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The Secret Life of The Death of Iron

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The purpose of this paper is threefold: to discuss my search for Serge-Simon Held, the mysterious author of a 1931 French ecological science fiction novel, La Mort du Fer (The Death of Iron); to discuss the cultural context in which it was written, with a view to establishing its significance; and to introduce the reader to the novel itself. My particular emphasis will be on La Mort du Fer as a generational successor to Emile Zola's Germinal, in which nature itself rebels against its abuse by technology and industrialism.

I first became acquainted with Serge-Simon Held's novel La Mort du Fer when preparing an environmental study of Ross Lockridge Jr.'s Raintree County. In his biography of his father, Larry Lockridge says that during his convalescence from scarlet fever, shortly after graduating from Indiana University in 1935, Ross Lockridge—who had spent his junior year in France—“read an obscure 1931 French novel, Serge Simon Held's La Mort du fer—“The Death of Iron”—that would bear strange fruit a few years later.” This fruit would be his epic and never-to-be-published poem, The Dream of the Death of Iron, partly inspired by his own disease; its “main narrative source,” however, was Held's novel: “He initially thought of writing a poem as “a series of fragments” based on this novel in which French [and ultimately world] industry is mysteriously debilitated by a phosphorescent rot in all its iron and steel leading to apocalyptic social dislocation and collapse.” Larry Lockridge believes that this disease of metal came to figure “materialism,” and that his father came to see “the growth of industry as spiritual illness and literal blight. The fiery iron mills [of Held's novel] were like diseased hearts and the contagion spread deep into the ground and into people's skin and bones. The antidote to all this was a renewed spiritual link to the body and the natural world. He had emerged from his sickbed a worshipper of nature.” In later correspondence Larry Lockridge says “there is no underestimating the impression that it made on him,” and it “was instrumental in seeding the environmental values of R[aintree] C[ounty].”
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2012

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