Auguste Maurice Barrès

The French writer and politician Auguste Maurice Barrès (1862-1923) was the author of numerous novels, essays, and articles and was a member of the Chamber of Deputies and of the Académie Française.

Maurice Barrès was born in Charmes near Nancy and passed a happy childhood in a well-to-do family. In 1882 Barre's went to Paris to study law, but he soon became involved in the literary life of the Latin Quarter and acquired a reputation as a rebel and dandy. He flaunted his egotism, while also expressing a profound desire for action, in his first trilogy, Le Culte du moi (Sous l'oeil des barbares, 1888, Under the Eye of the Barbarians; Un Homme libre, 1889, A Free Man; and Le Jardin de Bérénice, 1891, The Garden of Bérénice). The themes of exoticism and fascination with death and decay occur in these early works, as well as in some later ones, such as Du Sang, du volupté et de la mort, (1894, Of Blood, Pleasure, and Death), Greco ou le secret de Tolède (1911, Greco or the Secret of Toledo), and Jardin sur l'Oronte (1923, Garden on the Orontes).

Barrès made his political debut in 1889 as a successful Boulangist candidate for the Chamber of Deputies. Although presenting himself for election four more times after 1893, he did not reenter the Chamber until 1906, as deputy from the first arrondissement in Paris—a seat he held until his death.

In his second trilogy, Le Roman de l'energie national (Les Déracinés, 1897, The Uprooted; L'Appel au soldat, 1900, The Calling of the Soldier; and Leurs Figures, 1902, Their Faces), Barrès analyzes himself and his relation to Lorraine, the province of his birth. This examination leads his to believe that the individual, as well as the nation, is formed by the land and the dead. A rejection of the formative forces, and thus of identity, can only lead to disaster for both the individual and the collectivity. These novels serve as the literary expression of Barrès's espousal of nationalism as a political philosophy and as a guide to action.

Prior to 1906, Barrès, the leading anti-Dreyfusard intellectual, had been a vehement opponent of the parliamentary republic. After his reelection to the Chamber, he assumed a more moderate stance, viewing his proper role in politics as that of moral mentor.

Alsace-Lorraine was at the core of Barrès's political thought and literary activity. Before World War I he published two novels—Au Service de l'Allemagne (1905, In the Service of Germany) and Colette Baudoche (1909)— dealing with the dilemma facing people of French culture who chose to remain in the occupied territory. When the war broke out, he welcomed the conflict as the occasion for France's moral rejuvenation, and he devoted himself to propaganda sustaining morale on the home front. After 1918 he was one of the most prominent advocates of a strong Rhine policy and full implementation of the Treaty of Versailles. He died in December 1923 and was honored with a national funeral.


Further Reading on Auguste Maurice Barrès

Very little of Barrès's work has been translated into English, and there is no full-length biography of him in English. A view of aspects of his work and life is in Flora Emma Ross, Goethe in Modern France, with Special Reference to Maurice Barrès, Paul Bourget and André Gide (1937). Michael Curtis, Three against the Third Republic: Sorel, Barrès, and Maurras (1959), has a detailed biographical and critical study of Barre's as an antirepublican intellectual. John Cruickshank, French Literature and Its Background (vol. 5, 1969), is useful for the literary background of Barrès's time.