Cover image for Edith Thomas : a passion for resistance
Edith Thomas : a passion for resistance
Kaufmann, Dorothy.
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Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
x, 240 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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PQ2639.H56 Z735 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Édith Thomas (1909-1970), a remarkable French woman of letters, was deeply involved in the traumatic upheavals of her time: most crucially the resistance to Nazi occupation and the collaborationist Vichy regime, but also the Spanish Civil War and the Algerian War. During the occupation, she played an essential role in the struggle to counteract Nazi and Pétainist propaganda. She was the only woman in the Paris network of Resistance writers; they held their clandestine meetings in her left-bank apartment.Dorothy Kaufmann's powerful and moving book is based in large part on previously unavailable material that Édith Thomas, a historian, novelist, and journalist, chose not to publish during her lifetime. A particularly fascinating chapter in Thomas's life was her intimate relationship with Dominique Aury, who wrote Story of O as "Pauline Réage." The astonishing documents made available to Kaufmann by Aury include Thomas's eight notebooks of diaries, which she kept from 1931 to 1963; her fictional diary of a collaborator, written during the first year of the occupation; and her political memoir, to which she gave the disturbing title Le Témoin compromis (The Compromised Witness).Édith Thomas: A Passion for Resistance sheds light on the historical dimensions of Thomas's life and work and on the autobiographical complexity of her writing, which everywhere illustrates her personal courage. Kaufmann follows Édith Thomas's itinerary as it intersects with that of well-known contemporaries--in particular Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Louis Aragon, Jean Paulhan, and, of course, Dominique Aury.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Thomas (1909-70) had a major role in resisting the Nazi occupation of France and the Vichy regime during World War II. During the Spanish civil war, Thomas traveled to Spain, believing that her primary task was to mobilize support in France for the anti-Fascist struggle. A French intellectual and woman of letters, Thomas was a Communist from 1942 to 1949 and had an intimate relationship with Dominique Aury, author of the erotic Story of O. She was the only woman in the Paris network of Resistance writers, providing a place in her Left Bank apartment for their clandestine meetings. Thomas' eight notebooks of diaries, which she kept between 1931 and 1963, were given to Kaufmann by Aury, as well as her fictional diary of a collaborator, articles written for the underground press, a number of poems, her typewritten political memoir, and her handwritten personal memoir. In her introduction, Kaufmann states that from the wealth of writings she left behind, with all their inconsistencies and contradictions, Edith Thomas emerges as a singular witness and engaged participant in the convulsions of mid-twentieth-century France, struggling to find a way to live commensurate with her ardor for meaning. Her writings will give readers an exceptional look at Thomas' need to bear witness. --George Cohen Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Though a contemporary of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, mid-century French woman of letters Edith Thomas remains unfairly obscure. However, Thomas led a fascinating, quixotic existence as a promising novelist, a communist journalist in the Spanish Civil War, a voluble critic of the Algerian War and a feminist historian. Her most remarkable work was as a Resistance writer?the only woman in the Paris network?who countered Nazi and Petainist propaganda with a powerful stream of clandestine poetry and articles (Gen. Charles de Gaulle cited one of her poems when he addressed the Resistance writers from Algiers in 1943). Plain, stubborn and possessing a fiery, uncompromising idealism, she rejected a woman?s conventional role, yet longed for a completeness she imagined love could bring. She ended up depressed and isolated with her work and intimate friend (and one-time lover), Dominque Aury. Kaufmann, who edited Thomas?s previously unpublished diaries and political memoir, The Compromised Witness, eschews any speculation into Thomas?s thoughts and deeds that is not supported by her subject?s hauntingly beautiful writing or the testimony of her intimate friends. As a result, she quotes frequently from Thomas?s diaries. (Regarding the French bourgeoisie who accommodated their Nazi occupiers, Thomas reflected caustically: ?At the bookstore, at the pharmacy, people are very pleased. ?This time there will be order, you will see.? The order they deserve: cemeteries and concentration camps; the moral order of the dead.?) This is a powerful chronicle of Thomas? tempestuous relationship with an imperfect world. Photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Choice Review

Based on previously unpublished material (handwritten diaries from 1931 to 1963, a book-length political memoir from 1952, the fictional diary of a Nazi collaborator written during the Occupation), this illuminating biography brings to life one of the most accomplished, courageous, and least-known French writers of the 20th century. Trained as a medieval historian, Thomas was passionately involved in the most traumatic upheavals of her time. During the Occupation, she denounced, in the underground press, Vichy propaganda and all forms of collaboration. She composed poems for the clandestine Editions de Minuit. She used her Left Bank apartment as a meeting place for the Paris intellectuals in the Resistance. During the Algerian War, she wrote polemics against racism and torture. Her entire life and work bear witness to her commitment to social justice and to "l'humanisme feminin," her very personal conception of women in society without a male mediator. Author of a critical edition (in French) of Thomas's writings, Kaufmann obtained the fascinating material at the heart of this biography from Dominique Aury, the longtime anonymous author of Histoire d'O, who had an intense affair and lifelong friendship with Thomas. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. C. B. Kerr Vassar College