Home > Uncategorized > Edmond de Goncourt: Scenes of siege amid the horrors of war

Edmond de Goncourt: Scenes of siege amid the horrors of war

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

French writers on war and peace

Edmond de Goncourt: Despite civilization, brute force asserts itself as in the time of Attila

Edmond de Goncourt: Even more horrible than the wounds of battle

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Edmond de Goncourt
Journal
Translated by George J. Becker

1870

I am not ill, but my body wants neither to walk nor to act; it finds all movement repugnant and would like to achieve the immobility of a fakir. At the same time, in the pit of my stomach I constantly have that nervous feeling of emptiness brought on by great emotion, made more intense by my intense anxiety over the great war which is to break out.

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I am sad, battered, crushed; yet I eat, I am distracted by the war. Then I wonder if a mother’s grief would not be greater than mine, and such a thought hurts me.

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A young man whom I met at a spa sits next to me at dinner. He hails a man going by: “How many rifles have you left?” “About 30,000. But I’m afraid the government will take them back.”

And my acquaintance tells me that the man with the rifles is a genius of sorts, a foresighted fellow who has made six million in deals that nobody else would ever think of. He bought 600,000 reject rifles out of hand at seven francs apiece and is reselling them in the Congo, to the King of Dahomey, at about 100 francs apiece. He is also making money from ivory and gold dust which he gets in payment. He is involved in a series of extraordinary deals, always on this scale; one day he sends 100,000 English water closets to China; another day he buys all the torn-down houses in Versailles.

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At the Auteuil station a bourgeois tells me that his son, a stout fellow of twenty, has not been able to stop trembling and weeping since he helped carry some of the wounded.

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Inside the shop a man is laying out bandages on a little table; at the foot of the bed women are making lint. The man, the women, the empty beds waiting for amputation and death, this stiff rehearsal of the dreadful things that are going to take place tomorrow, all this is more impressive than if there were wounded men in the beds.

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Constant pushing open of café doors. An incessant din of laughing conversation. The carefree life of the capital still going on in the company with the horror of war on its doorstep.

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In the streets you run onto old streetwalkers with red crosses on their left breasts, fat fancy women too old for their trade, who rejoice at the prospect of caressing the wounded with sensual hands and picking up a little love among the amputations.

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