15 APRIL 1943, Page 16


Mr. Guedalla and France

The Two Marshals. By Philip Guedalla. (Hodder and Stoughton. tos. 6d.) MR. GIJEDALLA'S choice of subject, Marshals Bazaine and Petain, is indicative of his present vision of France. Not contented with the sole appearance in his dock of one wherin he introduces as a symbol of defeatism, narriFly, Petain, he brings to the rescue Marshal Bazaine, that melancholy figure of the Second Empire, to use him as a precedent so that the case against French defeatism might assume truly historic proportions. Mr. Guedalla, to be sure, exonerates Bazaine himself from most charges, but he explicitly does it at the expense of the whole French people. For he notes in his summing-up of both cases, "Bazaine was his country's scape- goat. His country was Petain's." Will, then, the scapegoat France be rehabilitated by Mr. Guedalla in the same way as the scapegoat Bazaine has been vindicated by him? Such, clearly, is not the author's purpose. When France is the scapegoat no case is made - for her. On the contrary, "The French people," writes Mr. Guedalla, " responded to the strange autocracy (Petain's) with some- thing more than dull acquiescence." This remark follows a scathing picture of the French soldiers at war. Nor is it redeemed by the slightest reference to the subsequent resistance of the people to Germany, which has cost France so far a few thousand killed and many more deaths in German gaols. It is furthermore one of Mr. Guedalla's many inconsistencies that he justifies Bazaine's conduct in 1870 by arguments which he later uses in a similar manner to close his case against Petain. The general impression conveyed by the book is that whilst Bazaine was, if anything, too good for the French of 187o, Petain was good enough for those of 194o. Behind both, France is the target.

The author, of course, is perfectly entitled to choose as subject matter those events best calculated to substantiate an indictment of France. But then Mr. Guedalla's dedication of his book to "all the glories of France," his quotation from Renan's profession of faith in her, and his mention of Wellington's tribute to the French soldiers are all very misleading, unless they amount to heavy-handed taunts. For they show him in the light of a friend of France, and on the strength of it the reader will construe his study as an under- statement of that country's faults (or at least fair comment on them), while it represents in fact a deliberate case made by counsel for the prosecution. Indeed, in his evocation of a hundred and thirty years of history, Mr. Guedalla heavily loads the dice against France. He runs down the French stream on a few selected footholds, each of which is either a defeat, a scandal, a desertion (Mr. Guedalla has raked off the most minute and irrelevant instances of desertion), or an unsavoury incident When confronted with embarrassing examples of victories he somehow manages to give them an acci- dental character or to deride them. Caught in a whirlwind of low- brained generals, incompetent rulers and shady politicians, one wonders how France has survived that cascade of farcical leaders. Nor is the question answered by the usual academic eulogy of the " common man's soundness." In the 1870 war no reference is made to the conduct of those French conscripts who won tributes from their very foes, and the fact that an army of citizens fought south of the Loire for honour's sake when all hope had been given up is barely alluded to, and dismissed with a sneer at Gembetta. The 1914-18 War is treated in the same vein. The author dwells with relish on a few French shortcomings, while shining episodes and striking prod of the nation's sturdiness are discreetly passed over. Between 1870 and 1914 the colonial conquest vaguely appears like a lucky accident in a sordid background. Earlier on Louis- Philippe has been likened to " Joseph Prud'homme," and the wisdom of his foreign policy discarded with a few bons mots. A brief reference to the seventeenth century suggests that Mr. Guedalla's assessment of previous " French Glories " is no higher.

Such a persistent bias might be attributed to the fact that the author only selected those details which were relevant to his ques- tionable subject (although the book implicitly claims historical scope) were it not that irrelevant incidents do appear when they have some unsavoury flavour (for instance, the Doineau trial or Mme. Bazaine's misconduct. which does not even throw light on her husband's feelings.)

Guedalla's repute pack the whole story of a country's defeat ordeal into the last 34 pages, which offer no more than a ne paper columnist's version of events, coupled with unsubstantiat assertions? If the subject be his characters, one would have wish him to pause at times and look at his models with something the care of a painter.

But Mr. Guedalla's characters move in a world for which shows no sympathy (his knowledge itself is even occasionally doub\, as when he confuses rank.s in the French Army, Fren provinces and genders of French nouns). While his puppets alert they belong to the realm of caricature rather than po His many " authorities " have supplied him with affidavits, but th could not provide the local colour and human depth which are reward of love's labour. And his world thus never becomes thr dimensional. That lack of a human stimulus is underlined by habit of watching human tragedies with the amused detachment a naturalist peeping into an ant-hill to observe the insects' pe feuds. (Cf., " the melancholy incapacity of Spaniards to sett) major issues without killing other Spaniards . . . where I spirited communities resort to the unmanly expedient of an election, a remark later adapted to the French.) That mode of writ evinces an insularity which Britons of older stock have mostly giv up as a Palmerstonian literary fashion.

The book is otherwise lively, especially where it recounts th genesis and early stages of the 1870 War, and will prove hannle entertainment to those whose historical culture is equal to satin less disheartening versions of " the Glories of France " against Mr