Henri Barbusse, author of Le Feu (Under Fire), the prize-winning, best-selling novel based on his service during World War I, is born on this day in 1873 in Asnières-sur-Seine, France.
As a young man before the war, Barbusse became a member of Paris’s literary and artistic circles as a poet and journalist. His first novel, L’Enfer (The Inferno), published in 1908, was a realistic tale of voyeurism, narrated by a young man living in a Paris boardinghouse who spies on his neighbors and bears witness to all their most intimate moments.
When war broke out in the summer of 1914, Barbusse was 41 years old. Despite his age, he voluntarily enlisted in the French army and was sent into battle. He quickly became disillusioned with the war effort and the French leadership, however. Le Feu, written while Barbusse was still serving in the army (he was injured several times in action) and published in 1916, was a portrait of the horrific carnage on the Western Front as well as the men who suffered through it, serving a cause in which many of them had lost faith.
Le Feu earned international acclaim, including the Prix Goncourt, one of France’s top literary prizes, and became one of the most famous novels of the war. After Barbusse was formally discharged from the army in 1917, he became a committed pacifist. His 1919 novel Clarte (Light), focused on moral and political aspects of the war. He later began expressing a more specifically communist ideology. He supported the Russian Bolsheviks and traveled to the Soviet Union several times. At the time of his death in 1935, he was working on a book about Josef Stalin.