Henri Barbusse, “L’Enfer” (1908)

henri-barbusse-lenfer-1908

“L‘Enfer has been more widely read and discussed in France than any other realistic study since the days of Zola. The French sales of the volume, in 1917 alone, exceeded a hundred thousand copies, a popularity all the more remarkable from the fact that its appeal is based as much on its philosophical substance as on the story which it tells. . .
Although the action of this story is spiritual as well as physical, and occupies less than a month of time, it is focused intensely upon reality. Everything that the author permits us to see and understand is seen through a single point of life–a hole pierced in the wall between two rooms of a grey Paris boarding house. The time is most often twilight, with its romantic penumbra, darkening into the obscurity of night by imperceptible degrees.
M. Barbusse has conceived the idea of making a man perceive the whole spiritual tragedy of life through a cranny in the wall, and there is a fine symbolism in this, as if he were vouchsafing us the opportunity to perceive eternal things through the tiny crack which is all that is revealed to us of infinity, so that the gates of Horn, darkened by our human blindness, scarcely swing open before they close again.” [. . .]    –Edward J. O’Brian, L’Enfer Introduction, 1918 (Gutenberg)