War Stories: French Veteran Narratives and the ‘Experience of War’ in the Nineteenth Century

TitleWar Stories: French Veteran Narratives and the ‘Experience of War’ in the Nineteenth Century
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsDwyer, Philip G.
JournalEuropean History Quarterly
Date Published10/2011

The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were the first in history to be written about in great numbers by the common soldier. This article, which focuses on French reminiscences of the wars, examines a variety of memoirs published from the late eighteenth through to the twentieth century. During this time we see a different approach to war and how it was recalled and remembered, more personal, more experiential than ever before. This article argues that the historical accuracy of these veteran narratives is unimportant. Instead, they reveal much more about how the wars were portrayed, and how they were remembered. Important too is what these narratives reveal to historians about the (inner) lives of soldiers during the wars, and what veterans in hindsight thought and felt about particular events. Here too the reality of the ‘experience of war’ is not as important as the cultural construct that is presented. As such, war narratives are an important source for the ways in which veterans and French society preferred to remember and process the past.

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