Bertrand Taithe

Beau Geste Revisited

Our Friends Beneath the Sands: The Foreign Legion in France’s Colonial Conquests 1870–1935


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 696pp £25 order from our bookshop

It is a paradox that the legend of the Foreign Legion should have such international currency and that, in this country at least, it should rest on a deeply ambiguous adventure and mystery novel, P C Wren’s Beau Geste. Beau Geste was in no conceivable manner clear advertising for the Legion and its values. The middle-class heroes of that novel join out of a sense of familial duty and in order to cover up the selling of a treasured family gem. They live a rough life in north and west Africa, with their commanding officers committing suicide or displaying extraordinary greed. Ultimately the narrator deserts the Legion. This portrayal was grim indeed and the novel became established as a response to the myth of the Legion. Yet Beau Geste has become the familiar point of reference for the often unspecific heroic days of the French Foreign Legion. In France the Piaf song, Mon Légionnaire, revived by Serge Gainsbourg in the 1980s, sealed the romantic allure of this elite force. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,