“The civil population seems to be a great liability in this war. It ought to have been shifted to another planet before they started.” – Pere Gustave (1)
Brecht’s updating of Joan of Arc has as its pinion a young girl, Simone, reading a book on the heroine as France is conquered by the Nazis. In a typical Brechtian refusal to simplify, she’s been given it by the buffoonish owner of the hostel where she works – consistency is seen in its most concentrated form in fiction – and the owner and his mother will shift from grudgingly giving food to their own army to absolute co-operation with the feared Germans: “Their first announcement on the radio was ‘Those who respect law and order have nothing to fear’.”; “They’re sniffing each other and each seems to find the other’s smell all right.”
“Are you trying to teach us to be patriotic? The Soupeaus have owned this hostelty for two hundred years.” – Madame Soupeau
Simone is one of Brecht’s most delicately drawn characters – lacking confidence, she repeats others’ opinions and judgements – her emotion is all her own, though, and it’s this she proves unable to control. Driven by apocalyptic, surrealistic dreams of her absent, enlisted brother (“Pour all your milk away, bury each crust of bread… Till he’s eating: ashes. Till he’s living in: debris…your town must be a memory, from the map let it fade…”) she begins a personal, instinctual scorched earth resistance.
The co-operative owners make an easy translation to the new regime. It ends badly for Simone. And in between, others fall between what appear binary extremes – most notably the wounded soldier George who, in failing to assist Simone when he can, relegates himself to the role of a minor character. Beautifully, though, both he and the owner do try to – gently, non-violently – help her when she is captured, and these useless sparks of goodness show how Brecht rejected impermeable heroes or villains – his characters always have a spectrum of choice – things/people could/can always be different.
Small PS: pretty certain this is where Au Revoir Simone got their name from – that phrase appears in the text, anyhow.
“Everybody’s exploiting the refugees down to their last sou…only a miracle can save France now. She’s rotten to the core.” – Mayor (1)