“Since leaving Paris yesterday we have passed through streets and streets of such murdered houses, through town after town spread out in its last writhings,” the celebrated novelist Edith Wharton writes on May 13, 1915, from the town of Nancy, in the Argonnes section of France. “And before the black holes that were homes, along the edge of the chasms that were streets, everywhere we have seen flowers and vegetables springing up in freshly raked and watered gardens.”
Wharton, born in New York City in 1862, settled permanently in France in 1907. Celebrated on her behalf vivid and acutely observed novels of Victorian life, like The House of Mirth (1905) and her later classic The Age of Innocence (1920), Wharton was surviving in Paris when World War I broke out in the summertime of 1914. From the start of the war, Wharton devoted herself to the Allied bring about, functioning with the French Red Cross and top a committee that founded hostels and schools to serve refugees, such as for example numerous youngsters, from the German-occupied zones of northeastern France and Belgium. She was ultimately awarded the French Legion d’honneur (Legion of Honor) on her behalf perform.
In 1916, Wharton edited an illustrated literary anthology featuring performs by prominent writers and artists like John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats and John Singer Sargent. She herself traveled to leading lines of the conflict, writing reports for American newspapers urging the United States to enter the war. Her novella The Marne, published in 1918, criticized America’s slowness to aid France. That identical year, Wharton s wartime observations have been collected and published with one another in the book Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belport.
Wharton concluded her entry of May 13, 1915, contained in Fighting France, with a lyrical description of the city of Nancy at night, a sensational and peaceful scene marred only by the threatening sounds of war in the near distance. “Now, at sunset, all life ceases in Nancy and veil after veil of silence comes down on the deserted Place and its empty perspectives. Last night by nine the few lingering lights in the streets had been put out, every window was blind, and the moonless night lay over the city like a canopy of velvet.” The ordered masses of architecture became august, the spaces amongst them immense, and the black sky strewn with stars appeared to overarch an enchanted city faintly. Not a footstep sounded, not just a leaf rustled, not just a breath of air drew under the arches. And suddenly, evening through the dumb, the sound of the cannon began.”