Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 4. April 23, 1947
Jean-Richard Bloch Philosopher and Citizen
Jean-Richard Bloch Philosopher and Citizen
The working combination of writer and man of action is even yet sufficiently rare to be of note. But when the man who fulfils these functions excels in both spheres, then we would be fools to ignore the lesson implicit in his life and work. Such a man was Jean-Richard Bloch, who died in Paris on March 15, a man whose integrity was the pride and honour of the French people, just as it was the expression and the dignity of his life.
After a successful scholastic career, Bloch became a secondary school teacher, then lecturer in History at the French Institute in Florence. His literary work began in 1910, and from that year until his death he published novels, plays, essays and stories, founded and contributed reviews and newspapers, the whole being directed towards his aim of securing "a better understanding of his time." His literary output was not voluminous—even if his genius had tended in that direction, his many other activities would have prevented it.
After the 1914-18 war, in which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre, he joined the group of Socialist writers which included Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, and Paul Vaillant-Couturier, who were particularly concerned with the attitude of writers to the international situation and the establishment of world peace. Bloch had then long been a student and follower of the teachings of Jean Jaures. In 1934 he took part in the formation of the Intellectuals Anti-Fascist Committee, and was also invited to the first Congress of Soviet Writers. His reputation in Europe as a writer was already considerable.
Bloch's culture was universal, recognising no difference of creed or race, strengthened and deepened continually by his experience, fulfilling the highest aims of 19th century humanism and concerned progressively more throughout the years with the future and the well-being of mankind.
In 1936, he was sent to Spain by the World Committee against Fascism and War. In the following year he and Aragon founded the Communist evening daily, Ce Soir, of which he was director till its suspension in September, 1939.
He left France secretly in April, 1941, and went to Moscow where his anti-fascist activity continued throughout the war (he was then 57 years of age). He organised French broadcasts from Moscow radio, and among other literary works wrote the play Toulon around the scuttling of the French fleet. The play is one of the best records of the underground struggle of the French people against the Nazis. During the occupation his daughter and son-in-law gave their lives for the liberation of France, and his mother never returned from the concentration camp to which she was deported.
Returning to France in December, 1944, he resumed directorship of Ce Soir on its re-appearance, and was elected a member of the National Writers' Committee, who sent him, together with Tristan Tzara, as delegate to the first Yugoslav Writers' Congress in November, 1946. The membership of this Committee ranges from the Communist Aragon to the Existentialist Sartre.
In December, 1946, Bloch added to his already myriad activities that of Conseiller de la Republique, to which position he was elected by the National Assembly. He was Vice-President of the Council's Commission on Foreign Affairs.
The message and meaning of Bloch's work and life cannot be told in as short an article as this. His books must be read and studied personally. His best novel, ". . . Et Compagnie," which is as great as those of Balzac, is available in the University Library. The historical analysis and the human feeling of this study of a Jewish family in Alsace form a striking introduction to the rest of his work. The most artistically perfect of his novels, La Nuit Kurde, is available in the French Class Library. It is to be hoped that the University Library will order more of his works.
The last enchantments which bound me have faded. I am ready for the bitter task which is ours. Our youth is dead. There remains that of the world, which is only beginning. To it I will carry the sad and eloquent harvest of my summer.