Fellow-Feeling in Childhood Memories of Second World War France: Sympathy, Empathy and the Emotions of History

Lindsey Dodd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines fellow feeling in oral narratives of French Second World War childhoods to argue that more attention should be paid to the complex ways that emotions affect the story(ing) of the past. Fellow feeling is understood as a claim to feel for, with or about someone else. The claim might be implicit but nonetheless leaves its imprint on the narrative. Fellow feeling exists in the happening past of the story (the early 1940s), the recounted story (the interview), and the disseminated story (e.g. this article). There is a gap between what can be known and what must be (imaginatively, empathetically, arrogantly, wrongly) filled with assumption. Assumptions run counter to positivistic demands for evidence. Yet, I argue, thinking into the gaps and spaces of our knowledge is both generative and illuminating. After a brief discussion of approaches to empathy, I draw on oral history narratives to illustrate the interplay of time, memory and affect in relation to fellow feeling. Using examples about the 1940 civilian exodus, the billeting of Germans into French homes, and experiences of persecution, I show that fellow feeling undergoes a recalibration when recounted in later life. It is bound up with desire, regret and hope, what a person wishes they had felt, or wants a listener to feel.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-147
Number of pages25
JournalClose Encounters in War
Issue number4 (2021)
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


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