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Jules Romains: Living under the curse of war since childhood


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

Jules Romains: Selections on war


Jules Romain
From Men of Good Will
The Sixth of October

Translated by Warre B. Wells

War. Since his childhood Jerphanion had lived under the curse of war. When he was six years old, what had they taught him in his village school? The metric system; but also about Alsace-Lorraine and Reichsoffen. Very soon after he knew who the Devil was, he had learned the name of Bismarck. Among his schoolfellows, Prusco was still a terrible insult. The covers of his school copy-book showed him MacMahon, Chanzy, Faidherbe. From the time when he was capable of thinking, he had smelt, emanating from those coloured pages, together with the odour of paper, the odour of bitterness, of defeat. Under the picture of a cavalryman in a two-horned hat, a note vaunted a little local victory: Coulmiers, Bapaume. Even a six-year-old child notices what is sour and lamentable in such consolations.

When he raised his nose from his desk, it was to gaze at the map of France, whose yellow or green would have looked so cheerful but for that wide violet-grey blot stuck up against the escarpment of the Vosges. It was as though you could see, flitting about the class-room like a couple of bats, the twofold black head-dress of the lost provinces.

The child of the Velay dare not enjoy the air of his own mountains. His reading-book told him stories of sharpshooters, of the siege of Paris, of bayonet charges. His recitation lesson made him learn Déroulède’s Clairon, pages from L’Année terrible.

Jerphanion could still see those conical caps, those long beards, all that crowd, at once military and suburban; all that Second Empire ending in dirtiness and disorder, which the pictures in his schoolbooks helped him to evoke and which he found even on the dessert plates at family dinner-parties. For, when they filled the glasses with liqueurs, when the grown-ups started talking all at once and in loud voices, the child, if he moved aside his little cake, might disclose the battle of Champigny, a bivouac of the Army of the East, Gambetta in the car of his balloon. And, when play-time came, there was always some old dotard, wearing an Imperial beard, to tap you on the cheek and say: “You, young man – you’ll belong to the generation of the revenge.”

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