Clio has since discovered a novel by the best-selling French writer, Marcelle Tinayre (1870-1948), called (in its English translation) To Arms! Published in 1915, it explores the varied reactions of ordinary Parisians as seen through the eyes of one woman during two days (the 31st of July and 1st August 1914 – just 100 years ago) of the run-up to the German invasion of France– when Parisians had learned that the German army was mobilizing for a strike, but hadn’t yet launched it.
In Tinayre’s novel, one older woman who is the concierge in the building where the main character, Simone, lives, exclaims, weeping, on how hard war is on mothers of sons:
“If there were women in the government, war would be ended! It is the soldiers who make the battles, but it is the women who make the soldiers.
Between you and me, we always think about saving our children. I cannot think that a German mother has a different heart from mine! There are not two ways of bringing a child into the world, and not two ways for him to leave it, and not two ways of suffering when we lose him. Nature is everywhere the same . . . .”And the author remarks:
“The cry of distracted maternity, of naked and savage instinct, resounded through Simone’s whole being. The old concierge with grey hair, in the rooms furnished with mahogany, seemed to her a symbolic figure of the Mater Dolorosa. No doubt, at this moment, despatches running on the telegraph wires, or sent on air waves, were carrying the same news to France, Germany, and Russia. Everywhere, the women who had not wished to believe in the catastrophe so incomprehensible to their simple minds, were brutally crushed before the reality. . . . Everywhere. And the women of the Russian huts, primitive souls who knew nothing of the universe, and the prolific German women who lived in subjection to men, and the French women passionately devoted to their sons, all, submitting to the law, faithful to their duty but equally tortured, uttered the same cry, the unavailing cry of the mothers which, from the time of Hecuba and Rachel, resounds eternally from age to age.”And yet wars continue, and mothers continue to wail. Ten million men died in World War I and some twenty million were wounded. An entire generation was sacrificed in the course of four bloody years. Wars continue today in many parts of the world. How long will it be before women and men put a halt to such senseless slaughter?
Source: To Arms! (La Veillée des Armes): An Impression of the Spirit of France. Authorized translation from the French of Marcelle Tinayre by Lucy H. Humphrey, with a preface by John H. Finley (New York, 1918; originally published in France in 1915).