Blog, Women's History

Feminist solidarity in the archive: Marie Granet, the Resistance, and me. Emily Hooke

Just like the personal is political, so too is the archive. Here Emily Hooke reflects on Marie Granet, and histories of the French resistance.

Last October, I went to the Archives Nationales in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, slightly north of Paris, to examine the files of Marie Granet. Prior to my visit, I knew almost nothing about her. I knew she was a historian of the French Resistance who had interviewed resisters after the war for the Commission d’Histoire de l’Occupation et de la Liberation de la France (CHOLF), which had been set up in October 1944, and therefore must have been involved in the resistance herself. Yet despite the fact she conducted 260 interviews with resisters and published various articles and books, Granet has been overlooked in scholarship in favour of her colleague, Henri Michel. I wanted to find out more about the woman who helped to shape knowledge about the resistance. In my thesis, I use Granet as a case study to interrogate the structural, interpersonal and individual context to the production of knowledge and — more specifically — the production of the CHOLF testimonies. Through Granet, I locate the role of women within the primarily male-centred discourses surrounding the resistance and examine how the process of constructing knowledge was in itself gendered. But what’s in my thesis is not the whole story.

Trawling through Granet’s files, I began to feel a sense of solidarity with this woman: this historian of the French Resistance, who died the year before I — a woman, a historian of the French Resistance — was born. The letters written to ‘Monsieur Granet’ — that assumed that she was a man — elicited a groan and an eye roll; her thirty-eight year-old son’s lament that he and his wife had to move from his mother’s house because Granet was ‘“very” authoritarian’ led me to mutter that he — a qualified doctor — should have moved out long before; her accusations that a (high-profile, male) scholar had blacklisted her met with fury; when she held her ground with a man who had threatened her career, and told him she would put his letter in the archive so that ‘the historians of the future will judge’, I almost cheered.[1]

This feeling of solidarity was seemingly confirmed when I ordered Granet’s unpublished manuscript, written around 1976 — “The Role of Women in the Resistance” — from the archive catalogue. I’ve always been interested in gender history, and here was even more proof of our overlapping interests. Granet lamented that many of the resistance roles performed by women were ‘erased, but indispensable’. In her conclusion, she writes:

One speaks less of women than of their male comrades — who were often their boss — just because it is the bosses who are known — just because they are the ones who received medals and decorations, because, after the war, they often played a political or diplomatic role, because they are the ones who wrote “Memoirs”, who were interviewed by journalists… while the women returned simply to their occupations as women of the house, of mothers… and left the glory to their husbands or sons. Men were the bosses, women were only the units in the troop, and we all know it’s the generals who are elevated to statues, not the foot soldiers. But without the foot soldier, what could generals do? To the foot soldier, they raise, at best, a “collective” monument.[2]

Reading this section, I could feel Granet’s rage burning through the page. I was thrilled to read Granet explicitly — and angrily — challenge the narratives that heroised the men of the resistance, claiming that women had played a crucial part but — in the postwar period — had taken a step back and let their male relatives take ‘the glory’. Yet I was also frustrated: Granet had neglected to mention that she was among these women. I was disheartened by the paradox that she challenged the exclusion of women, while attempting to exclude herself from the narrative. I wanted to say to her: Tell me! Tell me what it was you did! Start with yourself! Break down these barriers!

And yet I realise I am being unfair. Granet — a woman working in a male-dominated field from the 1940s to the 1980s — was perhaps not able to embody her subjectivity as many scholars today have begun to. Instead, she cited her ‘thirty years of study on the Resistance’ that she had undertaken as how she knew of the importance of the role of women, and which gave her the legitimacy to speak. Indeed, even in her archive, Granet sought to preserve her legacy as a historian rather than as a resister.

Yet Granet’s wartime experience was important enough for her to dedicate decades of her life to researching and writing about the resistance. Granet did not tell her (potential) readers that she had been part of resistance movement Défense de la France; that she had sheltered Roger Sciama, her deceased husband’s best friend, who was fleeing the persecution of the Jewish community in Paris; that she had enabled her son’s resistance activity.[3] And so I am writing this, and telling people about her: Marie Granet (1892-1990): resister, historian, socialist, wife, mother.

Emily Hooke is a PhD researcher at the University of Southampton who is currently attempting to combine gender history, the history of emotions, the French Resistance and the construction of knowledge in her thesis. She went to visit Marie Granet’s house after finding her address on the envelopes to her letters, which she acknowledges (in retrospect) was probably a little odd.

[1] For examples, see 397AP/7, letter dated 18/11/1968; 397AP/8, letter from G. Truchot, 4/11/1966; 397AP/1; 397AP/1; 397AP/5; AN19920046/52/GRANET, Jacques, letter from Jacques Granet to Ignace Meyerson, 13 Octobre 1959; AN 397AP/6, letter from Marie Granet to Monsieur le Ministre, 4 June 1963; AN 397/9, letter from Marie Granet to Jacques Bruschwig-Bordier, 10/12/1973; translations my own

[2] 397AP/12 Marie Granet: Oeuvre inédite: “Le rôle des femmes dans la Résistance”: translation my own

[3] “Women in the Resistance” Papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library); Michel Sciama, Impasse de l’Étoile: Conversation (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008); AN 72AJ/42/3, Témoignage de Jacques Granet recueilli par Marie Granet, 5 Octobre 1946, p.1