France to honour WWI writer Genevoix in Pantheon of heroes

Raphaëlle PICARD, Stuart WILLIAMS
·3-min read
Maurice Genevoix Genevoix participated in the battle of the Marne and the march on Verdun

France to honour WWI writer Genevoix in Pantheon of heroes

Maurice Genevoix Genevoix participated in the battle of the Marne and the march on Verdun

France will on Wednesday move the remains of World War I writer Maurice Genevoix into its Pantheon of national heroes in Paris, an honour championed by President Emmanuel Macron to encourage remembrance of the conflict.

Genevoix wrote five memoirs of his time as a frontline soldier experiencing the horrors of trench warfare in the conflict, which he later collected into a single book "Ceux de 14" ("Men of 14").

The work is considered by many to be the single greatest literary work to have emerged in French from the 1914-18 war, with its raw insight into the experience of battle drawing comparisons with "Storm of Steel" by German writer Ernst Juenger or the English poetry of Wilfred Owen.

The Pantheon is a secular temple to France's literary luminaries such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Dumas, Hugo and Malraux as well as other great figures from culture, science and politics.

The remains of 70 men are housed under the great dome of the neo-classical building but -- controversially for some -- only five women have been given the honour.

- Resting in peace? -

Only the president can decide on moving personalities to the Pantheon, and Macron has used this authority just once before, in 2018, to give Simone Veil, a former French minister who survived the Holocaust, the honour of a final resting place there.

While the final choice rests with the president, the move can always be vetoed by descendants, as happened when the family of Albert Camus thwarted a bid in 2009 by then president Nicolas Sarkozy to move his remains to the Pantheon.

There is also sometimes controversy, and a campaign that has divided French cultural commentators is in progress to give poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine -- known for their stormy gay relationship as well as impassioned verse -- a final resting place in the Pantheon.

Macron will preside over Wednesday's ceremony, which is taking place on the November 11 Armistice Day that remembers the dead in the world wars.

Marking 102 years since the end of World War I, an installation by French composer Pascal Dusapin and German artist Anselm Kiefer commissioned by the Elysee will be put in the Pantheon.

- 'Never drop our guard' -

The moving of Genevoix's remains had initially been scheduled for last year but was delayed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the burial of the unknown soldiers in the Arc de Triomphe.

"Genevoix was the voice of memory. Through him, the voice of the 'Men of 14' never ceases to urge us not to drop our guard and to preserve our vigilance when the worst reappears again," Macron said when he announced the move.

Genevoix participated in the battle of the Marne and the march on Verdun. Promoted to lieutenant, he saw the daily life of the infantryman -- the mud, the blood, the storms of steel, what he called all this "insane farce".

Genevoix, then 24, was badly wounded in April 1915 and hospitalised for seven months, and began to write from notes made in the trenches, with his first memoir published as war still raged in 1916.

He wrote five memoirs, which he then united into "Men of 14" in 1949.

"What we did was more than could be asked of men and we did it," he writes in the work.

In later life he wrote novels and also became a champion of ecological causes. He died aged 89 in 1980.

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