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Dictionnaire testimonial et mémoriel


Écrivain combattant
Nicolas Beaupré
Traduction de Sarah Voke
p. 191
Cet article est une traduction de :
Écrivain combattant [fr]

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1In most countries at war in 1914-1918, a phenomenon quickly appeared: soldier literature. Depending on the country, its writers were called écrivains combattants (France and Belgium), Frontdichter (Germany) or soldier-poet (United Kingdom). These names refer to writers who, having experienced the front, managed to weave this into literary works and organized themselves to form together an Association of Soldier-poets under the aegis of José Germain.

2This cultural phenomenon developed due to the mobilization or voluntary engagement of intellectuals in the conflict. Many writers thus found themselves in the armed forces. Few chose to remain silent about an experience that was often felt as paroxysmal. The books they published seemed in this way marked with the stamp of authenticity. Even censored, they responded to the expectations of the public that found in these works an image of the war that was more realistic than in the news reports, often assimilated to “brainwashing”. Supported by critics, editors and literary awards, writers who became soldiers, such as Henri Barbusse, were quickly joined by younger authors, soldiers who became writers. Maurice Genevoix or Ernst Jünger, among others, discovered their vocation in the trenches.

3Poetry, journal writing and war narratives were the most widely practiced genres with differences between countries, namely because of literary traditions. War poetry was therefore more present in Germany and in the United Kingdom than it was in France, even if it was not absent altogether. After the conflict, the form of the novel drew more and more heavily on the experience of the war. Indeed, if the publishing phenomenon declined after 1918, there was a notable revival at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s with the publication of war novels gaining considerable success. In Germany alone, 1.2 million copies were sold of All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque, and the book was translated into more than fifty languages.

4The texts of the Soldier-poets stirred lively debates relating to their status. There were namely the debates that surrounded the publication of the first critical study of the French corpus, Témoins (1929), by Jean Norton Cru, a literature historian and himself a former soldier. According to him, the testimonial function of these texts took precedence over all other functions and it was only in this light that he judged with great severity books on war, paying little attention to the very intentions of the authors. Some of them, namely Roland Dorgelès, retorted sharply, by stressing the literary dimension of their work, which was considered as just as fundamental as a testimony.

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Beaupré, Nicolas, Ecrits de la guerre 1914-1918, Paris: CNRS Editions, 2006/2013.

Campa, Laurence, Poètes de la Grande Guerre: expérience combattante et activité poétique, Paris: Garnier, 2010.

Schoentjes, Pierre, Fictions de la Grande Guerre, Paris: Garnier, 2009.

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Référence papier

Nicolas Beaupré, « Soldier-poet »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire, 118 | 2014, 191.

Référence électronique

Nicolas Beaupré, « Soldier-poet »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire [En ligne], 118 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2015, consulté le 20 avril 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Nicolas Beaupré

University Blaise Pascal – CHEC Clermont-Ferrand, IUF.

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