“And by the power of a word”, by Xavier Donzelli: “Freedom”, I write your novel


“Liberté”, by Paul Eluard, illuminated by Fernand Léger (1953).

“And by the power of a word”, by Xavier Donzelli, Seghers, 368 p., €20, digital €13.

In his first novel, the fruit of three years of research, the journalist Xavier Donzelli retraces the history of the clandestine poem Freedom, by Paul Eluard (1895-1952), from its creation in 1942 to its parachute drop the following year in occupied France. Published in the collection Poetry and Truth 1942, this text will force the poet to hide in a mental asylum, in Lozère, from November 1943 to February 1944, to escape the Gestapo as well as the Vichy police. In 2019, Xavier Donzelli, journalist at the magazine History, investigates the genesis of this standard poem for an article. He then decides to deepen the subject to make a book.

Combining historical narrative and documents – letters, warnings from the censorship services, leaflets, military reports –, And by the power of a word dives into the life of Eluard and his entourage: Max-Pol Fouchet, Louis Parrot, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, Vercors, Raymond Aron… “While working on the asylum of Saint-Alban and on the situation of Eluard during the Occupation, I noticed that there were many rather incredible stories, but not always verified”explains the author, who maintains a passion for the poet.

He meets Claire Sarti, the granddaughter of Eluard, who opens her archives to him and directs him to his grandfather’s friends, whose heirs he contacts. At the National Library of France, he immersed himself in the reviews that embodied literary resistance: Free France, created by René Labarthe in London, and of which Raymond Aron was one of the pillars. But also Fountainlaunched in Algiers by Max-Pol Fouchet, in which Freedom was first published in June 1942 under the title One thought, to deceive the censor: the twenty-one stanzas of the poem pass for a declaration of love, which they were at the start, these verses having been inspired to the poet by Nusch, his wife, before his desire for her was confused with that of freedom of which France was then deprived.

“A huge snub to the Germans”

When he writes it, in the summer of 1941, he was 46 years old. High figure of surrealism, he is now part of the team of The Feathered Hand, a review which is a resurgence of it. But, for the young guard, Eluard is an aged poet. “Authors like Noël Arnaud or Léo Malet admire him as much as they want to unbolt him”, says Xavier Donzelli. Despite this ambivalence, The Feathered Hand will be the first publisher of Poetry and Truth 1942, making Eluard a symbol of intellectual resistance. The collection borrows its title from Goethe’s autobiography – “a huge snub to the Germans”emphasizes Xavier Donzelli, who scoured the Picasso Museum to consult Nusch’s correspondence, as well as the Memory Institute for Contemporary Publishing (IMEC), in Caen, to explore the Max-Pol Fouchet and Pierre de Lescure collections, founder , with Vercors, Editions de Minuit.

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