The First World War created massive divisions in the lives of families. In France, at least 5 million couples experienced separation during the four years of war. Most of these couples pursued their private lives by exchanging letters. The amount of conjugal correspondence written between 1914 and 1918 provides historians with an unprecedented quantity of sources, enabling the analysis of feelings expressed by couples about separation, at once a widely shared and eminently private experience.
In a joint presentation in English, the speakers will consider the theme of separation in its larger dimensions, before turning to a case study to address the specific question of death as it was experienced, awaited and feared in the exchanged letters. The correspondence between a young Durkheimian sociologist who died at the front, Robert Hertz, and his wife Alice, demonstrates how a radicalization in epistolary form can lead to a shared sacrifice. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A session.
Clémentine Vidal-Naquet is an associate professor of history at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne in Amiens.
This event is coordinated by the Duke Center for French and Francophone Studies and the Center for European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is sponsored by the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. This is one of a number of lectures by young French scholars delivered all over the United States as part of the observance of the centennial of the First World War.