Marie Lenéru, France’s Helen Keller

Marie Lenéru

On 2 June 1875, Marie Lenéru was born in Brest town in Bretagne, France. Her father died in a war soon after she was born.

When she was 12 years old, an illness made her deaf and blind.

With much patience, her mother managed to continue her daughter’s education in those difficult new circumstances. A story which reminds one of Helen Keller in the USA. Like Ms Keller, Marie Lenéru managed to become a well-known author. Keller was an inspiration to Lenéru; she wrote about her US American role model.

Unlike Helen Keller, Lenéru got her eyesight back again, though only partially. She read and wrote with the help of a lens.

Other similarities with Keller are Lenéru’s activism for women’s rights; and for socialism (Leon Blum, later socialist Prime Minister of France, was one of her friends).

Helen Keller wrote: (in a letter to Senator Robert La Follette, in 1924):

So long as I confine my activities to social service and the blind, they compliment me extravagantly, calling me ‘arch priestess of the sightless,’ ‘wonder woman,’ and a ‘modern miracle.’ But when it comes to a discussion of poverty, and I maintain that it is the result of wrong economics — that the industrial system under which we live is at the root of much of the physical deafness and blindness in the world — that is a different matter! It is laudable to give aid to the handicapped. Superficial charities make smooth the way of the prosperous; but to advocate that all human beings should have leisure and comfort, the decencies and refinements of life, is a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.

Like Helen Keller, Ms Lenéru opposed the first World War. Ms Keller wrote: Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought! And: Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction! Be heroes in an army of construction!

Helen Keller would continue to oppose other wars, up to the Vietnam war which raged when her long life ended in 1968.

Marie Lenéru would never be able to oppose later wars. When World War I was still raging, on 23 September 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic killed her.

This quote is from Marie Lenéru’s theatre play Peace, which she wrote just before her death:

War is not human fate

Translated by Claire Tylee

Everything…give everything…use up all your energy…live only for that…have no body, have no soul except for that…so that one more time at least if the horror must fall upon the world it should be in spite of us, in the face of all our effort, in the ruin of all our hopes; a second time at least we should not be found indifferent, slumbering where we were living, under the protection of bullies.

Yes, that’s the worst. Before…Which of us was thinking of war? Which of us even knew that it existed, that it always threatened? Did our hearts flutter, did we feel a shiver? War…it was politics, “foreign affairs”…Nonsense! What was arousing our emotions? Our novels, our plays, always life, happiness more or less menaced by one person…We would write tragedy with only one man, and the great tragedy which operates through thousands and millions we would never think of. We would weep about the fate of one woman yet war existed. We would weep about just one shattered life…when everything there was could be left in utter ruin.

The fate of women. But like the fate of empires, it’s decided on the battlefield. They won’t catch me twice. I’ve sworn to remember and every hour of my life will be a fight against forgetting. Even if I must live a hundred years, I want to keep on until the end, bracing myself with the sense of horror, the convulsive protest that I rose up with on the day after that unspeakable vigil.

I didn’t tell you we were going to establish peace. I only told you we were going to do everything toward it…I only know that before hoping for anything at all on earth we have to have done with war.

War is atrocious, war is absurd, personally it horrifies everyone, but there is something we are even more frightened of than war, and that is to admit before everyone that there could be an end to the whole human race.

So, when the Guards, and when our armed fighting divisions marched against each other, singing their hymns, you drew the lesson, that “man is a wolf to other men” and that whatever one did one couldn’t stop the heroes from devouring each other? If war is unforgivable in those who let it loose, it’s because it is not human fate. There is not human instinct in an animal that makes it walk toward cannon.

ScienceDaily (Sep. 11, 2012) — The genetic sequencing and reconstruction of the 1918 influenza virus that killed 50 million people worldwide have advanced scientists’ understanding of influenza biology and yielded important information on how to prevent and control future pandemics, according to a new commentary by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and several other institutions: here.

11 thoughts on “Marie Lenéru, France’s Helen Keller

  1. Thank you deeply for this sublime pairing of the comments and pleas of two of the noblest spirits that have ever graced this beautiful but scarred and sad Earth.
    I first read an English translation of Leneru’s journal some 25 years ago and have been her devoted admirer ever since. Decades ago I saw in a bookstore a slim volume of correspondence between her and Guy de Maupassant which I now wished I had picked up.
    Leneru and so many other brave and pure and selfless people have been allowed to slip into obscurity; we must struggle to revive their examples and teachings.


    • Hi Richard, thanks for your blog post which inspired my blog post!

      I think that, for English speaking countries, apart from Marie Lenéru’s anti-establishment views which may not make her popular with establishment publishers, there is the language barrier.


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