Alice Kaplan’s The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach is a biography detailing the life, career, and execution of Robert Brasillach, perhaps the most high profile of the fascist academics in Vici France. Kaplan begins her work with a brief overview of Brasillach’s sheltered childhood and adolescence, during which time he lived in Perpignan, and Sens in France, as well as for a short time in Morocco. However the main focus of her work is on the period between 1930 and 1945, during which time Brasillach’s career as a writer and journalist would play out. She begins by investigating Brasillach’s discovery of, and affinity with the right wing political group “Action Français,” and with its leader Charles Maurras. She is comprehensive in analyzing his career as a writer, paying attention to his productions as a critic and columnist, but also as a novelist. She remarks on a clear distinction between the zealous and fiery prose that characterize Brasillach’s contributions to “Je suis part tout,” a Paris-based publication for which he frequently wrote, and the softer, more detached, at times homoerotic themes of his novels. Kaplan also pays attention to certain of Brasillach’s life experiences, his attendance of the Nuremberg rallies of 1937, and his visit to fascist Spain for example, as potential influences on his political beliefs.
She proceeds to investigate the height of Brasillach’s career during the Occupation of France, a period wherein his popularity among collaborators leads her to dub him the “James Dean of French fascism.” She pays close attention here to the anti semitic theme of his writings in “Je Suis Partout,” giving examples of where he would publish the addresses of Jewish people so as to assist with their deportation. She points to the fact that he had been calling for racially discriminatory laws against Jewish people as early as 1937 and cites a letter he wrote after his trial in which he indicated full knowledge of what happened to those deported from France for being Jewish. She also pays close attention to his trial, setting out its political context as part of General Charles De Gaulle’s purge of collaborationist elements, and examining the lives and careers of the judges and jurors present. Her conclusion is that while Brasillach was guilty of high treason, the crime for which he would be executed, his death has done more harm than good in that it has enabled fascists in the years following the war to portray him as a martyr and a hero of their movements.
Alice Kaplan is a professor of romance studies and literature at Duke University. She is the author of French Lessons: A Memoir (1993), a well-received memoir tracing her vocation as a student and teacher of French and, in particular, a scholar and historian of French literary fascism. The daughter of an American lawyer who took part in the Nuremberg war crimes trials of 1945-1946, Kaplan stumbled upon a file of documents and photos detailing the Holocaust when she was eight years old, in the aftermath of her father’s sudden death; as an adolescent, she discovered the French language and proceeded toward an academic major in French at the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. from Yale University. From her doctoral dissertation onward, Kaplan’s research has dealt primarily with the evolution and prevalence of fascist rhetoric in France since World War I. The work of Robert Brasillach, a brilliant and caustic writer who rose to near celebrity during the years between world wars, figures prominently in Kaplan’sReproductions of Banality: Fascism, Literature, and French Intellectual Life (1986), along with the writings of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, among others. In The Collaborator, Kaplan proceeds through rhetorical criticism toward cultural and political history, examining both the facts and the symbolism of Brasillach’s apparently singular case.
On the morning...
(The entire section is 2,509 words.)