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The Creation of an Icon in Defence of Hélène Brion: Pacifists and Feminists in the French Minority Media

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Abstract

The women’s press in Great War France consistently challenged traditional media views and became an effective space for minority opinions to be aired. Throughout this period, newspapers and pamphlets destined for women of various social classes became arenas of political agency, and within this ‘imagined sisterhood’ women could exchange ideas about their roles and duties. Arguably, at no time throughout the war was this discursive space more important for pacifist feminists (who, as Alison Fell notes in Chapter 4, constituted a minority amongst French feminists) than during the trial of a schoolteacher arrested for distributing so-called ‘defeatist’ propaganda. During the First World War, notions of pacifism, defeatism and feminism were conflated and demonized in French nationalist discourse. The trial of Hélène Brion was thus a defining moment in the battle between the pacifist movement and the government-regulated propagandistic national press.

Keywords

  • Political Agency
  • French Woman
  • Discursive Space
  • National Press
  • Defence Team

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

The defeatist delights in peddling false news, unhealthy theories, unjustified or imagined impressions, attempting to sap the morale and resistance of both soldiers and civilians. The defeatist always acts in his own self-interest. Either unconsciously or, more commonly, consciously, he aids our enemies. He uses, in turn, the pen and the word. He acts in isolation or he obeys a group… Whatever he is, he is dangerous and it was necessary to pass a law in order to intimidate and punish him.’ (Procès Brion BMD 1918: 1)

It is absolutely necessary to distract the masses from the external situation; one must entertain the public, feed it a story that will distract it from the war. All the scandals that suddenly materialize in the daily newspapers have no other goal. But that is still not enough. It is also necessary to let the blame for the war and its consequences fall on certain individuals, sacrificed in advance.2 (Vernet 1917: 31)

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References

Unattributed newspaper articles

  • Le Matin (18 November 1917) ‘La Propagande Défaitiste: Une institutrice arrêtée à Pantin’.

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  • La Voix des Femmes (3 April 1918) ‘Libres Propos de Marianne: Symbole Touchant’.

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Archives and manuscript collections

  • Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand Paris (BMD)

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  • ‘Le Défaitisme et les Défaitistes’ (Procès Brion in text). Le Procès Hélène Brion et Mouflard Devant Le Premier Conseil de Guerre, Revue des Causes Célèbres: Politiques et Criminelles (1918), Compte rendu des débats judiciaires d’après la sténographie, avec croquis pris à l’audience. DOS Brion.

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  • Sauret, H. ‘Hélène Brion, Héroine de la Paix’, original copy of undated letter (1917?) addressed to Brion. DOS Brion.

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© 2007 Joanna Shearer

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Shearer, J. (2007). The Creation of an Icon in Defence of Hélène Brion: Pacifists and Feminists in the French Minority Media. In: Fell, A.S., Sharp, I. (eds) The Women’s Movement in Wartime. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230210790_6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230210790_6

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-28576-1

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