Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Telling Tales

 | 
David Blamires

21. The Franco-Prussian War

Texte intégral

1During the last three decades of the nineteenth century the number of new German children’s books that were translated into English declined, although earlier books continued to be reissued. Germany did not cease to be of interest, but the interest was expressed in different ways. What I want to discuss in this chapter is the way in which British writers dealt with contemporary Germany through novels centred on the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). This may seem an unlikely subject for British children’s books, since Britain was not directly involved in the war. But there are at least ten books written between 1871 and 1910 that present aspects of the war in fictionalized form. Their authors include four of the foremost children’s writers of the day – Hesba Stretton, G. A. Henty, Evelyn Everett-Green and F. S. Brereton. Two of the books were written as immediate responses to the war, while a third followed a mere four years later. The remaining books appeared at longer intervals. In chronological order the authors and titles are as follows:

Hesba Stretton, Max Krömer. A Story of the Siege of Strasbourg (London: The Religious Tract Society, [1871])
G. A. Henty, The Young Franc-Tireurs and their Adventures in the Franco-Prussian War (London: Griffith & Farran, 1872)
Annie Lucas, Léonie; or, Light out of Darkness: and Within Iron Walls: a Tale of the Siege of Paris. Twin-Stories of the Franco-German War (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1875)
Lillias Lobenhoffer, Fritz of the Tower. A Tale of the Franco-German War (London and Edinburgh: The Religious Tract Society, [1887])
M. E. Clements, Eagle and Dove. A Tale of the Franco-Prussian War (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1889)
G. A. Henty, A Woman of the Commune. A Tale of the Two Sieges of Paris (London: F. V. White & Co., 1895). This novel was also published with the titles A Girl of the Commune; Two Sieges of Paris; Two Sieges; and Cuthbert Hartington; of which the last seems the most appropriate.
Herbert Hayens, Paris at Bay (London and Glasgow: Blackie & Son, [1897])
Evelyn Everett-Green, The Castle of the White Flag. A Tale of the Franco-German War (London, Edinburgh and New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1904)
Evelyn Everett-Green, Ringed by Fire (London, Edinburgh and New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, [1904])
F. S. Brereton, A Hero of Sedan. A Tale of the Franco-Prussian War (London, Glasgow, Dublin, Bombay: Blackie & Son, 1910)

2Several of these books were reprinted a few years after the first editions, so the historical context remained significant right into the Edwardian period. The books vary considerably in their target readership, which ranges from pre-pubertal children of both sexes to adolescent boys, adolescent girls and young adults. They also cover different phases and locations of the war and are narrated from a variety of standpoints. But while each of them tries to be faithful to the facts and experience of the war, each has its own sub-text and moral agenda.

3The first of the books to appear was Max Krömer, so titled after its eponymous narrator, a fourteen year old boy of mixed English and French parentage. This device of having one or more leading characters with a partly or wholly English background is used in all the books except Annie Lucas’s Léonie. It provides a means whereby the young reader is drawn into identifying with the events in the stories, and it also gives an international context to the narrative. When Max Krömer appeared in 1871, Hesba Stretton (1832-1911) was at the peak of her career as a writer of Evangelical stories for children. Her first story had been published by Dickens in Household Words in 1859, but her name will always be connected with two enormously successful books – Jessica’s First Prayer (1867) and Little Meg’s Children (1868). Hesba Stretton (whose real name was Sarah Smith) had lived in northern France with her sister Lizzie, so she had some personal experience of French life on which to build. But Max Krömer, as she indicates in her preface to the book, owes its origin to something more specific. She explains how, on returning home from Switzerland, she had seen distraught fugitives and children in Basle, Karlsruhe and Mannheim and that in writing her story she was ’softening down, rather than heightening, the horrors of the siege of Strasbourg’ (p. 6). Clearly, she was writing under the immediate impact of the war upon herself.

4The story-line is simple. Max and his ten-year-old sister Sylvie are living with their paternal grandmother in Strasbourg while their French father is with a party of explorers in central Africa. Their English mother had died two years previously. Part of the house is occupied by a young mother, Lisbeth, and her five-year-old daughter Elsie, who is knitting a birthday present for the Christ Child. When hostilities break out and refugees flood into Strasbourg, Max brings a little girl called Louise to shelter in their house. They also have Sergeant Klein and three soldiers billeted on them.

5As bombardments continue, their house is struck and they have to retreat to the cellar. A sick elderly man in their building dies of shock. The refugee girl Louise is killed while at school. They learn of the siege of Metz and the fall of Sedan. Lisbeth, having lost her home, entrusts Elsie to Max’s care and goes to nurse the wounded. A school friend of Max’s finds a way of getting Sylvie, now ill, out of the city into safety. Sergeant Klein is killed. When Strasbourg eventually capitulates, Dr Krömer reappears and settles them in new lodgings. Sylvie is found in Basle. Little Elsie completes her knitted vest, which Dr Krömer insists on keeping as a memento of this six-week siege of Strasbourg. Finally, the family, together with the reunited Lisbeth and Elsie, move to London.

6In common with so many children’s books the parent generation is wholly absent from the narrative’s main events, so the action is seen through the eyes of the children. From the innocence and spontaneity of childhood they are exposed to physical danger, material deprivation, conflict and violence between boys desperate for food, the deaths of neighbours and friends. They learn at first hand the horrors of war and the fact that there is no glory in it. Only little Elsie remains untouched in her unspoilt goodness of heart.

7The war is viewed through the eyes of a young teenage boy and the other children around him, so its political dimensions are barely in evidence. At the outset of the action Max explains:

Here were we, French citizens, with a French garrison and a French governor; when only a mile or so away was Germany. We spoke German too, and we had dear friends who were in the habit of coming to visit the people of Strasbourg, and whom they visited in return. There was not any enmity between us, any more than there is between the English and the Scotch, who live close and good neighbours on the borders, with only a line on the map to separate them. That was how we were living together up to the middle of July last year. I suppose the Emperor and the King and their statesmen knew that there was mischief brewing; but none of their townspeople knew (p. 14).

8Max’s initial response to the Emperor’s declaration of war is to say to Lisbeth, ’”War brings glory!”’ She has been weeping at the thought of her German friends suffering from a French invasion and says to Max:

’I should like to know why the Emperor and the King could not go to law about their quarrels, as they make us poor folks do. They will not let us settle our disputes by fighting; and I ask you, Max, which is the worse – for two men to fight, or two hundred thousand?’ (p. 19).

9Max exults at the German blowing up of the Rhine bridge at Kehl, shouting, ’”the Germans know we shall conquer”’, and of course the French expectation at that time is that the French will advance to Berlin.

10Hesba Stretton’s story is strongly coloured by Christian themes. Max, for example, regards Christ as ’both my Brother and my Captain’, and when he takes home the abandoned child Louise, it is because he asks himself: ’What else would the Lord have done, if he had been a boy in Strasbourg?’ (p. 44). Another telling incident centres on Max’s intervention in a struggle between two hungry boys over a half-rotten turnip. Max protects the smaller one, but on realizing that the other boy, too, is starving, he takes him to the baker’s and gives him a little loaf. The Krömers’ maid upbraids Max for his action. Towards the end of the book, when the populace is attempting to surrender, Max sees a picture of Christ on the cross, still hanging in the ruins of their old house, and feels that Christ is being crucified afresh in Strasbourg.

11Stretton aims to evoke compassion through the graphic depiction of the realities of ordinary people’s lives. She shows how food becomes scarce and prices rise, how hunger forces people into violence. The destructiveness of the war affects the family’s own home. They encounter at first hand the death of their elderly neighbour, while that of little Louise, to whom they have given refuge, is reported to them rather than directly experienced. Stretton is skilful at making the results of the war real to her child readership.

12The wider context of the war is only given in broad outline. The French victory at Saarbruck is mentioned, only to be followed immediately with General MacMahon’s retreat to Saverne. From the attic of the Krömers’ house the German camp can easily be seen:

It was not till the 17th of August, nearly three weeks after the siege was proclaimed, that the enemy’s circle was completed, and we were fairly shut in. Now there could be no more coming in or going out of Strasbourg until Marshal Bazaine came to our aid, or General Uhrich and his brave garrison drove the invaders back to their own side of the Rhine. The worst of it was that they were the Baden troops that surrounded us; the people who had been our friends and neighbours for many a quiet year. Even now we did not feel any hatred towards them; everybody said they were only doing what the Emperor and his army had intended to do to them. We could scarcely believe it was all true (p. 47).

32. Title-page and frontispiece of Max Krömer. A Story of the Siege of Strasbourg [1871].

13On 21 August they experience the first shell. The cathedral becomes a place of refuge, dear also to Protestants (the Krömers have to be Protestants for the English readers and the Evangelical author). Later in the story their hopes of relief are shattered when they hear that Marshal Bazaine is ’shut up in Metz and cannot get out’. Worse still is what they think must be a Prussian boast: ’They say the Emperor and General MacMahon have been beaten at Sedan and given themselves up; them and all the army, and gone prisoners into Germany, while the Prussians are marching on to Paris’ (p. 114).

14General Uhrich is reluctant to raise the white flag and surrender, but the people weep with mingled joy and sorrow when it happens. The German response is swift:

The Germans entered Strasbourg the next morning, bringing with them wagon-loads of provisions, which had been prepared in readiness against the surrender of the city. You should have seen the crowds of all sorts of people thronging round the wagons, with glistening eyes, eager to snatch away the first thing put into their hands. Our old friends across the Rhine had not forgotten us, nor had they turned into enemies. The soldiers themselves, who had been doing all they could to destroy us, were now ready to share what they had with us. The suddenness of the change was almost more than we could bear ... (pp. 132-33).

15The book ends with the symbol of Elsie’s knitted vest for the Christ Child being interpreted in relation to the alabaster box of ointment poured on Jesus’s head, so it is kept as a remembrance rather than given away.

16Hesba Stretton’s book is carefully structured, despite having little that can really be called a plot. Its strongest message is concerned with the brotherhood of man and Christ’s suffering presence as a brother among those who suffer. Above all, the book is a call to the emotions with many incidents calculated to move the reader to tears. As it focusses almost exclusively on the French civilian population, very little is said about the Germans. Until the very end, when they bring provisions into the defeated Strasbourg, they are an impersonal military force and more or less off-stage, though their bombs and military might wreak havoc on the city and its inhabitants.

17Hot on the heels of Max Krömer came a very different sort of book by an exact contemporary, George Arthur Henty (1832-1902). The Young Franc-Tireurs was only Henty’s second book for boys, following Out on the Pampas, published in 1871, but written in 1868. Like Hesba Stretton, Henty was writing here from personal experience. After serving in the army for some years and experiencing the Crimean War, he had eventually turned to journalism and was correspondent for the Standard during the Franco-Prussian War and the period of the Paris Commune. He was always concerned about the authenticity of the historical events in his stories. In the preface to The Young Franc-Tireurs he declares: ’Many of the occurrences in this tale are related almost in the words in which they were described to me by those who took part in them, and nearly every fact and circumstance actually occurred according to my own knowledge’. A few lines before this he had also stated: ’The names, places, and dates have been changed, but circumstances and incidents are true’. Even in this early book Henty had an unerring way of weaving an exciting adventure story involving teenage boys into the broader context of important historical events. In this instance it was contemporary history.

18The geographical setting of Henty’s novel is wider than Stretton’s. It begins in Dijon and moves then to the Vosges; there is an episode in Mainz and along the Rhine, followed by a long trek to Tours, an adventure mission to Paris, return to Tours, a cross-country escape back to Dijon, with a final attack on the Germans, after which the boy heroes learn of the general defeat of the French. While Stretton deals with the war in terms of its victims, Henty, the military man, depicts it as a set of adventures, full of daring and danger, in which two English boys join the volunteers known as franc-tireurs and engage in a variety of glorious exploits.

19The boys are, of course, idealized and come from a moderately privileged background. Ralph and Percy Barclay, nearly sixteen and fifteen years old respectively, are the sons of Captain Barclay, wounded in one of the Indian wars, and his French wife. Now living in France, they have been two years each at school in England and Germany, so they are fluent in three languages. The family lives comfortably on Captain Barclay’s half-pay, a small private income and his wife’s little fortune. The boys have two cousins, Louis and Philippe Duburg (an oddly spelt surname – Dubourg would be more plausible), who play a minor role in the story. The fact that Philippe is wounded in a desperate fight near Mutzig and returns to Dijon with Louis effectively demonstrates that the English are always better than anyone else. This superiority is further shown when, in the initial excitement of joining the franc-tireurs in Dijon, the boys rescue an Irishman, Tim Doyle, from the crowd’s suspicion that he is a spy. Thereafter he becomes the boys’ comic servant, and yet another stereotype is hammered into place. The figure of the comic Irishman coalesces with that of the despised, ridiculous Jew when Tim objects to being disguised as ’a haythin Jew’ in order to escape from German captivity. His reaction provokes ’screams of laughter’ from Ralph and Percy. The disguise is not adopted on this occasion, but when the two boys later undertake a spying expedition through the German lines into Paris on behalf of General Gambetta, it is as stereotypical Jewish traders that they disguise themselves:

’We intend to go as German Jews’, Ralph said. ’The Prussians strip all the clocks, pictures, and furniture of any value from the villas they occupy, and send them back to Germany. There are a number of Jews who follow the army, and either buy these stolen goods from them, or undertake to convey them back to Germany at a certain price... .’

20Henty is not one for subtlety in his portrayal of character, which in any case is rarely sought for in adventure stories. His moral values are military, conservative and born of an unquestioned conviction of English superiority.

21Henty, like Hesba Stretton, tells his story from the French viewpoint, but this does not mean that he glorifies the French. When the Barclay boys go to visit a party of franc-tireurs after Ralph has been wounded and General Cambriels has retreated to Besançon, they are worried at the franc-tireurs’ lack of discipline, and rightly so, as they are then surprised by Prussians and taken prisoner. The French lack of discipline and organization is a recurring theme in novels about the war. An incident of treachery is given a very high profile. When, on their first spying mission, the Barclay brothers accidentally learn that the French schoolmaster in Grunsdorf has betrayed the franc-tireurs to the Prussians, the eventual result is that the franc-tireurs return to the village, capture the schoolmaster and hang him. There is, however, no such sense of outrage when the boys are helped to escape from the lodgings to which they have been paroled in Mayence (Mainz) by the daughter of the house.

22As a military man, Henty can admire the Germans’ organization, but he provides at least two episodes in which they are shown in a bad light. One day Ralph encounters an old peasant taking vengeance, who explains:

I had a nice farm near Metz; I lived there with my wife and daughter, and my three boys. Someone fired at the Prussians from a wood near. No one was hit, but that made no difference. The black-hearted scoundrels came to my farm, shot my three boys before their mother’s eyes, ill-treated her so that she died next day, and when I returned – for I was away at the time – I found a heap of ashes where my house had stood, the dead bodies of my three boys, my wife dying, and my daughter sitting by, screaming with laughter, mad – quite mad! I took her away to a friend’s house, and stayed with her till she died too, a fortnight after; then I bought this gun and some powder and lead with my last money, and went out to kill Prussians. I have killed thirteen already, and, please God’, and the peasant lifted his hat devoutly, ’I will kill two more to-day’.

23In another, slightly later episode Henty describes how a brutal Prussian major forces one of his young lieutenants to shoot some franc-tireurs and peasants in cold blood. After considerable argument the lieutenant finally obeys, declaring he has done his duty, but then blows his own brains out.

24The Young Franc-Tireurs was frequently reprinted by a variety of publishers. Despite many implausibilities in the boys’ adventures, Henty’s careful embedding of the story in the broad sweep of the war, with due attention to geography and the names of leading French generals, commands a certain respect. It is clear all the same that Henty’s underlying purpose in this, as in all his books, was the presentation of models of courage, decency and honourable conduct for English boys to follow.

25With Annie Lucas’s Léonie. A Tale of the Franco-German War and of the Siege of Paris (1875) we encounter yet another way of looking at the war. It has links with Max Krömer in that it is full of Evangelical piety, but in structure it presents two strangely connected love-stories, told in a rather long-winded fashion. The first part of the novel, entitled ’Light out of Darkness’, is set near Belfort in the south of Alsace and narrated in the first person by its heroine, Léonie. The second part, called ’Within Iron Walls’, provides another first-person narrative, this time by a young woman called Renée, which is set in Paris and introduces, towards the end, characters that have first appeared in Léonie’s narrative.

26Unlike Stretton and Henty, Annie Lucas is a minor figure among nineteenth-century authors of children’s books, She wrote some seven books between 1875 and 1900, two of which, in addition to Léonie, deal with aspects of German-speaking Europe. What is interesting about Léonie is the fact that it has more of a plot than either Max Krömer or The Young Franc-Tireurs and that the characters are French and German, without any English blood to mediate the story to its readers. The main thrust of the novel, which is really a romance, is to show how the war affected two contrasting families, both part of the decayed minor aristocracy. An Evangelical Christian message is apparent from the start, and the author’s intention is clearly to demonstrate how French and German can be reconciled through a mutual devotion to Christ. It is the Protestant Evangelicalism that constitutes the unspoken English factor in the book, pointing the way to success.

27Léonie is the only child of a rationalist French father and an originally Protestant German mother, who died when she was nine. The mother had been a governess at the neighbouring castle, had fallen in love with the son of the family, but was prevented from marrying him. She had been forced to adopt the Catholic faith and eventually submitted to a loveless marriage to Léonie’s father. When war breaks out, Léonie’s father is taken ill. Noisy German soldiers are billeted on them, but in their officer in charge Léonie finds a courteous helper and protector. He turns out to be Conrad von Edelstein, the nephew of Léonie’s father’s dearest German friend, bearing the same name and closely resembling him in appearance. Conrad speaks words of Evangelical comfort to Léonie, tells her about his sister Thekla and loans her the German Bible which he has received from his mother. When he and his men depart from the castle, Léonie and Conrad, despite their opposing national backgrounds, have become friends in both an emotional and a religious sense. Conrad later returns with a new Bible for Léonie and learns that her father is listening with eager interest to what she reads from it. He eventually dies with the word ’Jesus’ on his lips. Meanwhile, Conrad is attacked and wounded in the woods near the castle, as a result of which he too dies. The two are buried side by side. French soldiers put up a last-ditch resistance, but the house is attacked and destroyed, and Léonie decides to go to Paris to care for the sick and wounded. One day she lends her Bible to a wounded soldier and in so doing discovers that Conrad was a friend of his. He turns out to be Karl Erhardt and is betrothed to Thekla. Eventually they marry, and Léonie goes to live with them in Munich, continuing to work in hospitals and supposing her ’service to [God] to be the lowly unmarked ministry of household love’.

28At this point the book turns to a second, contrasting first-person narrative that tells the fortunes of a large family from Brittany whose father died in the Mexican War of 1862. Their mother is ill from April 1870 onwards, dying on 18 December and in some measure symbolizing France. There are five children – Renée, who tells the story in retrospect, Léon, Augustine (oddly given the English form of his name rather than the French Augustin), Victor and Arnaud. In addition there is an orphan distantly related to the family – Nina, to whom Léon is secretly devoted, but who appears unconcerned about him. Léon articulates the commonplace view that France is unprepared for war and that the Germans are better organized. From the battle-front he sends news of the death of his friend, Henri de l’Orme, and mentions words of comfort given by a German officer, who, it later turns out, must have been Conrad von Edelstein. It is at first assumed that Léon has perished in the desperate struggle at Sedan, but he turns up at the end of the book, being looked after by Léonie St. Hilaire, and eventually marries Nina at a simple Protestant wedding.

29Augustine is originally destined for the priesthood, but after a period of agnostic disenchantment becomes a ’Christian’. Victor is first wounded and then killed on the battlefield, where he is found by Augustine. As Hesba Stretton had used the figure of the child Elsie to symbolize innocence and hope, so Annie Lucas invents a little English girl who is attempting to care for her sick mother during the siege of Paris. Her name, Lilian, evokes the purity of the lily, and when her mother dies, she says ’she is with Jesus’. Lilian is taken into the French family, where her simple faith in Jesus converts Nina from despair and Augustine from agnosticism. Peace is signed on 1 March 1871, and in due course the old family estate near Rennes is restored to the family and Léon and Nina move there.

30It would be easy to criticize Annie Lucas for her tear-jerking scenes and her facile use of coincidence, but her story is not meant primarily as a realistic account of the war, but as a paradigm of life and death as interpreted by Evangelical Christianity. It is particularly interesting that the leading German characters, being good Evangelicals, are heavily idealized: Conrad’s surname, Edelstein, ’jewel, precious stone’, is typical of the symbolism of names. His sister Thekla gets her name from one of the most famous first-century saints, the first woman martyr, who according to legend came from a noble family. The French, on the other hand, are either misguided Roman Catholics or Deists. The events of the war and the cross-connexions between the characters are designed to demonstrate that Christian discipleship transcends and reconciles otherwise divided nations. It would therefore be otiose to look for any military or political account of the war. The most important aspect of Lucas’s book is her location of true Christianity among the Germans.

31A dozen years later a book was published that actually told a story of the Franco-Prussian War as it affected a German family. This was Fritz of the Tower (1887) by L. Lobenhoffer (the initial L concealed the name Lillias). It is the only book to focus on German experience of the war, and the detail that it provides about the Black Forest, especially the village of Maulbronn, and its use of German words lead one to surmise that the author herself was German. She certainly writes warmly and knowledgeably about many aspects of ordinary German life. The story opens with the village doctor acclaiming the patriotic enthusiasm of a group of students:

We shall have fine stirring times. Well, so much the better. It is time that Germany asserted herself. One common defensive war will settle the jealousies of all our petty states, will do away with our insane dislike for everything North German (or Prussian, as we call it), and create that national union which till now has seemed to be an impossible dream.

32The professor at the theological seminary, standing next to him, is mournful at the prospect, and in fact his two sons eagerly join up and both die in the hostilities. The doctor’s nephew, Herr Walther, reluctantly leaves his wife and child in straitened circumstances, but before he goes husband and wife place their betrothal ring in the baby’s dress. After his departure things get worse and the poverty-stricken Frau Walther is turned out of her home. She leaves Maulbronn and is found some days later in the forest by a couple of fiddlers, who think she is dead, but take the child and deposit it with a couple who guard the church tower in a nearby town. The boy is regarded as a gift of God from the childless couple, and he becomes known as Fritz of the Tower. Meanwhile, Frau Walther is rescued by a charcoal-burner, recovers, eventually learns that her husband is ill in France and goes off to nurse him. Herr Walther had been appointed field preacher (i.e. army chaplain) and knew of the horrors of Weissenburg, Wörth, Sedan and Metz before going to Paris and being wounded at Champigny. When he recovers and returns to Germany he is offered a chair at the University of Königsberg. At a later date when coincidentally visiting the town in which Fritz of the Tower has grown up, he discovers his son and can confirm his identity through the betrothal ring that he wears round his neck. Fritz rejoins his parents, but keeps an affectionate contact with his foster-parents.

33Fritz of the Tower is a book very much in the mould of C. G. Barth’s religious tales. The setting of events in the Black Forest and south-west of Germany picks up the locations in which Barth himself lived, and the whole tone of the book, its primary religious focus, its emphasis on trusting in God whatever the circumstances, its use of coincidence and a token of recognition, reflect Barth’s concerns and narrative devices. The actual fighting of the war takes place at a distance and is concisely reported as it affects the professor’s sons and Herr Walther, but the main action of the book concerns the wife and child left behind. It is a story of separation, poverty and physical deprivation, but also one in which simple human kindness and Christian faith combine to bring about a happy conclusion in the reunion of husband, wife and child. The military side of the war is a backdrop; what matters here is the effect on those left behind in Germany.

34The next book about the Franco-Prussian War to appear was Mary E. Clements’s Eagle and Dove (1889), which returns the focus to the principal area of fighting in north-east France. In many ways, this is the most informative of the children’s books about the war. Probably only about a quarter of the length of Léonie, it nonetheless manages to convey a variety of viewpoints with adequate detail about the war. It is rather like a history of part of the war presented in the form of fiction, but with not very much of a plot.

35The setting is Metz, but an English connexion is made by means of the first-person narrator, an English girl called Nellé, who has been sent by her widowed mother to complete her schooling with Madame Briey, a long-time friend, in Metz. A German girl, Rose Breimar, joins the school after Easter, and Nellé becomes her closest friend. Rose has been sent there to separate her from her lover, Max Meyer, because of their youth. The political and military progress of the war occupies plenty of attention from the declaration of war on 15 July to the surrender of Metz on 27 October. Rose’s elder brother, Ernst, comes immediately to visit; her brother Albrecht has suffered a bullet wound, while her brother Franz has been killed. Max Meyer has been heroic enough to receive the Iron Cross. Ernst shows his fondness for Nellé, but has to go with the Prussian army to Paris. On his return he and Nellé are betrothed, as Rose and Max were before them. The book ends with the two couples living only a ten-minute walk away from each other in Germany.

36Like Stretton, Lucas and Lobenhoffer, M. E. Clements was a writer of Christian stories, but in this book the Christian message is largely implicit. The character of Madame Briey’s great-uncle, Colonel Crévy, allows for a historical perspective on the decline of France from the great Napoleon to Louis Napoleon. In addition there is a Monsieur Gascon, who gives lessons in history and literature that provoke Rose’s disagreement. Emphasis is placed elsewhere on France’s unpreparedness for war. However, Metz in general and the schoolgirls are depicted initially as devoted admirers of the first Napoleon and loyal enthusiasts of Napoleon III, Metz being a garrison town and full of soldiers marching and exercising. M. Gascon explains the plebiscite called by the Emperor as an invitation to a vote of confidence in the constitutional changes made in the past ten years. The girls expect a confirmation of the Emperor, but Madame Briey has doubts which she is careful to conceal. She supposes that the people may simply want ’la tranquillité’.

37One day M. Gascon gives the girls the benefit of his views on the present condition of Prussia, seen as a provocation to France on her northern boundaries:

Prussia, puffed up with her little victories, won by some trick of improved fire-arms, or rather by the inferiority of the arms of her adversaries, dreams that by making herself dictator among the Germanic States she can erect herself into an impassable barrier on this our only open side. Shall she be permitted to do so? Shall not France, with her love of that liberty for which she herself has suffered so much, hasten to interfere on behalf of the smaller Germanic States, deliver them from the unwelcome dictatorship of the newly-aggrandized neighbour, and at the same time chastise the arrogance of this parvenu among the nations? (pp. 31-32).

38Nellé’s comments indicate that the substance and tone of this outburst were shared by most of the French press at this time. A brief account is given of the Prussian candidacy for the Spanish throne and Prince Leopold’s subsequent withdrawal. But the provocation to France was enough, and the Emperor declared war on 15 July. M. Gascon describes the German destruction of the Rhine bridge between Kehl and Strasbourg as ’an act of vandalism’. That evening Rose is too upset to go into the salon.

39Clements uses the hindsight of history to provide a fuller picture of the war than could be gained from a small group of people in one locality. The German situation and viewpoint are more sketchily dealt with than the French, but a letter to Rose from her father, written just before war is declared, talks about his students ’singing ”Die Wacht am Rhein” and cheering lustily for the Fatherland’. If Germany is invaded, writes Dr Breimar’, there is nothing our young students so much desire as to rush at once to the frontier and exchange shots with the would-be invader’. That was also the mood reported by Lobenhoffer at the beginning of Fritz of the Tower. Dr Breimar regrets the students’ attitude and comments: ’There is a season for everything – a season for valour without prudence, and a season when prudence is greater than valour; and to the latter season has come thy loving FATHER’ (p. 35). However, Germany’s state of preparedness, the mobilization of more than a million men as soldiers and the smooth operation of ’the splendid Prussian organization’ are given to the reader in a quotation from Capt. H. M. Hozier’s two-volume history, The Franco-Prussian War; its Causes, Incidents, and Consequences (1870-72). In ways like this Clements makes apparent her desire to document accurately the different aspects of the war.

40M. Gascon represents the belligerent mood of the French towards the Prussians, while Col. Crévy, the seasoned soldier, voices early the fear that the French are unready and ill-equipped. He does this at the time of initial jubilation, when there is talk of the Emperor celebrating his fête day in Berlin on 15 August. In his proclamation to the army Louis Napoleon emphasizes that the way may be ’a long and severe one’; he looks worn and does not smile. Metz is in a different mood. In M. Gascon’s report of the first French success in the taking of Saarbrück the girls hear how the young Prince Louis

had sat unmoved upon his horse while the bullets were falling at his feet; how he had picked one up to keep as a souvenir of his first battle; and old soldiers seeing him had wept with emotion as they rejoiced that another Buonaparte had arisen to lead the future armies of France to universal victory (p. 56).

41By contrast, Madame Briey is incensed:

For me, I find it somewhat undignified of his imperial majesty to seek to touch the emotions of his troops by exposing a child to danger and hardship... . Yes, it is very touching, no doubt, the enthusiasm of this Buonaparte child! It is touching; but it is not war (pp. 57-58).

42When the storm breaks and Metz hears of French defeats at Wissembourg, Woerth and Forbach, with troops and civilians in flight, anger and hatred are expressed towards all Germans. Girls cold-shoulder Rose at school, and Nellé, as Rose’s friend, finds herself included in this. However, one girl, who has lost her father at Woerth, sympathizes with Rose, wondering whether she too may now be an orphan. Many of the girls are now sent away from Metz to Belgium for safety.

43Eagle and Dove is full of circumstantial detail about the progress of the war and changing patterns of life in Metz. The advance of the Prussian infantry, the retreat of the Emperor in a third-class railway carriage from Verdun to Chalons, the appointment of Marshal Bazaine to join MacMahon, the battles at Courcelle, Vionville and Gravelotte are all noted. Metz is surrounded, besieged, and ordinary people keep asking why Marshal Bazaine has not done such and such, but no satisfactory answers are forthcoming. Madame Briey ponders whether the troops’ surrender would not result in less damage and slaughter, to which Col. Crévy, aghast, retorts that it would be dishonour and that the meanest soldier would prefer death by slow starvation. In another comment, taken from subsequent accounts, Clements reports that the Germans could have successfully bombarded Metz, provided it did not matter how many lost their lives, but that King William, shocked at the awful cost of the victories of Vionville and Gravelotte, ordered the avoidance of further sacrifice of life which, consistently with the purposes of the war, might be spared. The people of Metz are suspicious of journalists’ stories about the capitulation of Sedan, but eventually have to come to terms with it. In the beleaguered city life concentrates on the care of the wounded and the decreasing supplies of food. There are both French and Germans to tend, the French being far more demanding than the Germans; the latter ’lay still, and suffered in grim silence’ (p. 91).

44M. Gascon is outraged at the terms for surrender, and when Nellé asks why they should wait until soldiers and citizens are worn out with privations, he explodes against the English. The surrender comes nonetheless, and the Prussians refuse General Changarnier’s pleas to negotiate the terms. 27 October sees the streets of Metz full of ’impotent wrath’ as the commandant, conquered by famine, has to yield. Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia accepts the surrender of men and arms, and on 29 October, a Sunday, Metz becomes a German town.

45When Nellé first meets Rose’s brother, she tells him she is entirely French in her sympathies; she does not want to appear to sympathize with ’the enemy’. Ernst, on learning she is English, dilates on the medical assistance given by the Red-cross Association, in which many English people are employed. Nellé is interested in this as an example of the ’brotherhood of mankind that centuries ago Christ’s apostles preached, but men have not yet understood’ (p. 133). Madame Briey, now dying of an unspecified illness, is one of the few who do understand this call to brotherhood.

46While Stretton’s and Henty’s stories end with the main figures departing for a safer place in England, Clements’s book provides a different symbolism. The named French characters have had their day: M. Gascon disappears from the story before the surrender; Madame Briey dies just after, and Col. Crévy dies just after the peace is made and is buried with military honours. The future of the younger generation lies in Germany, though it is a curiously vague entity. Rose’s father is a professor of medicine at ’some German university with an unpronounceable name’, while Rose and Max, Nellé and Ernst live in an unnamed town that has a ’simple, sociable life’. Nellé is now totally separated from France and her French school-fellows. She wonders whether as French mothers now they have taught their sons and daughters ’that in all the affairs of life, public and domestic, to speak the truth is a more important thing than that this or that impression should be made upon the mind of the hearer’ (pp. 169-70).

47The state of France seems to be mirrored in the fates of Louis Napoleon and his young son, the former dying in 1872 of ’the disorder which, even before the days of the war, was sapping his energies away’, the latter dying ’in early manhood, in war, but not for France’ (p. 170). The Prince Imperial died in Southern Africa, killed by Zulus in 1879. Much more sympathy is directed to King William of Prussia, proclaimed Emperor of a united Germany at Versailles, and his subsequent death in old age and honour. Then follows the tragically brief reign of Frederick III, while Clements speaks grandiosely of ’the firm utterances of our young Kaiser [William II], telling us that he is no unworthy son of that splendid line of soldier-kings, whose delight is not all in war and victory’ (p. 172). Such it was possible to say in a book published in 1889. Sabine Baring-Gould was equally admiring of Germany in his history of 1886.

48With our next title in the chronological sequence of books dealing with the Franco-Prussian War we return to Henty and A Woman of the Commune (1895). But as this is one of Henty’s few books for adults and has very little about Germany in it, it need not detain us long. Its central character is Cuthbert Hartington, a young Englishman who goes to Paris to learn to paint and gets caught up in the siege and the subsequent events of the Commune. Germans do not figure as individuals in the book, but are portrayed at a distance as ruthlessly efficient. The French are divided into two categories – those on the same social level as Cuthbert are charming, but undisciplined, while the lower orders, fighting for social change, are dismissed as ’scum’ and an unruly, mindlessly cruel mob. Henty is incapable of making his readers appreciate what it meant to be French during the Franco-Prussian War, still less what it meant to be German. He also displays his animus against independent-minded women in the figure of Mary Brander, who at the end of the book becomes Cuthbert’s wife. Henty’s deficiencies in plot and characterization in A Woman of the Commune detract from his attention to details of daily life during the siege and his accounts of the general background and particular stages of the siege. There he is in his wonted adventure story mode and is more convincing. But his picture is painted from an unremittingly middle-class viewpoint and has no sympathy of any kind for the Commune.

49The actual war and period of the Paris Commune are dealt with in another book that was published only a couple of years after Henty, and some ideas seem to have been taken from him. This was Paris at Bay (1897) by Herbert Hayens, who wrote about a hundred adventure stories and history books between 1896 and 1933. Like Henty’s Young Franc-Tireurs and Brereton’s A Hero of Sedan (which we still have to look at), Paris at Bay is a boys’ book, concentrating more on the military campaign and deeds of male bravery, at least to begin with. Once more we have an English protagonist, the young Geoffrey Townsend, nephew to the French colonel Gustave Humbert, who is the first-person narrator of the story. The first five chapters deal with the campaign in north-east France, focussing on Sedan, where Geoffrey’s friend, Achille Devine, is killed and commends his sister, Marie, to him. In Paris Geoffrey teams up with another Englishman, the painter Stephen Wilton – Henty’s Cuthbert Hartington is also a painter! – and the rest of the book revolves around their joint experiences in Paris, the abduction of Marie in the Commune, their search for her and their encounters with leaders of the Commune. At the end of the story Geoffrey marries Marie, but Stephen is described as his ’more-than-brother’.

50Henty and Hayens tell their stories from the French angle, sympathizing with the plight of both the French soldiers and the French civilians, praising their individual courage, but deploring their leaders’ military insufficiency and lack of organization. Achille tells his friend:

’Bonaparte himself could not have extricated his army from this position; but then he would never have been drawn into it. The fact is, Geoffrey, we are out-generalled. The Prussians have the advantage over us in everything save pluck. On their side are better leaders, better artillery, and bigger battalions. They know just what they require, and go for it. To-morrow they will mow us down like sheep. We cannot stir, hand or foot. Geoffrey, this is a lost army’ (p. 20).

51The Germans appear in the story, whether at Sedan or round Paris, only in the mass, and there are no incidents that reveal any personal contact between them and the French. After the opening chapters Hayens is more interested in his adventure story of the Commune than in going more deeply into the progress and details of the war.

52In the early Edwardian period we have two linked novels by Evelyn Everett-Green which, only at this late date, attempt to give some sympathetic treatment to German characters. The Castle of the White Flag and Ringed by Fire were both published in 1904. Their author, now largely ignored, was one of the most prolific girls’ writers of the day, producing nearly three hundred separate books between 1879 and 1933. The two books about the Franco-Prussian War are clearly girls’ books. Their standpoint is identical, international in spirit, as the cast of characters includes English, French, German, American, Canadian and Irish young people, all related to each other to some degree by blood or marriage, and all belonging to the aristocracy. The events of the war are thus depicted, in part at least, as affecting the members of a large extended family, each of whom is loved and respected by the others. Everett-Green (1856-1932) was of the same generation as Stretton and Henty, but writing more than thirty years after the end of the war, she provides a broader and less partisan picture.

53The Castle of the White Flag centres on two families of cousins who go with their aunt to live in a castle near Haguenau, in Alsace, while their parents go to Australia. The fathers of the two families are brothers, one having married a French wife, the other a German. There are twelve cousins, aged between the early twenties and nine. Opposite the White Castle stands another, known as the Red Castle, in which live the de Selincourts, whose son Gustave is in the Imperial Guard in Paris. A twenty-year-old daughter, Rénée (sic), lives at home in this Roman Catholic family. The twelve Seymour cousins are, naturally, Protestants. The novel purports to be told on the basis of diaries, letters and records made by all concerned at the time. As the two families settle in at the White Castle in mid March, they are aware of ’a sort of cat-and-dog feeling between France and Prussia, though Maidie, the rather German-looking eldest daughter of the family with the German mother, says’ it was really Prussia who had cause to quarrel with [France], not she with Prussia’ (p. xxvii). The local people, however, hate Prussia. Eustace, one of the sons with the French mother, reacts boisterously about the prospect of war and hopes that ’it comes soon rather than late, so that we may see something of the fun. I don’t care a hang which side licks the other; I only want to see a real good thundering battle’ (pp. 19-20).

54Visits from other cousins on both the French and the German sides of the family, together with a developing friendship with the de Selincourts, including both Gustave and his father, provide opportunity for sketching in the historical and political background. Otto von Degenfeldt, one of the German cousins, was at Sadowa in 1866 when the Prussians defeated Austria. His brother Eugen is with the Uhlans, involved in intelligence work (in another context it would be called spying), and meets the Seymours at an extended family visit to the Geissberg near Wissembourg/Weissenburg. This is in the nature of a lull before the storm and a pointing-up of the horrors of war, since the Geissberg is the scene of an early Prussian victory over the French. With their connexions with both sides in the war, the Seymours become involved everywhere. The White Castle is set up as a kind of military hospital for the wounded of both sides, Rénée helping along with them. Keith and Duff, two sixteen-year-old cousins, become stretcher-bearers with the Germans. Walter and Eustace, Gustave de Selincourt and Paul Rellier, a French-American cousin, are with the French in Metz and Nancy. One day three of the youngest Seymours are walking in the woods near the White Castle and manage to prevent a group of Frenchmen from torturing and killing a Prussian soldier. They are then interrupted by the appearance of the Crown Prince, who presents them with an iron cross. Monsieur de Selincourt leads a last-ditch rally against the Germans from the Red Castle, in which he himself and Gustave are killed. Victor Rellier had also joined them out of ’misdirected patriotism’ (p. 322), but he escapes. Two love-relationships accentuate the emotional tension: both Gustave and Otto are smitten with the shy, beautiful Deborah Seymour, while Walter is in love with Rénée. The novel ends with Otto declaring that he wants to win Deborah.

55Everett-Green’s other novel, Ringed by Fire, is a partial sequel to The Castle of the White Flag. In fact, the relationship between the two is very similar to that between the two parts of Annie Lucas’s Léonie. Ringed by Fire begins with a different set of leading characters, into which are introduced, in particular, Eugen von Degenfeldt and then, towards the end, various other characters from The Castle of the White Flag. The novel is set in Metz and abounds in romantic coincidences.

56Its heroine is the twenty-year-old Cicely Varennes, whose English mother and French father are now dead. She has been convent-educated in Canada, but now joins her older brothers, Leon and Kingsford, and their millionaire grandfather, who is of noble descent and a financial genius. Cicely’s task in Metz, where the events of the story take place, is to look after another orphan cousin, known as ’La Petite’, who can charm her way into anything and who is a source of comedy in the novel. There is also another cousin, Maurice, who is 28 or 29 and in the army. He is in love with a mysterious young lady called Hilda St. Aiden, of Irish descent. This love is thwarted because of a feud between the Varennes family and the St. Aidens, partly because of a duel and partly because of some unexplained financial chicanery. However, the primary romantic interest in the story is provided by a young Prussian officer with an aunt in Metz, Eugen von Degenfeldt, whose English cousins are at present living in a castle in the Vosges. By the end of the novel Eugen is looking forward to gaining Cicely’s hand in marriage. Walter Seymour, who had set his sights on Rénée de Selincourt, loses his life in the process of saving Leon from being killed by a shell, and Leon instead is destined to become Rénée’s husband. Deborah Seymour becomes Otto von Degenfeldt’s wife. The feud between Lady Geraldine St. Aiden, Hilda’s mother, and M. Varennes is brought to an end to allow the marriage of Maurice and Hilda, but the way in which it is done is unpleasant. The financial débâcle that overtook the St. Aidens is retrospectively attributed to ’one beastly little Jew’ (p. 303) and not the fault of any of the Varennes family. The anti-Semitic note can hardly be denied and blemishes the rather calculated scheme of international reconciliation.

57Within her two novels Everett-Green provides plenty of information about the nature of the war in Alsace-Lorraine. She uses the national background of her English, French and German characters to give different perspectives on the action. She also engages in more explanation, which she must have felt was necessary given the amount of time that had elapsed sine the war was over. The novels present a good mix of adventure, romance, courage, suspense and even comedy (with ’La Petite’). The love stories ensure that each book ends on an up-beat, but three of the families have, nonetheless, lost one or more of their loved ones to the war. Everett-Green interprets the war in terms of an interconnected, interrelated set of families, and family values lie at the heart of these two novels – kindness, decency, mutual respect, willingness to risk one’s life for others, readiness to help those in trouble. Eugen von Degenfeldt may be recognised in his reconnaissance work as being a spy, but he has become a friend to Cicely Varennes and ’La Petite’ and is treated as such and not denounced. He is to become a closer part of the family at the end of Ringed with Fire. In 1904, then, Evelyn Everett-Green has a view of the leading powers of western Europe, England, France and Germany, as constituting one family. This, of course, very much reflects the situation of Queen Victoria’s descendants, beginning with Victoria, the Princess Royal, father of Kaiser Wilhelm II, but including so many others who married into German princely families. This is a more optimistic view than any put forward by previous authors of children’s books about the Franco-Prussian War. Ten years later it was completely shattered.

58Everett-Green’s two novels were not the last to take the Franco-Prussian War as their subject. Captain F. S. Brereton’s A Hero of Sedan (1910) reverts to the mood and treatment that had been employed by his uncle, G. A. Henty, in creating The Young Franc-Tireurs, but his book is written with historical hindsight rather than contemporary journalistic experience. Yet Brereton (1872-1957) shares some of Everett-Green’s attitudes in depicting the war as it affects three close friends – his English hero, Jack Carter, and his two friends, Louis Castiline and Carl Prunzen. Louis is the vivacious, brave and humorous ’little Frenchman’, while Carl is a big Prussian, ’slow, and dull if left to himself’. Carl says, ’Yes, we shall always be friends.... Whatever happens, let us remember that’. And the novel predictably provides an episode in which Carl, though fighting on the opposing side to Jack, enables Jack to escape from being sentenced to death in a ’drumhead court martial’. Brereton’s choice of surname for Carl is extremely unfortunate, since the verb brunzen means ’to piss’. Presumably he invented the name on the basis of a similarity with the word ’Prussian’.

59A Hero of Sedan is set in the same geographical area as Everett-Green’s books, and its hero belongs to an English family with property in the area. Jack’s father has lived ten years in the area, but is ’still an Englishman to his backbone’, and Jack is thus ’no Frenchman, though his sympathies were much with that charming nation’ (p. 31). Like Henty, Brereton’s aim is to present in his hero a model of English courage, decency, fair play and trustworthiness. Jack is the epitome of the young English gentleman who never loses heart and who, through clear thinking and common sense, finds a way out of every difficulty. The figure that provides the most striking contrast is the Carters’ vindictive neighbour Von Veltenden, a German spy whom even the Germans find obnoxious. He is caught spying in Paris at the end of the book and is fittingly shot. Another dark figure is the coarse, bullying leader of a group of francs-tireurs whom Jack falls in with and whom he kills with a blow of his fists because he will not tolerate his brutality towards a group of Prussian prisoners. Brereton’s animus is not against German or French, but against those who do not act fairly and decently regardless of nationality. There are a number of occasions when Brereton shows Prussian officers exercising mercy and respect for the gentlemanly English values he views as paramount. Indeed, the Prussian who admires Jack for his attack on Veltenden at the beginning of the story is described as ’Tall and slim, and looking every inch a soldier in his fine uniform, this German general had almost the appearance of an Englishman’. (p. 47).

60The passage of nearly forty years from the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War permits Brereton to furnish plenty of historical information. He mentions the long-standing antagonism of France and Germany, Buonaparte’s crushing of Prussia in 1806 and his own defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, but he also writes admiringly of Bismarck’s skill in bringing the northern and southern states of Germany together, increasing Prussia’s power and importance while France remains much the same as before. While Brereton, like all his predecessors, emphasizes the bravery of the French soldiers and blames the unprepared state of the army on the Emperor, he cannot conceal how impressed he is by the Germans’ organization of the fighting soldiers marching light and being supported by others carrying blankets and other equipment. By contrast, the individual French soldier carries a weight of personal equipment that makes his job more difficult. What is particularly interesting in Brereton’s assessment of the build-up of German troops prior to the war is his comment on the present rivalry between Germany and Britain in 1910:

Germany’s huge army, her fast-increasing fleet, and her gain in wealth since 1870, place her second to no power in the world, but make her a keen rival of Great Britain. Her desire to be paramount, her marked jealousy of us may – who knows – plunge the two countries into a terrible conflict, and Germany will be ready for it – perhaps even willing (p. 89).

61The life-and-death conflict was to begin only four years later.

62In looking at these ten books we can see that each of the authors has a different agenda in treating aspects of the Franco-Prussian War. Each book, whatever section of the war it deals with, sticks closely to the documented historical facts, though attempts to interpret or analyse their political significance are less in evidence. It is fascinating to note how all of the books except Lucas’s Léonie and Lobenhoffer’s Fritz of the Tower manage to incorporate English or half-English characters to mediate the experience of the war, despite the fact that Britain was not involved in it. This does not by any means lead to a kind of detached or objective picture of events. On the contrary, there is a considerable variety of approach and emotional impact, and it is particularly interesting to register the changes in the portrayal of the Germans in general and the introduction of individual German characters into the novels.

63It is a curious fact that few contemporary German children’s books seem to have been translated into English in the period 1880-1914 apart from Johanna Spyri’s Heidi and some of her other stories (and we must remember that Spyri was Swiss). Nonetheless, the passion for earlier German children’s books such as the Grimms’ and Hauff’s fairytales, Fouqué’s Undine and Sintram, Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter and even Schmid’s Basket of Flowers continued unabated. What we appear to have instead of contemporary German children’s books is an increasing number of books by British authors that deal with German history, geography and travel, together with works of historical fiction that focus on Germany. G. A. Henty, for example, produced The Lion of the North (1886) and Won by the Sword (1899) about different periods of the Thirty Years War and With Frederick the Great (1897) among his huge output of boys’ adventure stories. Frederick the Great was a particularly popular king to figure in history books, and a chapter on him was included in Men of Deeds and Daring. Stories of their Lives, by the author of Remarkable Men (London: Dean & Son, c. 1860) as well as in Leaders of Empires (London and Edinburgh: Gall & Inglis, c. 1908), which also contains a long section on Prince Bismarck as well as Napoleon Buonaparte and Queen Victoria. The earlier book goes back further in history to include a section on John Frederic the Magnanimous, i.e. Johann Friedrich, Elector of Saxony, fighter for the Protestant cause against the Emperor Charles V in the sixteenth century. John Frederic is significant not only for that reason, but also for the fact that, as the account concludes, His Royal Highness Prince Albert is a descendant of the illustrious Elector. Historical accounts of great Germans and novels by British authors that are grounded in events from German history can thus be seen as an important part of the impact that Germany made on British children’s books. They are relevant not only in their own right, but they are also firmly linked to the dynastic connexions between Britain and Germany that became prominent with Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert and with the marriages of several of their children and grandchildren to German princes.

Table des illustrations

Légende 32. Title-page and frontispiece of Max Krömer. A Story of the Siege of Strasbourg [1871].
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/620/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 723k

Acheter