by Henri Barbusse
"Happiness needs unhappiness. Joy goes hand in hand with sorrow. It is thanks to the shadow that we exist. We must not dream of an absurd abstraction. We must guard the bond that links us to blood and earth. 'Just as I am!' Remember that. We are a great mixture."
A young man, tired of life and love, indifferent to the people and world around him, takes up a room in a Parisienne boarding house.
Noises from the adjoining room draw his attention to a hole in the wall, and he observes its occupants through it.
He becomes obsessed with the individual episodes of human life that play out before his eyes; love, adultery, incest, childbirth, death, thievery and betrayal. Through his voyeurism, the unnamed narrator becomes an omniscient godlike character, observing the room’s inhabitants in their most private and naked moments. The hole becomes a window to the very soul of humanity and the human condition.
But as with Prometheus, his godlike powers come at a cost.
Henri Barbusse (1873 – 1935) was a French novelist, and political activist. He was editor of “Clarté”, the periodicals “Monde” (1928–1935) and “Progrès Civique”, which published some of George Orwell's first writings. He was also literary editor for the daily newspaper “l'Humanité” from 1926 to 1929. Barbusse was the author of a 1936 biography of Joseph Stalin, titled “Staline: Un monde nouveau vu à travers un homme” (Stalin. A New World Seen Through the Man). Barbusse was an Esperantist, and was honorary president of the first congress of the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda. While writing a second biography of Stalin in Moscow, Barbusse fell ill with pneumonia and died on 30 August 1935.