My dearr heart, my lovely little one – thus begin the gentle letters Henri Barbusse wrote to his wife a hundred years ago. What follows is by no means gentle – trenches, shells, mud and the dead, the war that is revealed in its bloody meaninglessness. In the year 1914. the writer of letters, Henri Barbusse, was 41, had a reputation as a writer and editor, was not in the best health and had firm pacifist beliefs. Despite all this he volunteered for the French Army and spent the two first years of war on the front lines – and wrote his novel Under Fire, literary testimony of the World War I, which earned him the Goncourt prize and thousands of readers. Documentary material on which is based his novel is found in the letters he wrote almost daily to his wife Hélyonne. In their immediacy and authenticity, those letters can convey to the reader of today the drama of the beginning of the “short twentieth century” better than any fiction.
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