The Shameful Peace


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How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation

Frederic Spotts

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A vivid and poignant account of the struggle of French writers and artists to endure and combat the German occupation that threatened their cultural heritage

The German occupation of France from 1940 to 1945 presented wrenching challenges for the nation’s artists and intellectuals. Some were able to flee the country; those who remained—including Gide and Céline, Picasso and Matisse, Cortot and Messiaen, and Cocteau and Gabin—responded in various ways. This fascinating book is the first to provide a full account of how France’s artistic leaders coped under the crushing German presence. Some became heroes, others villains; most were simply survivors.

Filled with anecdotes about the artists, composers, writers, filmmakers, and actors who lived through the years of occupation, the book illuminates the disconcerting experience of life and work within a cultural prison. Frederic Spotts uncovers Hitler’s plan to pacify the French through an active cultural life, and examines the unexpected vibrancy of opera, ballet, painting, theater, and film in both the Occupied and Vichy Zones. In view of the longer-term goal to supplant French with German culture, Spotts offers moving insight into the predicament of French artists as they fought to preserve their country’s cultural and national identity.

Frederic Spotts is an independent scholar who has written widely on cultural topics, published books on German and Italian politics, and edited The Letters of Leonard Woolf. He is the author of Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival and, most recently, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. He lives in France.

"Spotts provides a detailed, intimate account of French artists in nervous co-existence with the Nazis."—Robert Fulford, National Post

“Spotts’s book is a good synthesis of existing scholarship.” — Eckard Michels, The Art Newspaper


“A fascinating account of how famous writers, artists, and intellectuals living in France during the war survived the Nazi occupation; a whole spectrum from heroes to collaborators.” — Marcel Berlins, Guardian G2

“… a fascinating study of a little known aspect of World War Two.” — Tim Newark, Military Illustrated

‘“What should you do?” asks Frederic Spotts … In this elegantly written, coolly intelligent book [Spotts] refrains from judgment." — Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Telegraph

‘In this book Frederic Spotts argues convincingly that France’s proud cultural heritage was of huge psychological importance in the wake of its ignominious military defeat …  This book … makes compelling reading for anyone who is even vaguely interested in France and things French.’ — Eamon Maher, Irish Times

‘Admirably forensic and entertaining … What Spotts brings to the story is a set of refreshing opinions on familiar figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and the rest of the crowd clustered around the cafes of Saint-Germain-des Prés … Spotts has written an excellent book.’ — Andrew Hussey, New Statesman

“Carefully, and authoritatively written. . . . [This book] lifts the lid on one of the least known—and most shameful—episodes of the period.”—Wall Street Journal

"Those unlucky enough to have to live in Nazi-occupied France ran the gamut from Resistance heroes to enthusiastic collaborators; most just tried to get on with their lives and work. Spotts shows that those involved in the life of the mind and imagination were no exception. He presents the individual cases with a clear, and therefore subtle, eye."—The Atlantic

"Frederic Spotts has written a lively book, full of anecdotes about the colorful personalities of the French art world under Nazi occupation. . . . [This] book's strength lies in the collection and synthesis of this material into an accessible and readable overview. . . . Most important, however, is Spotts's rightful insistence that cultural policy was central to occupation policy in wartime France."—Kirrily Freeman, American Historical Review

"[This] book makes an important contribution by elaborating upon an often-overlooked aspect of the wartime experience."—J. H. Jackson, Choice

"This book is carefully documented and argued and contributes to a detailed understanding of how the Vichy regime functioned." —Robert O. Paxton, Bookforum

'This is a fascinating and erudite look at the choices made by some extraordinary people in an extraordinary situation.' — The Good Book Guide

"This is an important store and the general reader will gain a useful insight into French artistic life during the Occupation and the Epuration."--Nicholas Hewitt, H-France Review
ISBN: 9780300163995
Publication Date: March 30, 2010
296 pages, 5 3/4 x 9
20 b/w illus.

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