Paris after the liberati.., p.22
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949,
Les Temps modernes wielded a tremendous influence. The title was partly inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, but the name was principally intended to stand for an era of intellectual change. Its editorial committee alone was enough to guarantee attention, for it included Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, Merleau-Ponty as philosophy editor, and Michel Leiris and Raymond Queneau for poetry and literature, as well as Raymond Aron and Jean Paulhan, the grammarian, who was the only one with any experience of running a literary review. Malraux was invited to join but refused, partly, one suspects, because he was abandoning the radicalismof his youth. Considering Beauvoir’s dislike of him – ‘he takes himself for Goethe and Dostoyevsky at the same time’ – it was just as well that he stayed out.
Gaston Gallimard agreed to back the publication and to give it office space; three of its editors – Paulhan, Camus and Queneau – were on Gallimard’s own editorial committee, to say nothing of the others who were his authors. The first problem was to secure a paper ration. Beauvoir and Leiris went to see Jacques Soustelle, de Gaulle’s Minister of Information, but he was reluctant because Raymond Aron, who had turned against the General, was on their committee. In fact, Aron was to leave not long afterwards because of an ideological dispute.
Simone de Beauvoir saw Les Temps modernes as the showpiece of what she called the ‘Sartrian ideal’. Almost immediately, however, she found herself swamped by manuscripts and besieged by earnestly ambitious young writers. It seemed as if half the young men on the Left Bank had been working on equally gloomy, pseudo-existentialist novels of the Resistance, because that was what was expected of them.
The theatre in France during the last two years of the Occupation had certainly proved itself alive, even if many leading members of the profession found themselves under clouds of varying sizes at the Liberation.
Parisian audiences had been educated to the avant-garde in the 1920s, and in the years before the war the playwrights Anouilh, Giraudoux, Salacrou and Cocteau had already prepared the ground for what is seen as the post-Liberation theatre.
Sartre’s first play, The Flies, was performed in 1943. So too was Giraudoux’s Sodom et Gomorrhe, although it was produced without France’s greatest actor-manager, Louis Jouvet, who had taken his company into a nomadic exile in South America. One of the great successes had been Jean-Louis Barrault’s production of Paul Claudel’s The Satin Shoe, but Sartre and Beauvoir felt unable to judge the play objectively, so sickened were they by Claudel’s ‘Ode au maréchal’. Early in 1944, Jean Anouilh’s Antigone appeared, then shortly before the invasion of Normandy Sartre’s Huis clos was put on at the Vieux-Colombier. This play about hell, which Brasillach went to see before going into hiding, was the most influential. The notion that ‘Hell is other people’ passed into international currency.
More plays from the existentialist group followed over the next two years. In 1945 Albert Camus’s Caligula received great acclaim, while Simone de Beauvoir’s Useless Mouths was regarded as too mechanical. Then Sartre returned in the following year with Men Without Shadows and The Respectful Prostitute at the Théâtre Antoine, where his most politically important play, Dirty Hands, would follow. But while Sartre headed back towards realism with issues and moral dilemmas, the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ of Arthur Adamov, Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett, all influenced by Pirandello, was about to wander off in a very different direction.
Without doubt, the greatest success of the immediate post-war theatre was Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot at the Théâtre de l’Athénée. Written during the Occupation, shortly before Giraudoux’s death early in 1944, it was produced by Louis Jouvet at the end of the following year. Even if the story today may seem a curious piece of radical chic fantasy (an inspired madwoman, in a sort of modern court of miracles, manages to trick the exploiters of Paris by playing upon their greed and to imprison them in the city’s sewers), Jouvet’s direction, Christian Bérard’s sets and the acting were superb. When the play opened in December 1945 and, for a long time to come, the little theatre was packed with both the beau monde and bohemia.
The world of painting and sculpture was also undergoing a period of intellectual and political ferment. When the Salon d’Automne opened on 6 October 1944, it was called the ‘Salon de la Libération’. All painters deemed collaborationist were banned, including Derain, Van Dongen, Segonzac, Despiau, Belmondo and Vlaminck.
In an unprecedented mark of respect to a foreign painter, a special section entitled ‘Hommage à Picasso’ showed seventy-four paintings and five sculptures. On the morning of 5 October, the day before the opening of the exhibition, the front page of L’Humanité was not, as usual, devoted to the advances of the Red Army. Instead, across five columns, its headline declared:
THE GREATEST OF ALL LIVING ARTISTS
has joined the Party of the French Resistance
Picasso’s rise to political consciousness caused a good deal of mirth and cynicism in non-Communist ranks. Many considered the decision to join the Communist Party a sort of insurance policy to safeguard a fortune, reputedly worth 600 million francs. Cocteau wrote in his diary that it was Picasso’s ‘first anti-revolutionary gesture’.
When the Salon opened, traditionalists and friends of the excluded painters held a demonstration inside. ‘Take them down! Take them down!’ they yelled in front of Picasso’s paintings. Picasso is said to have been furious. Young right-wingers even went round Paris altering the chalked Communist slogans of ‘Pétain au poteau’ (‘Pétain for the firing squad’) to ‘Picasso au poteau’. The strength of feeling did not abate – everyone was a committed picassiste or anti-picassiste. A year later at the ballet of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, a large part of the audience hissed the curtain which he had designed.
Picasso’s commitment to the cause acted as a powerful recruiting campaign for the party. He even wrote in L’Humanité: ‘Joining the Communist Party is the logical progression of my whole life, of my whole work… How could I have hesitated? The fear of becoming engaged in the struggle? But I feel much more free, much more fulfilled.’
Picasso’s stand certainly inspired his more-resistant-than-thou colleagues. When a Resistance group asked painters for a work each to be sold for charity, Derain and Segonzac, both accused of collaboration, provided canvases. But Picasso, hearing that their work would be included, refused to give a painting; he offered 200,000 francs instead. Immediately, other artists threatened to boycott the exhibition if the two canvases by Derain and Segonzac were not withdrawn. The organizers felt forced to give way, but because the works of Derain and Segonzac were far more valuable than those of the protesters they sold them through dealers, without a word of apology to the two artists.
The dictatorship of the progressive intelligentsia after the war was a phenomenon which had a number of reasons, but few excuses. Ever since the encyclopédistes of the mid-eighteenth century had encouraged the idea that thinkers would lead the masses to salvation, revolutionary and anti-clerical ideas generated their own form of spiritual arrogance. Jacobinismnot only glorified political upheaval, endowing violence with romantic qualities, it saw Revolution as an entity with a life of its own: a terrible monster to be worshipped.
The exaltation of theory over bourgeois morality gained strength during the Resistance. Communist ruthlessness, together with the party’s vaunted professionalism, attracted many of those ashamed of France’s collapse in 1940 and the collaboration of Vichy. Never again should the right wing, which had betrayed the country, be allowed to regain control. Never again should Europe permit the horrors of Nazi rule. Only one country was strong enough and determined enough to oppose the return of fascism, and that was the Soviet Union.
Communists vigorously claimed that they were materialists, yet the wilful blindness towards the reality of life in the Soviet Union could only exist as a form of unquestioning religious belief. The spiritual aspect of Communism had been brought home to the British ambassado
The eager subservience of intellectuals and their desire to be led is vividly illustrated in a letter from the French Communist deputy in the National Assembly, Alain Signor, to Stepanov of the International Section in the Kremlin. It describes a meeting of the Central Committee. ‘I must tell you that never before have I experienced such a feeling of the power of our party,’ he wrote. ‘Jacques [Duclos] was superb… André [Marty] strengthened Jacques’ line of argument which even on its own had been very convincing. And finally Maurice [Thorez] showed by his contribution what a truly great guide he is for our party, a wise strategist and at the same time a true statesman… We must work hard. We must do much to catch up with you. But we will catch up and join you.’
After the Liberation, some of the lighter-hearted Communist intellectuals joked in private about the clichés that filled almost every article and tract – ‘sacred duty… the directing role of the Party… the glorious Soviet Union with Comrade Stalin at its head’. But any irreverent attitudes tolerated during the Resistance were soon suppressed by party cadres. There was a key question in the interview on joining the party: ‘What did you think of the 1939 pact between the Soviet Union and Germany?’ There was only one correct reply: ‘I put my trust in the party.’ Anyone who said that they had denounced it was immediately suspect. It was never a question of being right or wrong, it was a question of submission to discipline.
The real act of self-abasement before the party’s authority was the need for all members to write their ‘bios’, which were detailed autobiographical notes including every peccadillo in their lives. This written confession demonstrated the individual’s trust in the party, but the real purpose was to give the party an effective hold over each member.
Introduction to a cell, with its sense of comradeship, was increased by the most emotional initiation of all – attendance at a mass rally. For many intellectuals, this was their first communion with the proletariat. Another opportunity was the open-air Fête de l’Humanité over a weekend in early September at Vincennes. The entertainment was all very proper. Bespectacled students from the Latin Quarter could wander around, savouring the smell of crushed grass, listening to accordions, and eating, drinking and mingling with the inhabitants of the ‘ceinture rouge’ – the working-class suburbs such as Aubervilliers, Bagneux, Gennevilliers, Ivry, Montreuil, Saint-Denis and Vitry. The party never ceased to eulogize its proletarian life-blood in the ceinture rouge, but few card-carrying intellectuals ever visited those districts. They were more interested in discussing literature and politics, and their greatest ambition was to mix with the intellectual stars of the party.
Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet were a devoted couple. Many people who liked Aragon deeply distrusted Triolet; they suspected her of being a Soviet spy. Nobody could have been more fiercely defensive of Elsa than Aragon. When he was invited without her to an official lunch at the Quai d’Orsay, he rang Jacques Dumaine, the chef de protocole, in a state of high indignation. Dumaine explained that to invite men without their wives was the usual practice at midday. ‘Monsieur,’ retorted Aragon, ‘I would have you know that Elsa Triolet is neither man nor woman, but a great French writer; as for myself, I have my own standards and do not wish to condone the practices of this government which calls itself provisional.’
Aragon was perhaps particularly touchy on the subject of Elsa Triolet’s standing as a writer during that second half of 1945, because many people had voiced their suspicions about the way she had won the Prix Goncourt on 2 July for her novel Le Premier Accroc coûte deux francs. They pointed out that with three members of the Académie Goncourt under a cloud, including Sacha Guitry, the only way to win back public support for France’s most important literary prize was to vote for a book which would be solidly supported by the Communist Party. Critics pointed out that Dorgelès, the Goncourt chairman, had approached Aragon several months before the vote; and later Aragon had published an article of his in Les Lettres françaises. It smelled strongly of a‘dédouanement’ deal.
Triolet and Aragon, ‘le couple royal’ of Communist letters, received guests in the palatial premises which the National Committee of Writers had taken over by the Élysée Palace, and entertained the most favoured to tea in their apartment amid the objets d’art they had collected. The novelist Marguerite Duras, on the other hand, cultivated a far more informal atmosphere. Her apartment on the rue Saint-Benoît rapidly became a semi-permanent rendezvous for Communist intellectuals, more like a private club than a salon. Her friends included the poet Francis Ponge, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Clara Malraux (who had separated from André during the war), the Spanish Communist writer Jorge Semprun, Jean-Toussaint Desanti and his wife, Dominique, and André Ulmann, the editor of Tribune des nations. The writer Claude Roy compared it to a meeting place of the Russian intelligentsia in the last century.
The post-Liberation ferment, after the stuffiness of Vichy, was as much a clash of generations as of politics. One sociologist contrasted ‘the bourgeois theatre of our father’s generation with its stories about the stock exchange and finance, its calculations of income and dowries’ with the new theatre ‘where everyone proclaims their contempt for wealth, the impotence of finance, the boredom of middle-class life. Anouilh’s characters talk of “your filthy money”.’
Saint-Germain-des-Prés was unlike anywhere else in post-war Europe. In London, Edmund Wilson found a sense of depression and anticlimax. Graham Greene told him that he even felt ‘a nostalgia for the hum of a robot bomb’. But in Paris, the Liberation had given the intelligentsia a powerful symbol of hope, even though the country was bankrupt. Rather as the Grandmaison doctrine in 1914 had represented the passionate belief that French élan would overcome German artillery, for intellectuals after the Liberation it was an article of faith that ideas would triumph over ‘filthy money’.
After the Deluge
During the most turbulent and difficult periods after the war, Parisians had deliberately kept life as normal as possible. The concierge would swab out the entrance hall in the same way at the same time; the grocer would chalk his prices, however astronomical, with the same circular precision on miniature blackboards; the waiter would produce a menu with his usual nonchalant flourish. Office workers and bureaucrats would greet each other each morning with the customary handshake, before any mention was made of outside events.
Paris remained a city of striking social contrasts, despite the political and intellectual longing for egalitarianism. This time, however, there was a difference. Parisians were divided not only by traditional class structure. Within their own social circles, there were the bien vus, credited with a jolie Résistance, and the mal vus, who had encountered quelques ennuis à la Libération (a few problems at the Liberation).
In September 1944, several days after his arrival, the British ambassador was invited to a lunch given in his honour by Charles de Polignac. Those with a good war record were in evidence. They included Comte Jean de Vogüé – ‘Vaillant’ in the Resistance – who was wearing his FFI armband, and the Duchesse d’Ayen, whose husband was a prisoner in Germany. She did not yet know that he had died in Belsen.
At the top of the pyramid, well-connected Resistance heroes and Gaullists had a simple choice. Either they cut themselves off in moral indignation from friends and relations who had been Pétainists or they had to adopt a more forgiving attitude. If Nancy Mitford’s fictional hero, Charles-Édouard de Valhubert, is to be believed, the most aggravating sin tended to be social rather than political. His family lawyer had been a collaborator: ‘You just don’t
Those under a cloud often argued that the conflict between good manners and patriotism under the Occupation had been most difficult. There had been no guide to etiquette in such circumstances. Should a woman reject a seat offered by a German in the métro? Should one have refused to receive civilized, non-Nazi Germans whom one had known from before the war? Should one have turned one’s back on a German friend in a public place?
Much, of course, depended on the individual case, but the different accounts of how people had behaved varied widely. The most improbable men and women claimed to have been in the Resistance, while those who had behaved heroically said very little. ‘One rule here,’ wrote Susan Mary Patten, ‘is that those who suffered prefer not to talk about it, and it is next to impossible to worm Resistance stories out of them.’ Maître Max Fischer, who had played a prominent part in the Resistance in the Vaucluse, admitted that he felt uncomfortable talking about his time in the maquis with anyone but his anciens compagnons; in their company, one spoke of little else. Back in Paris after the Liberation, Fischer wanted to put the past behind him and get on with his career in the law. Yet he was obliged to wear his medals in court; and those of his older colleagues who had sworn the oath of allegiance to Pétain, thus certainly compromising their chances of a decoration, cast sour glances at this young blanc bec who had already earned the Légion d’Honneur and the Médaille de la Résistance.
Gaullists often found themselves in a curious position on encountering old friends who had supported Marshal Pétain. More often than not, the Pétainist turned abruptly away in a mixture of embarrassment and shame, or even ran off down the street. Many, on the other hand, remained unrepentant. Those whose sympathies lingered with the white cockade of the Bourbons and despised ‘the slut Marianne’ of the Republic showed once again that they had learned little and forgotten little. Comte Jean-Louis de Rougemont, who had served with great bravery in the Resistance, returned to his old regiment after the Liberation ‘expecting to be treated as something of a hero’, but the reception he received was worse than chilly. The wives of fellow officers avoided him ‘like a leper’, regarding him as no better than a Communist fellow-traveller.
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949 by Antony Beevor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes