Thursday, September 3, 2015
WAR SHORT STORY READALONG: The Conscript
"The Conscript" is a short story by Grace Greenwood. It is set in the Napoleonic Wars around 1804. It leads with the fact that most conscripts were taken from the French working class. They were forced to fight for "they scarcely knew what, with people against whom they had no ill-will." One of those reluctant warriors is the local blacksmith Jean Moreau. He leaves behind a mother and an adopted sister named Marie who he is betrothed to. On the march to join the army, he meets a nobleman whose son is a captain in the army. He hopes Jean will encounter his son, Captain De Lorme.
Sure enough, Jean is assigned to De Lorme's unit and in the Battle of Austerlitz they have a mad moment under the eyes of Napoleon himself. De Lorme rescues a captured standard and Jean rescues the wounded captain. They end up in the same hospital and Jean loses his arm while De Lorme almost loses his life. Eventually both return home. Jean's journey home is plagued with fear that Marie will not want him any more now that he is disabled.
"The Conscript" is a predictable story that one might tell as a bedtime story in France. Greenwood writes as though the story is aimed at a boys' magazine. There are no insights into warfare other than the above quote that unoriginally points out that draftees don't know what they are fighting for and have to kill similarly clueless draftees on the other side. The story relies on the clicheish "it's a small world" trope by having the main characters meet in a climactic moment. This builds up to a satisfying climax that could not have been more pat unless Napoleon himself had appeared at the wedding.
Grace Greenwood is the pseudonym of Sara Jane Lippincott. She was an American poet and writer. Not surprisingly she wrote for children's magazines. She was also a reformer who campaigned for abolitionism and women's rights. Some of her passionate poems indicate a lesbian relationship at a time (the mid 1800s) where that would have been quite scandalous. She does not seem the type to be writing war stories, but this particular story is a bromance and romance set in a war.
I am beginning to wonder about this list of war movie short stories that I have committed to read. I just wish I had been able to find a web site that had stories equivalent to the books I have that have truly outstanding collections of stories. Of course, many of the stories are polarizing, but there would be more to rant about. Oh well, I'm not going to give up on this project just yet. Plus no one is reading along anyway, so it's not like I'm catering to anyone.
GRADE = C
Next up: The Crime of the Brigadier