Fear, French WWI Novel Regains Popularity

The French novel Fear, written during the First World War, has recently grown somewhat in popularity due to the resurgence of many war-era writings. This book provides a rare glimpse into the literary world of the time, although it was not necessarily at the height of popularity when it was first released. Now, scholars are reexamining the novel Fear to see what it may have to offer the modern world.

Gabriel Chevallier wrote his book slightly over ten years after the First World War ended, but the struggle still felt like a recent part of the era to many people. That made his book difficult to stomach for many people. Chevallier had been badly injured during the conflict, and when he released the novel Fear in 1930, a good portion of the text hit too close to home for many people. As a result, it did not last long on the shelves. The author agreed to take his book out of the public’s consciousness due to sensibilities over its graphic nature. The story of a French infantryman, the story was simply too realistic for many to consider it enjoyable fiction.

Today, that realism is a little more appreciated. Since today’s generations are far removed from the fighting, many are curious to read an account which depicts the war through the eyes of an author who lived it. The novel Fear has therefore come into the hands of a fair number of scholars interested in learning more about the war through a fictional, yet very real, perspective. Furthermore, it has recently been released in America for the first time ever, the New Republic reports.

The main character of the story is only a teenager at the time he joins the fighting in WWI. Chevallier was something of a satirist, and it shows in his depiction of the young and brash-witted Jean Dartemont. Throughout the novel, Fear portrays Dartemont as an honest, yet occasionally confused, young man. The imagery is striking, depicting men who have lost body parts in horrific ways. While there is a sense of almost tongue-in-cheek satire pervading the text, there is no doubt that the horrors of war are duly accounted for in Chevallier’s writing.

The novel Fear may not have gained popularity in its time, but it is as relevant as any story of its kind for those who live in a world in which a war is generally always happening. When Chevallier agreed to have his book taken off the shelves, it is unlikely that he ever could have expected its resurgence nearly ninety years later. While it is not strictly nonfiction, the novel Fear stands a chance of educating people as to both the tragedies on the battlefield as well as the mindset of men like Chevallier during a troubled time.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE