Under Fire (Barbusse novel)

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Under Fire: The Story of a Squad
Under Fire (Barbusse novel).jpg
AuthorHenri Barbusse
Original titleLe Feu: journal d'une escouade
TranslatorRobin Buss (2003)
GenreWar Novel
Publication date
December 1916
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages304 pp

Under Fire: The Story of a Squad (French: Le Feu: journal d'une escouade) by Henri Barbusse (December 1916), was one of the first novels about World War I to be published. Although it is fiction, the novel was based on Barbusse's experiences as a French soldier on the Western Front.

Summary and style[edit]

The novel takes the form of journal-like anecdotes which the unnamed narrator claims to be writing to record his time in the war. It follows a squad of French volunteer soldiers on the Western front in France after the German invasion. The book opens and ends with broad visions shared by multiple characters but beyond these the action of the novel takes place in occupied France.

The anecdotes are episodic, each with a chapter title. The best-known chapter, "The Fire" (Le feu) shares the French-language title of the book. It describes a trench assault from the Allied (French) trench across No-Man's Land into the German trench.

In contrast to many war novels which came before it, Under Fire describes war in gritty and brutal realism. It is noted for its realistic descriptions of death in war and the squalid trench conditions.

Publication and reception[edit]

Barbusse wrote Le feu while he was a serving soldier. He claimed to have taken notes for the novel while still in the trenches; after being injured and reassigned from the front, he wrote and published the novel while working at the War Office in 1916.[1]

Critical reception of the book was mixed at its publication. Its unique position of being published before the end of the war — the so-called "war book boom" took place only in the 1920s — led to its being widely read. Jacques Bertillon referred to Barbusse as a "moral witness [...] with a story to tell and re-tell."[1]

Like many war novels, Under Fire was criticised for fictionalizing details of the war. In 1929, Jean Norton Cru, who was commissioned to critique French literature of World War I, called Under Fire "a concoction of truth, half-truth, and total falsehood."[2]

The novel was first published in French in December 1916. It was translated into English by William Fitzwater Wray and published in June 1917 by J. M. Dent & Sons. In 2003, Penguin Press published a new translation by Robin Buss with an introduction by the American historian Jay Winter.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Barbusse, Henri (2003) [1916]. Under Fire. Penguin Classics (in French). Winter, Jay (introduction). New York: Penguin Books.
  2. ^ Cru, Jean Norton (1929). Témoins; essai d’analyse et critique des souvenirs de combattants édités en français de 1915 à 1928 (in French). Paris: Les Étincelles.

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