young France, and then as founder of the short-lived Spots of Ink, he traveled to Italy, where he wrote Under the Eyes of the Barbarians (1888). This work would become the first volume of a "trilogie du moi" (trilogy of the ego) that also included A Free Man (1889) and The Garden of Bérénice (1891). In these books, Barrès set forth a program of self-analysis, dividing the world into moi (myself) and the barbarians, which included anyone who opposed the writer's individuality. The trilogy established Barrès as one of the leading voices of the younger generation and had a profound impact in both literary and political circles of the fin de siècle.

Barrès carried his theory of individualism into politics as an ardent supporter of General Georges Boulanger (1837–1891). Then, at the age of twenty-seven, he ran a successful campaign to become deputy from his native Lorraine on a platform demanding the return to France of Alsace-Lorraine, which had come under Prussian control following France's defeat in 1870. Barrès remained deputy from 1889 to 1893. The anarchic individualism of his earlier works gave way to an intense patriotism rooted in his anger about the loss of France's eastern provinces. The development of Barrès's increasingly intransigent nationalism and his conversion to an almost mystical attachment to the native province, his cult of la terre et les morts (the earth and the dead), was duly chronicled in his next trilogy of novels, The Novel of National Energy. The series, which began with the publication in 1897 of The Uprooted, is an appeal to local patriotism and the distinctive qualities of the French provinces. It tells the story of seven young Lorrainers who set out to make their fortune in Paris but instead encounter disillusionment and failure because they have been uprooted from their native traditions. Six of them survive in the second novel of the trilogy, The Call to the Soldier (1900), which recounts the history of Boulangism; the final installment, Their Faces (1902), deals with the Panama scandals.

During the controversy surrounding the accused spy Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935), Barrès was a vocal and articulate representative of the anti-Dreyfus camp, joining other right-wing luminaries such as the monarchist Charles Maurras (1868–1952) and the nationalist Paul Déroulède (1846–1914). Barrès continued to advance his political views, warning the French of the threat posed by a decline in patriotism within and by German military might without in such works as Scenes and Doctrines of Nationalism (1902), In the Service of Germany (1905), and Colette Baudoche (1909), which later earned success as French propaganda during World War I. In 1906 Barrès was admitted to the Académie Française and reelected to the Chamber of Deputies. Barrès was a vocal supporter of World War I when it erupted in 1914, and during the war he promoted the national solidarity of the union sacrée (sacred union), a stance most clearly seen in his Various Spiritual Families of France (1917). After the war, Barrès was one of the leaders of the nationalist camp in French politics, serving as president, first, of the Ligue de la Patrie Française (League of the French nation) and then of the Ligue des Patriotes (League of patriots).

To the generation that came of age during the Dreyfus affair, Barrès brought a heady combination of racist nativism and integral nationalism. He was a celebrated writer, an insistent right-wing voice, and an intellectual leader for a generation that navigated through the troubled political waters of France's Third Republic. Barrès's calls for cultural and social rootedness, his critique of liberalism, his virulent anti-Semitism and nationalism, his cult of la terre et les morts, and his warnings about national decline and decadence found a responsive audience among those who wished to resist disturbing social change by preserving the sanctity of ancestral values and traditions. More recently, scholars have seen in Barrès's particular blend of national socialism, anti-intellectualism, and populist anti-Semitism in the 1890s the intellectual origins of interwar fascism that emerged in France in the 1920s and 1930s.

See alsoAction Française; Anti-Semitism; Maurras, Charles.


Primary Sources

Barrès, Maurice. Un homme libre. Paris, 1889.

——. Sous l'oeil des barbares. Paris, 1894.

——. L'ennemi des lois. Paris, 1910.

——. Les diverses familles spirituelles de la France. Paris, 1917.

——. Les déracinés. Paris, 1920.

——. Scènes et doctrines du nationalisme. Paris, 1925.

——. L'appel au soldat. Paris, 1926.

——. Mes cahiers: 1896–1923. Texts selected by Guy Dupré. Paris, 1960.

Barrès, Maurice, and Charles Maurras. La République ou le roi: Correspondance inédite (1888–1923). Paris, 1970.

Secondary Sources

Broche, François. Maurice Barrès. Paris, 1987.

Soucy, Robert. Fascism in France: The Case of Maurice Barrès. Berkeley, Calif., 1972.

——. French Fascism: The First Wave, 1924–1933. New Haven, Conn., 1986.

Sternhell, Zeev. Maurice Barrès et le nationalisme français. Brussels, 1985.

Kathleen Cambor

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Barrès, Maurice (1862–1923)

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