France inducts World War I writer Maurice Genevoix into the Panthéon

Maurice Genevoix pictured shortly before he was injured in 1915.
Maurice Genevoix pictured shortly before he was injured in 1915. © Private collection of the Genevoix family

France inducted the remains of World War I writer Maurice Genevoix into the Panthéon on Wednesday, an honour reserved for national heroes.

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President Emmanuel Macron presided over the ceremony, encouraging the world to remember the conflict. The induction was timed to coincide with the November 11 Armistice Day, which honours those who died in world wars.

Genevoix wrote five memoirs of his time as a front-line soldier experiencing the horrors of trench warfare in the conflict, which he later collected into a single book "Ceux de 14" ("Men of 14").

The work is considered by many to be the single greatest French-language literary work to have emerged from the 1914-18 war, with its raw insight into the experience of battle drawing comparisons with "Storm of Steel" by German writer Ernst Junger or the English poetry of Wilfred Owen.

Maurice Genevoix pictured in an officer's uniform on the western front.
Maurice Genevoix pictured in an officer's uniform on the western front. © Private collection of the Genevoix family

The Panthéon is a secular temple to France's literary luminaries such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Dumas, Hugo and Malraux, as well as other great figures from culture, science and politics.

The remains of 70 men are housed under the great dome of the neo-classical building, while – controversially – only five women have been given the honour.       

Only the president can decide on inducting personalities to the Panthéon, and Macron has used this authority just once before, in 2018, to give Simone Veil, a former French minister who survived the Holocaust, the honour of a final resting place there.

>> At mausoleum for France’s ‘Great Men’, Simone Veil burial is most revolutionary yet

While the final choice rests with the president, the move can always be vetoed by descendants, as happened when the family of Albert Camus thwarted a bid in 2009 by then president Nicolas Sarkozy to move his remains to the Panthéon.

A campaign that has divided French cultural commentators is in progress to give poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine a final resting place in the Panthéon.

Some argue the two major poets – who were lovers – should be re-interred in the Pantheon, especially seeing as their final resting places are not seen as worthy of the two men. But others disagree, saying the two poets wouldn’t want to be there as they “turned their backs on society”.

'Never drop our guard'

Marking 102 years since the end of World War I, an installation by French composer Pascal Dusapin and German artist Anselm Kiefer, commissioned by the French presidency, was also added to the Panthéon.

The moving of Genevoix's remains had initially been scheduled for last year but was delayed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the burial of the unknown soldiers in the Arc de Triomphe.

"Genevoix was the voice of memory. Through him, the voice of the 'Men of 14' never ceases to urge us not to drop our guard and to preserve our vigilance when the worst reappears again," Macron said when he announced the move.

Genevoix participated in the battle of the Marne and the march on Verdun. Promoted to lieutenant, he saw the daily life of the infantryman – the mud, the blood, the storms of steel, what he called all this "insane farce".

Genevoix, then 24, was badly wounded in April 1915 and hospitalised for seven months. He began to write from notes made in the trenches, with his first memoir published as war still raged in 1916.

He wrote five memoirs that he then united into "Men of 14" in 1949.

"What we did was more than could be asked of men and we did it," he writes in the work.

In later life he wrote novels and became a champion of ecological causes. He died in 1980 at the age of 89.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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