Paul and Marie Pireaud, a young peasant couple from southwest France, were newlyweds when World War I erupted. With Paul in the army from 1914 through 1919, they were forced to conduct their marriage mostly by correspondence. Drawing upon the hundreds of letters they wrote, Martha Hanna tells their moving story and reveals a powerful and personal perspective on war.
Civilians and combatants alike maintained bonds of emotional commitment and suffered the inevitable miseries of extended absence. While under direct fire at Verdun, Paul wrote with equal intensity and poetic clarity of the brutality of battle and the dietary needs (as he understood them) of his pregnant wife. Marie, in turn, described the difficulties of working the family farm and caring for a sick infant, lamented the deaths of local men, and longed for the safe return of her husband. Through intimate avowals and careful observations, their letters reveal how war transformed their lives, reinforced their love, and permanently altered the character of rural France.
Overwhelmed by one of the most tumultuous upheavals of the modern age, Paul and Marie found solace in family and strength in passion. Theirs is a human story of loneliness and longing, fear in the face of death, and the consolations of love. Your Death Would Be Mine is a poignant tale of ordinary people coping with the trauma of war.
Martha Hanna achieves the remarkable feat of connecting the lives of two people to the events of a world war. This accomplishment is all the more impressive for her ability to never lose sight of either the small or big picture. This deftly written and elegantly crafted book reminds us of how war deeply affects everyone, from the front line to the home front.
We have any number of collections of letters from soldiers of the Great War, but none that comprises letters from both spouses. This allows Hanna to illuminate the relationship between the front and the interior in a unique way. Her work is an important contribution to our understanding of how the French fought the Great War in separate spheres, but as a people. Most of all, however, Hanna brings to life two extremely interesting individuals. She has empathy with her subjects, but never condescends toward them. I recommend this very fine book with great enthusiasm.
[Paul and Marie Pireaud's] letters are a remarkable source for observing World War I from the vantage point of the French peasantry, for analyzing the impact of the conflict on rural France, and for resurrecting the human face of war. Drawing on hundreds of letters, Hanna offers a fascinating look at one peasant couple separated and in love, compelled to carry on their marriage by correspondence. (starred review)
A vivid picture of the Great War seen from below which illustrates the view, popular now for a generation or so, that it is not events but people who make history...Most of all, Hanna is struck by the way Marie and Paul reflect the modernizing impact of the war on the rural psyche...The practice of writing letters stimulated self-reflection and self-awareness and left both husband and wife better able to communicate with each other. The postwar transformation of rural France was made possible by this enforced wartime correspondence course in self-discovery.
- 2007, Winner of the J. Russell Major Prize
- 352 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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