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Henri Barbusse (1873 - 1935)

Lifespan: 1873 - 1935

Related: hell - nihilism - voyeurism - pessimism - 20th century literature - French literature

Hell (1908) - Henri Barbusse [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The novel Hell by Henri Barbusse focuses entirely on the story of a voyeur. He is an isolated man who presents a great many of the problems of modern existentialism in a nutshell. Colin Wilson used this book as the starting point for his "Outsider".


Henri Barbusse (May 17, 1873 - August 30, 1935) was a French novelist and journalist. He came to fame with the publication of his novel Le Feu (translated as Under Fire) in 1916, which was based on his experiences during World War I. It shows his growing hatred of militarism. His book won the Prix Goncourt.

His later works, Manifeste aux Intellectuels, Elevations (1930) and others, show a more definitively revolutionary standpoint.

He is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Barbusse [Jul 2005]

Hell (1908) - Henri Barbusse

In introducing M. Barbusse's most important book to a public already familiar with "Under Fire," it seems well to point out the relation of the author's philosophy to his own time, and the kinship of his art to that of certain other contemporary French and English novelists.

"L'Enfer" has been more widely read and discussed in France than any other realistic study since the days of Zola. The French sales of the volume, in 1917 alone, exceeded a hundred thousand copies, a popularity all the more remarkable from the fact that its appeal is based as much on its philosophical substance as on the story which it tells.

Although M. Barbusse is one of the most distinguished contemporary French writers of short stories, he has found in the novel form the most fitting literary medium for the expression of his philosophy, and it is to realism rather than romanticism that he turns for the exposition of his special imaginative point of view. And yet this statement seems to need some qualification. In his introduction to "Pointed Roofs," by Dorothy Richardson, Mr. J.D. Beresford points out that a new objective literary method is becoming general in which the writer's strict detachment from his objective subject matter is united to a tendency, impersonal, to be sure, to immerse himself in the life surrounding his characters. Miss May Sinclair points out that writers are beginning to take the complete plunge for the first time, and instances as examples, not only the novels of Dorothy Richardson, but those of James Joyce.

"The Inferno" is therefore a tragic book. But I think that the attentive reader will find that the destructive criticism of M. Barbusse, in so far as it is possible for him to agree with it, only clears away the dead undergrowth which obscures the author's passionate hope and belief in the future.

... Truly a great and pitiless book, but there is a cleansing wind running through it, which sweeps away life's illusions, and leaves a new hope for the future in our hearts. --Edward J. O'Brien, 1918 introduction.

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