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The Art of SurvivalFrance and the Great War Picaresque$
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Libby Murphy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300217513

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300217513.001.0001

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Phlegm Meets Flair

Phlegm Meets Flair

Images of the Infantryman in Wartime Britain and France

(p.137) 6. Phlegm Meets Flair
The Art of Survival

Libby Murphy

Yale University Press

This chapter explores the pictorial picaresque. The cartoons of Bruce Bairnsfather (Britain) and Francisque Poulbot (France) were as iconic in Great War Britain and France respectively as Bill Mauldin’s cartoons of Willie and Joe were in the United States during the Second World War. Like Mauldin, Bairnsfather and Poulbot created archetypal characters that embodied national responses to industrialized warfare. With Poulbot, the popular nineteenth-century type of the gamin de Paris (street kid) transcended his original working-class Parisian context to become a household word and symbol of French national character. Les poulbots inhabited a privileged place in the French cultural imaginary, embodying the same picaresque character traits--resourcefulness, irreverence, and courage--attributed to French soldiers in the trenches. As a complement to the British soldier’s legendary phlegm--his imperturbability, evenness of temper, self-possession, and strength of character--the French child and the French soldier offered their legendary flair, understood as wit, vigor, and panache. The British Tommy and the French poilu were held up in allied propaganda as a sort of picaresque odd couple--dramatically different in temperament but excellent partners in war.

Keywords:   Old Bill, Bruce Bairnsfather, Francisque Poulbot, les poulbots, war cartoons, national character, pictorial picaresque

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