France

Freud once argued that the pleasure of shit is the first thing we learn to renounce on the way to becoming civilised. For Freud, the true universalising substance was soap; for Annabel L. Kim it is shit; and French literature is ‘full of shit’, both literally and figuratively, from Rabelais’s ‘excremental masterpieces’ Pantagruel and Gargantua and the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom through the latent faecality of the nineteenth-century realists to the canonical writers of French modernity.

... (read more)

The closest I have ever come to expiring from heat exhaustion was not during one of Melbourne’s oppressive summers. It was not in north-east Victoria as bushfire smoke choked the air and even the kangaroos abandoned the grasslands. The closest I have ever come was not even on the continent of Australia. It was on the number 26 bus as it crawled up the Rue des Pyrénées on a sweltering June day in Paris. 

... (read more)

While France provided a relative trickle of immigrants – the French in Australia numbered only four thousand at the end of the nineteenth century – its influence in Australia was surprisingly pervasive. Some years ago, an exhibition entitled The French Presence in Victoria 1800–1901 drew together an extraordinary range of materials, including French opera libretti and school textbooks printed here, together with original Marseille tiles and sumptuous fabrics. But Alexis Bergantz’s new book, French Connection, is not concerned with the spread, or penetration, of French goods. Rather, it is a careful examination of the idea of France. It is typical of its verve and elegance that the cover captures this nicely: Fragonard’s frilly beauty swings high at the top, a world away from the bottom-left corner, where Frederick McCubbin’s bushman sits Down on His Luck. (Tom Roberts got it in one: his well-known painting of Bourke Street includes the French tricolor, flapping from a shopfront.)

... (read more)

Napoleon and de Gaulle: Heroes and history by Patrice Gueniffey, translated by Steven Rendall

by
December 2020, no. 427

Forty years ago, François Furet outraged the French historical establishment by proclaiming that ‘the French Revolution is over’, launching a blistering critique of the Marxist categories and politics of university historians, many of them still members of the Communist Party he had abandoned in 1959. By the time of the bicentenary in 1989, historians were in bitter dispute over the meaning and legacy of the Revolution. In that year, Patrice Gueniffey completed his doctorate under Furet at the prestigious research school the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He remains at that institution today, Furet’s most famous disciple and a celebrated historian in his own right.

... (read more)

Jeremy D. Popkin, a historian at the University of Kentucky, fittingly begins his account of the French Revolution with a printer in Lexington enthusing in late 1793 about the ideals of the Revolution of 1789 in his Kentucky Almanac. The printer’s geographic distance from the events in Paris meant that his idealistic vision of the Revolution coincided with its most violent and repressive period in 1793–94, later dubbed ‘the Reign of Terror’. This juxtaposition of 1789 and 1793 is useful for Popkin to make his key point that, ‘despite its shortcomings, however, the French Revolution remains a vital part of the heritage of democracy’.

... (read more)

French journalist Agnès Poirier has a flair for relating the saving of France’s artistic treasures. One of the most gripping chapters of her previous book, Left Bank: Art, passion and the rebirth of Paris, 1940–50 (2018), told the story of Jacques Jaujard, who skilfully evacuated the Louvre’s greatest works mere days before the outbreak of World War II. In Poirier’s brief volume on Paris’s cathedral of Notre-Dame, devastated by fire on 15 April 2019, it is the turn of curator Marie-Hélène Didier and Notre-Dame’s operational director, Laurent Prades. As Poirier tracks the fire from outbreak to containment, we watch them battle Paris’s traffic-locked streets by car, RER, Vélib’, and foot to reach the cathedral and rescue what they can. Prades’s sudden (and entirely understandable) inability to remember the code for the safe in which the Crown of Thorns is kept makes for tense reading.

... (read more)

I wanted to like this memoir very much, not least because the inside of the book jacket promises, with some originality, a ‘not-uncritical love letter to Paris’. People (myself included) have a tendency to wax rhapsodic about France’s capital, but anyone who has ever lived there for any length of time knows ...

... (read more)

There is a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail outside a castle, brimming with French men-at-arms, who taunt King Arthur and his knights remorselessly, while the Britons are convinced that the Holy Grail lies behind the drawbridge. The Grail was, of course, membership of the Common Market ...

... (read more)

A country that fails its purge is about to fail its renovation,’ warned French-Algerian writer Albert Camus in a January 1945 editorial. Camus’ ominous edict, issued in the weeks following the end of Germany’s occupation of France, encapsulates something of what Agnès Poirier is trying to say in this ...

... (read more)

Revolution by Emmanuel Macron, translated by Jonathan Goldberg and Juliette Scott & The French Exception by Adam Plowright

by
March 2018, no. 399

After a succession of dramatic political events across the Western world in 2016, all eyes were on the French presidential election when it took place in the first half of 2017. Would the French resist the sirens of populism? Would the surprise campaign of the youngest candidate ever, Emmanuel Macron, offer a ...

... (read more)
Page 1 of 2