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Civilization, 1914–1917

Georges Duhamel
New Introduction by Catherine Savage Brosman

A French field surgeon's autobiographical tales of the Western Front

Civilization, 1914–1917 is a largely autobiographical narrative of the Great War written by a remarkable observer—a French physician, poet, and novelist who treated the wounded and performed some two thousand operations in mobile hospital units during the war. First published in 1918 and translated into English the following year, the book was awarded the Prix Goncourt and a special award of the Académie Française. Out of print for ninety years, Georges Duhamel's account is available once more in this Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Series edition featuring a new introduction by Catharine Savage Brosman, which offers a biographical sketch of Duhamel and places his work within the context of French narratives of World War I.

Duhamel's book comprises sixteen vignettes in which character rather than plot remains the constant focus. Each tale is presented in the first person but with varying narrators. The settings are often field medical units just miles away from the bombardments. Here the stench of blood, plight of the wounded, and efforts of well-intentioned doctors bring to the fore the realities of war as Duhamel knew them to be. Pathos, anger, and frustration are more plentiful than any sense of glory, duty, or honor in these circumstances. In lieu of the political and nationalistic considerations of war that dominate the writings of some of his contemporaries, Duhamel's narratives offer instead the historical and literary merits of his keen attention to details—particularly concerning combat medicine—and his rich development of the varied tones, characters, and locations of his sketches. Throughout the book Duhamel pits those characters and efforts meant to preserve and mend humanity against an overarching machine age and its armored acolytes intent on human destruction. The resulting collection works to bear authoritative witness to the war on the Western Front and to extract from the author's experiences some measure of poetic truth about the nature of civilization in our modern age.

A prolific writer, Georges Duhamel (1884–1966) authored more than sixty volumes of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry along with several plays. In 1935 he was elected to a seat at the Académie Française.

Catharine Savage Brosman is professor emerita of French at Tulane University and an honorary research professor at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of numerous books on nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature, including Visions of War in France: Fiction, Art, Ideology.

"Like most Great War fiction, this work is autobiographical in part. It is not a narrative novel but rather a series of vignettes focusing on characters sketched with uncommon skill and attention to detail. The settings are often field medical stations. His characters encompass ordinary soldiers, priests, officers, and civilians in a variety of settings. His prose illuminates and preserves the struggle of ordinary men to cope with the stresses of mind-numbing industrialized warfare."—St. Mihiel Trip-Wire 



book jacket for Civilization, 1914–1917


5 1/2 x 8 1/2
312 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-838-9
paper, $21.95s
The Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Series
Download an excerpt

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