Owen and/ in France

deadline for submissions: 
January 8, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Université of Valenciennes (France)
contact email: 

Owen and / in France

Université de Valenciennes

5-6 November 2018



Organizers :

Brigitte Friant-Kessler (Université de Valenciennes - CALHISTE)

Elise Brault-Dreux (Université de Valenciennes - CALHISTE)

Sarah Montin (Université Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle - PRISMES)


Keynote : Xavier Hanotte



(This is the thing they know and never speak,

That England one by one had fled to France,

Not many elsewhere now, save under France)

"Smile, Smile, Smile”, ll. 21-3




In partnership and conjunction with the Oxford Center for Life-Writing conference “Wilfred Owen and Beyond”, to be held in Oxford 26-28 October 2018, the University of Valenciennes will host an interdisciplinary two-day conference 5-6 November 2018 to celebrate the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s death, near the Sambre and Oise canal, in the North of France. As a companion piece to the Oxford “Owen and Beyond” Conference, the conference hosted by Valenciennes University invites scholars from a vast range of disciplines. The combination of literature, biographical approaches, history, local history, translation, and the visual arts is designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-cultural approaches. This conference will explore and privilege the link between Owen and France, and thus look at his oeuvre not only beyond his life but also beyond England.



When the war broke out, Owen was in France: he was teaching English in a Berlitz school in Bordeaux and had spent time in the Pyrenees in his youth. At the outbreak of the war he observed the development of the events with interest, but from a distance. He enlisted in October 1915 and arrived in the Somme in January 1917. Although his first letter to his mother betrays his idealism (“There is a fine heroic feeling about being in France”), his views on the war soon changed in the trenches. After a sojourn at Craiglockhart, a military hospital for shell-shocked soldiers where he met Sassoon, he went back to the Front in 1918. There he was tragically killed on November 4th 1918, one week before the armistice.


Participants could for instance, though not exclusively, discuss the following questions:



- How was his poetry, imagination and creative thinking nourished by his various stays (Bordeaux, Pyrenees) in France?

- How did his encounter with the French poet and writer, Laurent Tailhade, in 1914, influence Owen’s own creative process? 



- To what extent is his poetry inspired by the horrors witnessed and experienced in France as opposed to other geographic areas?

- the notion of “no man’s land” between the trenches and how Owen perceives that specific yet undefinable stretch of land;

- War in France as sensory experience: the French landscape of the senses at it appears in his works, the territoriality of the battlefield, the materiality of the mud, scents or particular odours, the sensation of the boots marching throughout the North of France, etc. ;

- The sense of exile: perceptions of the strangeness and foreignness of France, associated with the experience of war;



The proximity of Valenciennes University with Ors, where, in the “Smoky Cellar of the Forester’s House” he wrote his last letter to his mother, and where he was buried in the communal cemetery, naturally encourages a peculiar focus on Owen’s last stay in France.

We particularly invite contributions related to the poet’s “last” experience:

- his last march with the Manchester Regiment throughout the villages from Amiens to Vendelles, Magny-la-Fosse, along the St Quentin Canal, to Ors and the Sambre and Oise Canal where he was killed;

- his last written words;

- his last letters to Sassoon and to his mother;

- his last completed poems: “the last hill”, the “last high place” (“Spring Offensive”);



- Owen’s reading of French and francophone literature, in particular war literature of the times (Barbusse, Duhamel, Bourdeaux, Péguy, Verhaeren, etc.);

- Owen’s perception of and relationship with the French language, the inclusion of French in his poetic and epistolary writing;

- The translation of Owen’s poems into French;

- The reception and teaching of Owen’s oeuvre in France;

- Wilfred Owen and modern memory: the “myth” of Wilfred Owen and its impact in France (notably his appearances in Francophone literature), his resting place and last battleground as “site of memory”;

- His social and artistic networks in France;



- An intermedial approach is also strongly encouraged as the conference convenes to explore how Owen’s experience in France, has been transposed and rendered into other media (images, music, live performances) and how his vision of war and his own death have been aestheticized over the past century.


- On October, 10th, 1918, Owen, whose interest in photography was obvious, wrote to Sassoon: “Catalogue? Photograph? Can you photograph the crimson-hot iron as it cools from the smelting? That is what John’s blood looked like, and felt like. My senses are charred”.

Photographs, postcards and archives likely to inform the local context in which Owen lived the last weeks of his short life are going to play an important role in this conference. We would like historians, archivists and museum curators to join us for the event so as to stimulate studies around life in the army, in particular Owen’s regiments while he was posted in France, but also the social surroundings of Ors, Landrecies and the area of Cambrai or Amiens during that time.



The working languages of the conference are English and French.


Conference timeline

Submission deadline: 8 Jan. 2018

Final acceptance of proposals: 1 Feb. 2018


Please send a 300-word proposal, a short biography with main publications, and 5 keywords relevant to your paper.


All the proposals for the conference should be simultaneously submitted to

brigitte.Friant-Kessler@univ-valenciennes.fr and/or bfriant@orange.fr






Association Wilfred Owen France

Oxford Center for Life-Writing conference