Brasillach, Robert (1909–1945)

views updated



French writer and right-wing journalist.

Having completed his studies at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in 1928, Robert Brasillach began a journalistic career two years later that continued throughout his short life. After a biography, Présence de Virgile (1931), came his first novel, Le voleur d'étincelles (1932; The thief of sparks). In 1931 he began his career as a literary critic for the right-wing, monarchist, Catholic newspaper L'action française, whose leading spirit was Charles Maurras. Brasillach became one of Maurras's many "disciples," promoting French nationalism for much of his career. In 1932 he produced an adaptation of the trial of Joan of Arc, a heroine whom Brasillach greatly admired. He was also theater critic for the Revue universelle and 1933. A play, Domrémy (1933), followed and then a novel, Le marchand d'oiseaux (1936; The bird seller). The antigovernment riots and demonstrations of February 1934 (particularly of 6 February) in Paris moved Brasillach to declare that the dawn of fascism had risen over France. The novel L'enfant de la nuit (1934; Child of the night) demonstrated the author's mastery of a type of impressionistic urban poetry. In 1935 he coauthored with Maurice Bardèche the seminal Histoire du cinéma. A collection of studies of contemporary writers, Portraits, also appeared in 1935. In 1936 Brasillach met Léon Degrelle, the Belgian leader of the Rexist (monarchist, Catholic) movement and wrote Léon Degrelle et l'avenir de "Rex" (Léon Degrelle and the future of Rex).

In the first year of the Spanish civil war, he published Les cadets de l'Alcazar (1936; The cadets of Alcazar). He also coauthored a second account of this event with Henri Massis (Le siège de l'Alcazar). His larger Histoire de la guerre d'Espagne (1939; History of the Spanish war) covers the entire war with a distinct pro-Franco bias. The novel Comme le temps passe (As time passes) appeared in 1937. In the same year, Brasillach went to Italy and wrote enthusiastically about the new fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. He became editor of the weekly fascist newspaper Je suis partout (I am everywhere). In September of that year, he attended the Nuremberg Rally, an experience that apparently bewitched him and increased his admiration for National Socialist Germany. In 1938 Brasillach published a study of the seventeenth-century playwright Pierre Corneille. This biography was highly influenced by his commitment to European fascism. His novel Les sept couleurs (1939; The seven colors) is his only truly experimental work of fiction. Each chapter adopts a different literary genre (narrative, correspondence, documents, etc.) in order to relate a continuous story about a couple of lovers who are deeply affected by events on the European political stage, in particular by the rise and apparent triumph of fascism.

Like many other Frenchmen, he was mobilized in 1938 at the time of the Munich crisis, only to stand down for a year, before the outbreak of World War II. From 1939 to 1940, he was stationed on the Maginot Line, where, during periods of idleness, he penned his evocative memoirs of Paris (and France) in the interwar years, entitled Notre avant-guerre (1941; Before the war). As a prisoner of war in Germany, he wrote Les captifs (The captives; his only unfinished novel). Returning to France in March 1941, he resumed his journalism with Je suis partout. His articles for this newspaper and for others were of a literary, artistic, and political nature. They were often brilliantly vituperative and scurrilous, promoting fascism, National Socialism, and the Vichy regime. During the German occupation of France he wrote a novel, La conquérante (1943; The conqueror), based on his mother's experiences in Morocco in the early years of the twentieth century. Having vainly attempted to persuade Georges Simenon to write a novel set in the murky milieu of collaboration and resistance, he composed Six heures à perdre (1944; Six hours to kill). Finding Je suis partout's collaborationism excessive, he quit the newspaper's team in September 1943. When the Allies arrived in Paris in August 1944, Brasillach went into hiding. Obliged to give himself up to the liberation authorities, he was imprisoned at Fresnes, where, among other works, he wrote the poignant Poèmes de Fresnes (1946) and completed his sequel to Notre avant-guerre, appositely entitled Journal d'un homme occupé (Journal of an occupied man). He was tried for treason in January 1945 and found guilty. Despite a petition for clemency, organized by François Mauriac and signed by many of the most famous writers and artists of the day, Brasillach was executed by firing squad on 6 February 1945.

As of 2005, Brasillach was the only collaborationist to remain unpardoned. His controversial collaborationism during the occupation, his status as an unrepentant French fascist, and his anti-Semitism, together with his acerbic journalistic verve, have exercised biographers and historians alike. As a result, the rest of his work is often considered as being of secondary importance. The controversy over his career, his execution, and, more generally, the responsibility of the writer continues to this day.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Camus, Albert; Collaboration; Fascism; Maurras, Charles.


Primary Sources

Brasillach, Robert. Oeuvres complètes de Robert Brasillach. 12 vols. Paris, 1963–1966.

——. A Translation of "Notre avant-guerre/Before the War" by Robert Brasillach. Translated and edited by Peter Tame. Lewiston, N.Y., 2002.

Secondary Sources

George, Bernard. Robert Brasillach. Paris, 1968.

Kaplan, Alice. The Collaborator. Chicago, 2000.

Tame, Peter D. La mystique du fascisme dans l'oeuvre de Robert Brasillach. Paris, 1986.

——. The Ideological Hero in the Novels of Robert Brasillach, Roger Vailland, and André Malraux. New York, 1998.

Tucker, William R. The Fascist Ego: A Political Biography of Robert Brasillach. Berkeley, Calif., 1975.

Peter Tame

About this article

Brasillach, Robert (1909–1945)

Updated About content Print Article