In This Review

The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach
The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach
By Alice Kaplan
University of Chicago Press, 2000, 287 pp
Purchase

Kaplan has reexamined the story of the 1945 trial and execution of one of the most famous French fascist writers, Robert Brasillach. A mediocre novelist but talented critic, Brasillach was an enthusiastic advocate of fascism and a hyperbolic antisemite. Although his collaborationist zeal was cooling by 1944, he had produced a damning record of exhortations and denunciations. A French literature professor, Kaplan examines with empathy and subtlety the personalities of the prosecutor -- who, like most French magistrates, had served the Vichy regime -- and Brasillach's flamboyant lawyer. She also dispels various myths about the jury's political leanings, showing that only one of its members was a communist. Touching on the criticisms of the French purge, she acknowledges that retribution was tougher on writers and journalists than on civil servants or entrepreneurs -- but she also shows that functionaries were not kept immune from sanctions. Ultimately, as Brasillach himself recognized, the trial was about the responsibility of a writer for his "fighting words" -- words that could move people to fateful acts and fierce crimes.