Marianne in Chains Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation

Robert Gildea




Trade Paperback

528 Pages


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In France, the German occupation is still called simply the "dark years." It is remembered as a time of hunger, fear, cold, and the absence of freedom, when the French population was cruelly and consistently oppressed by the enemy. There were only the "good French" who resisted and the "bad French" who collaborated. Yet Marianne in Chains, a broad and provocative new history, uncovers a rather different story, one in which the truth is more complex, and more humane.

Drawing on previously unseen archives, firsthand interviews, diaries, and eyewitness accounts, Robert Gildea wholly reveals everyday life in the heart of occupied France. He describes the pressing imperatives of work, food, transportation, and family obligations that led to unavoidable compromise and negotiation with the army of occupation. In the process, he sheds light on such subjects as forced labor, the role of the Catholic Church, the "horizontal collaboration" between French women and German soldiers, and, most surprisingly, the ambivalent attitude of ordinary people toward the Resistance, which was often dismissed as a bunch if bandits who were militarily irrelevant.

A brilliant work of reconstruction, a crucial work of scholarship, and at once thorough, challenging, and readable, Marianne in Chains provides a clear view—all these years later, and unobscured by romance or polemics—of the painful ambiguities of living under tyranny.


Praise for Marianne in Chains

"Stunning . . . Gildea, a professor of modern European history at Oxford, attempts to move 'beyond praise and blame' to explore the ever-shifting lines between accommodation and defiance, cynicism and loyalty, and prudence and altruism that the French negotiated through their ordeal. He succeeds brilliantly . . . In [this] nuanced and intricate work of historical reconstruction, Gildea has grappled heroically with the ambiguity at the heart of history and in the heart of man."—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly

"[A] carefully researched and richly nuanced study."—Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe

"To those trapped in the perennial resistance-versus-collaboration debate, Robert Gildea has done a great service in his new book."—Alan Riding, The New York Times

"After the liberation of France, the Resistance was glorified and the collaborators punished, but these convenient categories obscured the varied and equivocal experience of the ordinary populace. To capture this experience, Gildea concentrates on one region, the Loire, going deep into its archives and interviewing survivors. He describes the blurry line between civility and collaboration—drinking with Germans in a café was acceptable; inviting them home was not—and citizens' confusion about where their patriotic duty lay. Typically, people defined themselves by their loyalty within their immediate community, which explains their willingness to betray Communists and Jews, but also [there was] lasting bitterness toward the Resistance for the reprisals its attacks on Germans provoked. In terms that would doubtless seem familiar to the inhabitants of other occupied countries, this subtle and humane book shows that the French experience of occupation was one of comfort, deprivation, heroism, pettiness, terror, excitement, pride, and shame."—The New Yorker

"Gildea's remarkable book is based on massive archival research and probing interviews. The result is the most humane and nuanced account of wartime France to date. If there is one book on the subject which people should read then this is surely it."—Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich

"A daring and completely original account of the German occupation of France between 1940 and 1945, based on hitherto closed archival records and oral testimony from a wide range of witnesses. Full of the telling anecdote, written at a fast pace, Marianne in Chains is both readable and scholarly, provocative and convincing."—Ruth Harris, author of Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age

"Marianne in Chains has a powerful immediacy and a powerful sense of place. Robert Gildea's readers come to grips with the awful choices facing the people of the Loire Valley, especially those in authority, after 1940."—Robert O. Paxton, author of Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order

"Gildea's book is a powerful, original, and richly textured study of daily life in Occupied France. His beautifully written narrative, which reads as compellingly as a novel, rejects both the heroic myth that the French were a nation of resisters and the 'black legend' that they were all collaborators. Instead, he reconstructs with great skill and great humanity the concrete realities of occupation in all their complexity. His massively documented study may not please everyone, but no one will be able to ignore it."—Julian Jackson, author of The Fall of France

"In Marianne in Chains, a work of witness scrupled to the bone, we hear from housewives, businessmen, workers, and pols instead of the usual literary intellectuals, which means that the alibis are less embroidered."—Harper's Magazine

"The most convincing and lucid [such] account I have read . . . Gildea has succeeded in giving a startling and original view of what we thought f0was familiar history. Studded with delightful and irreverent insights."—Patrick Marnham, The Sunday Telegraph

"One can hardly overstate the importance of this history . . . Robert Gildea has given precious insight into those years."—Robert Buss, Financial Times

"Admirably clear-eyed . . . A work of great scholarship that reveals a complex and often disturbing picture. This account will become the standard."—David Harspool, The Daily Telegraph

"According to his introduction, Gildea's take on Occupied France has gotten him into trouble before. By avoiding the conventional narratives of life under Nazi rule, the Oxford historian describes an elaborate spectrum of complicity and compassion, opportunism and obligations. In doing so, he blurs the traditional romanticized narratives of French resistance and German cruelty, raises questions about the collective memory of the 'good French' and the 'bad French,' and occasionally treads less-than-lightly on sensitive symbols of national pride. Gildea's social history examines the daily lives of citizens in wartime France: the challenges of working, finding food, and keeping one's family intact, and the inevitable contact and compromise with the occupying German forces. It discusses the role of the church, forced conscription, food shortages, and sexual contact with Germans, as well as the familiar stories of spontaneous solidarity and guerrilla warfare. Rather than a simplistic, black-and-white view of oppression and resistance, Gildea argues, occupied France was a gray area of complicated relationships and dignity under duress. As engaging as it is innovative, this book will benefit war-history buffs and Francophiles alike."—Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

"A searching inquiry into the behavior of ordinary French people under Vichy and Nazi rule—behavior that defies the easy categories of 'collaborator' and 'resister.' The French, writes Gildea, 'have never faced up to their wartime past in any sustained and systematic way.' And so such categories remain current, even if they have little explanatory power. Overall, he writes, the German occupation was far from brutal for most ordinary French, who made do and, in the main, devoted
up0themselves to the ordinary concerns of putting food on the table rather than directly resisting, or directly aiding, the Nazi overlords. French society became atomized as a consequence; in particular, rural communities deliberately isolated themselves the more authoritarian the Vichy government became, turning to the black market and resisting mostly in economic matters—by, for instance, evading taxes and keeping 'resources out of the hands of the Germans unless the Germans were prepared to offer black-market prices.' For most French, Vichy was not quite as authoritarian as it was later made out to be: Gildea argues that it was incoherent, unable to control either the economy of society, and riddled with corruption and special interests. And the formally organized, Communist-dominated resistance was similarly ineffectual; Gildea writes that the Allied bombings of French and German cities were far more effective in weakening the German machine than were the occasional assassinations and acts of sabotage of resistance cells. Most ordinary French people, especially in the countryside, gave the organized resistance little direct support, at least in part because they mistrusted the Communists. Most, too, Gildea suggests, did not blink when their Jewish neighbors were deported—but mainly because the story that the Jews were merely being drafted as laborers was widely accepted, and not because of any particular widespread hatred for them. Provocative—and timely, in these France-bashing days—[and] certain to prompt learned commentary."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Robert Gildea

  • Robert Gildea is a professor of modern French history at the University of Oxford. His previous books include France Since 1945 and The Past in French History. For Marianne in Chains he received the prestigious Wolfson History Prize and was a finalist for the British Academy Book Prize. He lives in Oxford, England.