The Twilight of France, 1933-1940

The Twilight of France, 1933-1940

The Twilight of France, 1933-1940

The Twilight of France, 1933-1940

Excerpt

Among the disasters of the London Blitz was the destruction of so many millions of books, and among the valuable records of our age thus destroyed were the stocks of The Destiny of France and France and Munich. These books are now permanently out of print, so that the most valuable contemporary record of the last years of the parliamentary republic in France is not available at a time when, for the present conduct of the war and the preparation for the peace, it is most important that the British and American publics should be well informed on French matters. It seemed well worth while, then, to make of these two books (with the epilogue of The Last Days of Paris) an omnibus volume, and in the absence of Mr. Werth in Russia it fell to me to cut down, with a reluctant but necessary ruthlessness, this detailed record of the most critical and depressing years in modern French history. The extraordinary journalistic flair of the Paris Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian is best seen from the importance he already attached, in 1934 and 1935, to men like Déat, Brinon, Doriot, Abetz and others who, at that time, seemed of little consequence, but were to become leading villains in 1940.

I have called this period the 'most critical and depressing' in modern French history. Not the most tragic, that period began on May 10, 1940. But it was in the years that preceded 1940 that the preparations for the tragedy were completed. Marx said of Louis Napoleon's coup d'état that history repeats itself, 'first as tragedy, then as farce.' It is one of history's favotirite jokes to invert Marxian prophecy and it has done so here. For much of what Mr. Werth has to tell is, taken apart from its consequences, farcical. The characters are farcical, the solutions of the situation have the temporarily final character of a good farce. Then the curtain goes up again and the actors resume their buffoonery. But this farce was being played on a great stage and involved great issues. The tragedy followed the farce when the stage was suddenly invaded by characters out of Wagner, and the characters out of Sacha Guitry suddenly found themselves at a loss.

This is primarily a political chronicle, a first-class political chronicle. The political life of a nation does not often illustrate its virtues and achievements at their best. Even those philosophers who have thought politics the highest art practised by man have not underestimated the difficulties, moral and material, that stand in the way of its good practice. And in the France of the last twenty years the difference between the . . .

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