Illustrating the First World War. The year 1915 in Le Petit Journal’s illustrated supplement

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“New Year’s Day in the trenches. Little gifts maintain the friendship between officers and soldiers.” Le Petit Journal, Supplément illustré, Sunday 9 January 1915. Source: Gallica/BnF

In January 1915 Colette talked about her visit to the front over Christmas in her column for Le Matin. She described her horror at seeing the soldiers receiving all sorts of presents and luxuries while the children and villagers of the region were left without homes, food and clothes.[1]

Le Petit Journal took a different approach to the soldiers and their holiday gifts. The January cover of their illustrated supplement from 1915 (see above) shows officers sharing gifts with ordinary soldiers on New Year’s Day: friendship among the ranks. It is a scene that is obviously meant to boost moral and offer some holiday spirit and relief. I am not an expert on the First World War – the topic falls outside of the period I usually look at and certainly my expertise – but Colette’s articles led me to some other representations of war in the press around the same period. I decided to take a look at Le Petit Journal‘s illustrated supplement, a newspaper whose covers -like those of Le Petit Parisien – are always a visual treat. Even when reporting on an event that was horrible enough as it was – the war – Le Petit Journal managed to turn it into what they did best: sentimental and brutal melodrama.

 The intimate prose of Colette’s newspaper columns tended to focus very much on the devastating impact of war on ordinary people.[2] By comparison Le Petit Journal’s illustrations are less than subtle and revel in sentimentality, glory, heroism, patriotic flag waving, dramatic scenes of (modern) warfare, royalty and lots of evil Germans. For those familiar with Le Petit Journal’s sensationalist depictions of crime , the lack of subtlety in the paper’s representations of war in the year 1915 should hardly come as a surprise. I’ve made a selection of the ones that struck me the most. Let’s take a look. Covers with evil Germans. EvilGermans

Flag waving everywhere. Even wounded soldiers keep holding on to the flag.

Flag waving

Modern air warfare makes its debut in the war and in the illustrated press.

Modern air warfare

Heroic battle scenes, both on land and at sea. Including singing the Marseillaise while attacking.

Heroicbattle

And if that isn’t heroic enough, there is always this soldier who keeps on playing the trumpet even though one of his arms has just been blown off. 

Playing the trumpet with one arm

Heart-breaking scenes at home, patriotism, remembrance, courageous dogs and horses. 

Sentiment

Brave royals doing their bit for the war effort. And for the press.

Royalty1

And just look at how bad things are in Germany. They even have to resort to fake news. BadinGermany I always wonder to what extent contemporary readers believed these dramatised images. How did these covers – if they did at all – influence public opinion? Was the average reader able to look at these a bit critically? Did they bring some comfort? Did people even care when there were so many other things to worry about? The propaganda war was fought on both sides. Covers like these in the popular press were – and had to be – all about rallying support,  a government-backed press machine to keep French citizens supportive of a war that was turning into a disaster. If you wanted to know a little bit about what was going on in everyday life or behind the scenes, it was probably better to read Colette’s articles as well.    Notes

[1‘L’automobile emporte, avec nous, des paniers de cadeaux de Noël. Pour les soldats? Non. Les soldats ont tout ce qu’il faut et davantage.’ (Le Matin, ‘Le journal de Colette’, 6 January 1915). See also my previous post on Colette.

[2] Which I discuss in my article in French Cultural Studies. You can find it here as well as draft version here.

A Portrait of Colette as a Journalist

Colette in 1932

Colette in 1932, press photograph. Source: Gallica BnF

Shoddy journalistic stuff. That’s how Colette herself described the newspaper columns she wrote for Le Matin during the First World War. She was being a bit harsh. Perhaps because she preferred to be known for her literary work. Perhaps because she always had a tendency to downplay anything she wrote. But the fact was that she was a journalist. And she was good at it. Whether she liked it or not. I have been wanting to do a post on Colette and journalism for a while now. And since an academic article I wrote on her and the Belle Époque press was published last week this seemed like a good time for it. Somewhere in between her other writing, her theatre career and just living her life, Colette found the time to write an overwhelming amount of journalism. She tackled all sorts of subjects: war, crime, boxing, fashion, film, theatre, dieting. Her journalistic career spanned nearly half a century, starting in the early 1900’s and lasting almost up until her death in 1954. Her articles were published everywhere, cultural and literary periodicals, women’s magazines, fashion magazines, popular daily newspapers. Yet strangely enough very little has been said or written about her journalism.  Shortly before the First World War Colette’s journalistic career received a real boost when she started to work for one of the biggest players in the French newspaper world, Le Matin. By 1913 Le Matin had become the second largest paper in France after Le Petit Parisien, selling almost a million copies a day. Colette was asked to write a weekly column entitled ‘Le journal de Colette.’ Colette’s name is hardly ever mentioned among the names of journalists who documented the war. Yet her articles on the First World War were deemed interesting enough at the time to be published. They appeared in a collection entitled Les Heures longues in 1917. The collection received good reviews, even though Colette herself called it ‘shoddy journalistic stuff.’ [1] During the war she travelled to Verdun, visiting her then husband who was in the army and witnessed the devastation first-hand. It wasn’t her style to write about the strategies or politics of war. Partly because it didn’t fit her writing, partly because it wasn’t very easy for any woman journalist to write about ‘hard news’ to begin with. But Colette wrote about the human cost of war, or the effects it had on those who stayed behind, women, children. Such as in the piece below from January 1915 titled ‘children among the ruins.’

Le Journal de Colette

‘Les enfants dans les ruines’ (Children among the ruins), Le Journal de Colette, Le Matin, 6 January 1915. Source: Gallica/BnF.

In 1914 Colette had said about her employment as a journalist for Le Matin: ‘il faut vivre’ (one has to make a living).[2]  It’s true that she needed the regular income but Colette enjoyed the journalistic world, a world she would often reminisce about in her novels and stories. She loved how she had been one of the very first women to work as a court reporter for example. In 1933, when explaining her recent return to journalism, Colette gave a vivid description of her first impressions of the newspaper world in the 1890’s:

Where does this urge of mine come from. From way back when, when I was in my twenties. From my silent years, when I sat quietly observing Fouquier, Mendès, Courteline and Sarcey. From the former Écho de Paris, the Cocarde, the old Intransigeant…From the Rue du Croissant, the dirty editorial offices, where the gas made it impossible to breath. From the smell of ink, of men, of tobacco, damp mud and beer…[3]

If you would like to read more about Colette in the wider context of the Belle Époque press – and don’t mind academic writing too much- you can find my article in French Cultural Studies here. If you don’t have library access not to worry. A draft uncorrected version of that article can also be found on my Academia page. Follow the link in the About section above.

Better yet, if you want to read Colette’s original articles in Le Matin (provided you can read French), you can search for them here on Gallica. Luckily, digitalisation of newspapers and periodicals means that Colette’s journalistic writing is becoming more easily available. Let’s hope that will also spark a renewed interest in her journalistic work.

Le Matin

The front page of Le Matin on 6 January 1915. Colette’s column can be found on page 4, the last page. Most newspapers only had 4 pages at the time. Source: Gallica/BnF

NOTES

[1]‘pauvres choses journalistiques’ (letter to Francis Carco, July 1918) [2]Letter to Christiane Mendelys, 20 August 1914, cited in: Colette, Lettres de la vagabonde. Paris, Flammarion,1961, 107. [3]  D’ou me vient cette tentation? De très loin, de ma vingtième année. D’un temps silencieux ou, silencieuse, je contemplai. De l’ancien Écho de Paris, de la Cocarde, du vieil Intransigeant…De la rue du Croissant, des salles de rédaction souillées, irrespirable, du gaz vert. De l’odeur d’encre, d’hommes, de gros tabac, de boue mouillée et de bière..Le Journal de Colette: On ne redevient pas journaliste’, La République, 15 December 1933. Cited in: Gerard Bonal and Frederic Maget (ed.), Colette journaliste. Chroniques et reportages 1893-1955, Seuil, 2010, 35. This book is, apart from articles in the Cahiers Colette, the only recent publication to focus on her journalism. Translation done in haste by me.

A Rave Review from 1904: Celebrating Colette’s Birthday

Today marks the anniversary of Colette’s birthday so I thought I would celebrate by sharing this enthusiastic 1904 review of her work I stumbled across some time ago.

In the early 1900’s Colette and her then husband Willy were much talked about figures in the press. The Claudine series, which appeared under Willy’s name, had been a huge, commercial succes. Journalists loved the fact that these scandalous novels cleverly blurred the lines between fiction and autobiography. The books made Willy and Colette literary stars -although not always taken seriously by the literary establishment – as well as regular features of the gossip columns.

However, Colette’s first solo authored book was Dialogues des bêtes (1904). In these stories her beloved pets do the talking. As a slightly obsessive cat lover, I have always had a weak spot for both Colette and this book. The dialogues convey not only Colette’s subtle sense of humour, but also her great love of animals. Critics in 1904 felt the same. In fact, the book marked an important turning point in Colette’s literary career. Over the years she would  become one of France’s most successful authors and journalists.  Dialogues des bêtes received mostly rave reviews when it appeared such as here in La Revue illustrée from 15 May 1904 accompanied by a wonderful photograph of the author (Source: BnF/Gallica)

Image

‘Mme Colette Willy vient d’écrire un petit chef d’oeuvre’ (Mme Colette Willy has written a small masterpiece), the reviewer writes.

What better way to celebrate Colette’s birthday than to celebrate her work?

Want to be a successful nineteenth-century writer? Get high on Mariani

I previously wrote about Vin Mariani – the cocaine laced alcoholic drink labeled as a ‘medicinal tonic’ – being marketed to female cyclists. But apparently it wasn’t just women cyclists who were wandering the streets of Paris on a constant buzz. In 1933 Colette recalled her first encounters with the world of journalism in the 1890’s, visiting the offices of newspaper L’Écho de Paris where her then husband Henri Gauthier-Villars aka Willy worked.  She gives a vivid account of the dingy, gas-lit offices on the rue du Croissant filled with:

l’odeur d’encre, d’hommes, de gros tabac, de boue mouillée et de bière… Catulle Mendès  écrivait ses articles de critique en parlant, en fumant, en invectivant, en buvant du Mariani

the smell of ink, men, wholesale tobacco, wet dirt and beer… Catulle Mendès wrote his reviews while talking, smoking, railing against something, and drinking Mariani

(Le Journal de Colette, La Republique, 15 December 1933)

 Catulle Mendès (1841-1909), poet/novelist/ renowned critic, was one of L’Écho de Paris’ most prolific journalists, contributing columns, reviews, poetry and sensationalist serial novels to the newspaper almost non-stop. Now we know his secret. Also, Mendès was not alone. All over the world people were drinking the ‘French tonic wine’ judging from this poster published in Harper’s Weekly in 1894 advertising the drink through endorsements from international celebrities, including Émile Zola (top right) and playwright Victorien Sardou (top left).

Zola, Sardou: all high on Vin Mariani. Harper's Weekly, 1894.

These celebrities were all high on Vin Mariani.  Advertisement Harper’s Weekly, 1894.

Every time I used to read something about these nineteenth-century writers and journalists I have always been amazed by the sheer amount of work they produced. Every single literary figure seems to have been a poet or a novelist as well as playwright, journalist and a critic churning out articles, novels and plays on a daily basis while still having time left to read other people’s work, socialize in cafes and have an interesting life. It has always made me feel incredibly lazy in comparison, but I consoled myself by putting their high productivity down to not having phones, computers or the Internet to distract them from work with Twitter updates or a top twenty of the world’s cutest cat videos. Turns out I was wrong. They were just high all the time.

Catulle Mendès : probably holding a bottle of Mariani outside of the frame.