Review: Pierre and Luce by Romain Rolland (a short story)

On the war torn streets of Paris 1918, two lovers meet by chance on a subway. Pierre is a modern day ‘Hamlet’….depressed, hopeless, and disillusioned by the world in which he lives–in his reality, he is an 18 year old middle class boy who has just received his conscription papers.

But when he sees Luce on the subway, she is his ray of hope–a promise of  a better life than the one destine to be his future.

But does she see him? Does she know? Does she feel it too? Why would a girl so full of hope and life look twice at him? Before he can make his introduction, she exits at the next subway stop and the train departs before he can follow.

He spends the next couple of days searching for her–longing to see her again. He doesn’t know what it is about her that draws him in but she is his destiny–of that he is sure.

Finally they meet again at Luxembourg Gardens and begin a courtship. Luce is a poor girl who makes her living selling paintings–a far cry from the comforts afforded to Pierre, but he doesn’t care.

They share stories of their lives….Pierre’s older brother is fighting on the Western Front, and Pierre has six months before he to must be sacrificed to the Great War. After his brother ‘left him behind’ to fight in the war, Pierre feels very much a lone and hopeless. Luce’s mother works in a bomb factory and has begun a new life and family after Luce’s father died–Luce too feels very much alone. The war has touched both of their lives very intimately and cast them off….together the decide to not to let the war come between them.

Though tragedy is all around them, their love and the world which they created together is theirs and theirs alone….untouched by war. There is only their love. Their love transcends time, wealth, station, class, and war.

Romain Rolland’s short story Pierre and Luce, is a tragic but yet beautiful told love story that captures the essence of WWI and young love–Pierre and Luce is a story of hope.

Rolland won the Nobel prize in Literature in 1915, “as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings”. His most notable novel is the ten volume series Jean-Christophe. 

I was looking for something to read that was quick and easy. On Twitter I kept seeing one of my friends (Onesuch Press) tweeting about this short story. It caught my eye in part because of the cover (I know I’m a total cover whore!) and since it was set in WWI I thought it might be worth a go….since I’ve been on a Downton Abbey kick lately all things WWI and Edwardian era seem to be catching my fancy :). Onesuch Press’s goal is to generate interest in the lesser known works of well known authors–hence Pierre and Luce.

Rolland has a gift for lyrical writing, I loved the general flow of this novel and the philosophical musings…lots of great colloquial insights that make the reader think and examine their meaning. I love that sort of thing….I love books that make me examine new perspectives and thoughts….and this one did just that.

I liked that Pierre and Luce didn’t sound like a typical ‘war novel’. Of course the war is a huge part of  the book, but it is so much more–it is a story more about the human interest perspective than the valor.

The story is beautifully written and Rolland captures the vast disillusionment that the world (especially those in Paris) were feeling at the time. I thought he managed to convey this in such an understated and poised way that this novel for me, made me feel very much a part of the world in a way that other WWI lit has not.

I was a TA for a WWI Lit class while I was working on my BA and of course we read All’s Quiet on the Western Front and many Great War poems about loss and the bleak world which emerged from the Great War….but this book was more intimate and more personal for me in a way that the other novels and poems which I have read could never be.

Though that said, the last third of the short story lost a little of the sentimentality and story telling that the beginning had. I loved how the story started and the general bones of it’s structure and even the ending was rather fitting, though abrupt, but I couldn’t get past the last portion of the book. Some of the magic wore off which kept me from truly loving this short story and giving it a higher rating.

Even though the later portion of the book lacked some luster, this is a story that will resonate with readers. I know it is one that I will remember, not because it is touching and tragic, but because it is such an intimate and personal story told by an author who’s touch is light enough to make an impression.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Pierre and Luce by Romain Rolland 

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • ASIN: B004TP6FO2

This book counts toward: Why by the Cow Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 (a tragic but romantic tale of love and war)

Genre: Literature, historic fiction, French fiction, romance, war romance

Memorable lines/quotes:

In every growing youth between sixteen and eighteen there is a bit of the soul of Hamlet.

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