Comfort Sheds Light on 'The Dark Years'

Kathy Comfort, associate professor of French in the Department of World Languages, employed elements and methods from literary criticism, history, politics, cultural studies, and trauma studies in the writing of her most recent book, titled Refiguring Les Années Noires: Literary Representations of the Nazi Occupation.

The book shows how the memory of the period (1940-1945) had been shaped by political and social factors. It examines representations of the German occupation of France by a diverse group of writers, ranging from a female Resistance fighter to one of the first French Roma novelists.

The French refer to the occupation as les années noires (the Dark Years) because of the shame caused by the Vichy regime's collaboration with the Nazi occupiers.

The methodological diversity of the volume brings to the fore each author's unique perspective and demonstrates that their works are at once historically and artistically significant.

Comfort said the book offers an excellent cross section of French society at the time from women resistance fighters to an accused collaborator, to a Roma writer — a French citizen — who was interned in a camp in southern France.

For Comfort, the real challenges while writing the book were finding information about the Roma during the Nazi occupation of France for the chapter on Matéo Maximoff and understanding the culture of the Roma and how it impacted their experience during the occupation.

"I think that people have a vague understanding of occupied France but don't really appreciate the complexity of the time. It's easy to point to the "good guys" and the "bad guys" but often those who collaborated with the occupiers did so not because of politics or ideology but because they had no choice," said Comfort.

What continues to fascinate Comfort are the stories that tend to be overlooked. In her new project dealing with World War I, she examines narratives of women and children who lived in the occupied territories of northern and eastern France, as well as those of the tirailleurs sénégalais, the French colonial troops who fought in the war.

Click here to purchase or to learn more about Refiguring Les Années Noires: Literary Representations of the Nazi Occupation.


Kathy Comfort, associate professor of French
World Languages, Literatures and Cultures


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