"J’espère que la vie va continuer." Le doyen des Français vient de fêter ses 110 ans

Maurice Le Coutour, l'homme le plus âgé de France, vit en Normandie. Dimanche 12 mai, il célébrait ses 110 ans en grande pompe à Vicq-sur-Mer, dans la Manche.

Il est né la même année que Louis de Funès et Marguerite Duras, le 12 mai 1914, et vient de souffler une bougie de plus. À 110 ans, Maurice Le Coutour est l'homme le plus âgé de France. Dimanche 12 mai, tous ses proches étaient réunis pour célébrer en grande pompe son anniversaire.

Dans le prieuré du village de Gouberville, sur la commune de Vicq-sur-Mer (Manche), une centaine d'amis et membres de sa famille étaient réunis pour honorer le supercentenaire, doyen des hommes Français. (La doyenne, elle, a 113 ans et vit en Vendée.)

"Chaque anniversaire depuis le centenaire est important. Il fallait fêter cela avec brio, pour lui faire sentir qu'on est toujours à ses côtés", évoque Maurice Ruel, le neveu du centenaire. "Pour nous, c'est un honneur" et "ça nous donne des espoirs", abonde-t-il.

Le doyen des Français Maurice Le Coutour entouré de ses proches, lors de la célébration de ses 110 ans, à Vicq-sur-Mer (Manche), le 12 mai 2024.
Le doyen des Français Maurice Le Coutour entouré de ses proches, lors de la célébration de ses 110 ans, à Vicq-sur-Mer (Manche), le 12 mai 2024. • © France Télévisions

"J’espère que la vie va continuer"

Cet ancien épicier de Cherbourg a connu deux guerres et participé aux combats de la bataille de la poche de Dunkerque, en 1940. Désormais domicilié en maison de retraite, Maurice Le Coutour garde "une santé de fer, un moral d'acier et un caractère très affirmé", fait savoir son neveu. Il reste aussi "chaleureux, bienveillant et généreux", complète-t-il.

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Maurice Le Coutour, l'homme le plus âgé de France, vit en Normandie. Dimanche 12 mai, il célébrait ses 110 ans en grande pompe à Vicq-sur-Mer, dans la Manche. • ©Lara Dolan et Damien Nicolini / France 3 Normandie

"Si je donne un coup d’œil tout de suite sur la vie que j’ai eue jusqu’à 110 ans, elle n’a pas été très mauvaise. J’espère qu’elle va continuer", a glissé Maurice Le Coutour à une journaliste de France 3, ce dimanche.

Une centaine d'amis et membres de la famille étaient réunis pour célébrer les 110 ans de Maurice Le Coutour, le doyen des Français, à Vicq-sur-Mer (Manche), le 12 mai 2024.
Une centaine d'amis et membres de la famille étaient réunis pour célébrer les 110 ans de Maurice Le Coutour, le doyen des Français, à Vicq-sur-Mer (Manche), le 12 mai 2024. • © France Télévisions

"C'est quelqu'un qui a toujours été très mobile, pour participer à des tournois de belote dans toute la région, faire du jardinage, aller à la pêche, aller à la chasse... C'est peut-être le secret, d'ailleurs, de sa longévité", s'amuse Maurice Ruel, son neveu.

Look at the Lights, My Love - Annie Ernaux

Text thanks to Los Angeles Times Book Review and David L. Ulin

A Nobel Prize-winning French author looks at a shopping mall. Magic ensues

“We choose our objects and our places of memory,” Annie Ernaux writes near the start of “Look at the Lights, My Love,” “or rather the spirit of the times decides what is worth remembering.” It’s a statement that could apply to her whole career. Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature last October, has long been a writer who occupies the middle ground between experience and recollection, between the life that is lived and the one that is recalled.

At times, as in her astonishing pair of parental portraits, “A Man’s Place” and “A Woman’s Story,” this can seem close to the territory of elegy. Ernaux, however, has nothing so sentimental in mind. “This neutral way of writing,” she describes her approach in the first of those two books, as if she were a kind of anthropologist, sifting through the detritus of her own existence in search of a meaning only she can distill.

“Look at the Lights, My Love” turns a similar sort of attention toward the Trois-Fontaines shopping center, a Parisian big-box superstore. Originally published in France in 2013 and newly translated into English by Alison L. Strayer, the book is, Ernaux informs us, “not a systematic investigation or exploration but a journal, the form most in keeping with my temperament.”

If such a project might appear anomalous coming from a writer given to internal excavation, it is also rooted in her work. I am reminded of Ernaux’s 1993 book “Exteriors,” which also functions as a journal of sorts: a series of notes, aphorisms and brief bits of description that together comprise a fragmentary accounting of minor moments and half-articulated interactions in the author’s Paris suburb. “I have this need,” she admits in those pages, “to record … people’s words and gestures simply for their own sake, without any ulterior motive.” But is this all it is? More to the point, it reflects the central tension in her writing, between neutrality and subjectivity — the seen and the felt.

Ernaux is aware of this; as she confides in “Exteriors,”“I have put a lot of myself into these texts, far more than I originally planned.” Something similar might be said of “Look at the Lights, My Love,” which echoes a number of her earlier narratives, from its reflections on abortion — reminiscent of “Cleaned Out” and “Happening” — to observations about class and custom rooted in the author’s upbringing as the daughter of shopkeepers in the Norman village of Yvetot.

“The less money one has,” she tells us, “the more carefully one must shop, making no mistakes. More time is needed. A list must be made. … This is a form of economic labor, uncounted and obsessive, that fully occupies thousands of women and men. The beginning of wealth, of the levity of wealth, is discernible in the act of taking an item from a shelf of food without first checking the price.”

Ernaux is writing as both watcher and participant; she has lived on both ends of that divide. Raised working class, she entered the middle class through education at the exact moment postwar prosperity took hold. In her 2008 reminiscence “The Years,” she recalls the thrill of discovering Kate Millet and Germaine Greer, of finding herself in the world of ideas.

At the same time, where did that world of ideas leave her? In the complicated middle again. Contemporary culture, “Look at the Lights, My Love” insists, makes it impossible not to be a consumer. And to be a consumer is to be complicit, in Ernaux’s view. On April 24, she reports, “An eight-story building collapsed near Dhaka, Bangladesh. At least two hundred are thought to have died. Three thousand workers were employed in garment workshops there for Western brand names. To specify ‘Western’ has long been redundant.” Three weeks later, she offers an update: “The death count from the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh is 1,127. Found in the rubble were brand labels for Carrefour, Camaïeu, and Auchan.”

On the one hand, that’s an almost perfectly understated piece of writing, a brilliant encapsulation of Ernaux’s particular minimalism at work. There’s not a wasted word in that short passage, which is damning because of both what it specifies and what it leads us to infer. On the other, it returns us to the question of neutrality, which is both essential to the author’s intentions and necessarily unresolved.

“As I do every time I cease to record the present,” Ernaux acknowledges in the book’s closing entry, “I feel I am withdrawing from the movement of the world, giving up not only narrating my days, but seeing them too. Because seeing in order to write is to see in a different way. It means to distinguish objects, individuals, and mechanisms, and to give their existence value.”

For Ernaux, this is a matter of both personal and political engagement, and it reverberates, as does so much of her writing, back to her childhood in Yvetot. Still, if it’s impossible, reading this book, not to think about her parents’ grocery/café, Ernaux eschews any easy judgment in favor of a more subtle reckoning.

“It may be,” she concludes, “that this life will disappear with the proliferation of individualist sales schemes such as online ordering and curbside pickup, apparently gaining ground each day among the middle and upper classes. So today’s children, in adulthood, may remember with nostalgia Saturday shopping at the Hyper U, as those of over fifty remember the pungent grocers’ shops of the past where they went with a metal pitcher to get fresh milk.”

Each moment, in other words, exists independently and on its own terms, which means that even a suburban superstore, that late capitalist monument to consumption, is likely to be recalled one day through a more human lens.

Ulin is a former book editor and book critic of the Times

For Ernaux, this is a matter of both personal and political engagement, and it reverberates, as does so much of her writing, back to her childhood in Yvetot. Still, if it’s impossible, reading this book, not to think about her parents’ grocery/café, Ernaux eschews any easy judgment in favor of a more subtle reckoning.

“It may be,” she concludes, “that this life will disappear with the proliferation of individualist sales schemes such as online ordering and curbside pickup, apparently gaining ground each day among the middle and upper classes. So today’s children, in adulthood, may remember with nostalgia Saturday shopping at the Hyper U, as those of over fifty remember the pungent grocers’ shops of the past where they went with a metal pitcher to get fresh milk.”

Each moment, in other words, exists independently and on its own terms, which means that even a suburban superstore, that late capitalist monument to consumption, is likely to be recalled one day through a more human lens.

David L. Ulin is a former book editor and book critic of the LA Times.

Cultural Notes Spring I 2023

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Text thanks to RadioSuisseClassic

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (December 25, 1745 – June 10, 1799)[1] was a champion fencer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of the leading symphony orchestra in Paris. Born in Guadeloupe, he was the son of George Bologne de Saint-Georges, a wealthy planter, and Nanon, his African slave.[2] During the French Revolution, Saint-Georges was colonel of the Légion St.-Georges,[3] the first all-black regiment in Europe, fighting on the side of the Republic. Today the Chevalier de Saint-Georges is best remembered as the first classical composer of African ancestry.

Youth and education

Born in Baillif, Basse-Terre, he was the son of George Bologne de Saint-Georges, a wealthy planter on the island of Guadeloupe, and Nanon, his African slave.[4] His father, called "de Saint-Georges" after one of his plantations in Guadeloupe, was a commoner until 1757, when he acquired the title of Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi (Gentleman of the king’s chamber).[5] Misled by Roger de Beauvoir’s 1840 romantic novel Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges,[6] most of his biographers confused Joseph’s father with Guillaume-Pierre de Boullogne, Controller of Finance, whose family was ennobled in the 15th century. This led to the erroneous spelling of Saint-Georges’ family name as "Boulogne", persisting to this day, even in the BnF, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In 1753, his father took Joseph, aged seven, to France for his education.[7] Two years later, on August 26, 1755, listed as passengers on the ship L’Aimable Rose, Bologne de Saint-Georges and Negresse Nanon landed in Bordeaux.[8] In Paris, reunited with their son Joseph, they moved into a spacious apartment at 49 rue Saint André de Arts.

Joseph was 13 when he was enrolled in Tessier de La Boëssière’s Académie royale polytechnique des armes et de ‘l’équitation (fencing and horsemanship). According to La Boëssière fils, son of the Master: “At 15 his [Saint-Georges’] progress was so rapid, that he was already beating the best swordsmen, and at 17 he developed the greatest speed imaginable.”[9] He was still a student when he beat Alexandre Picard, a fencing-master in Rouen, who had been mocking him as "Boëssière's mulatto", in public. That match, bet on heavily by a public divided into partisans and opponents of slavery, was an important coup for the latter. His father, proud of his feat, rewarded Joseph with a handsome horse and buggy.[10] In 1766 on graduating from the Academy, Joseph was made a Gendarme du roi (officer of the king’s bodyguard) and a chevalier.[11] Henceforth Joseph Bologne, by adopting the suffix of his father, would be known as the "Chevalier de Saint-Georges".

In 1764 when, at the end of the Seven Years' War George Bologne returned to Guadeloupe to look after his plantations, he left Joseph an annuity of 8000 francs and an adequate pension to Nanon who remained with her son in Paris.[12] According to his friend, Louise Fusil: "... admired for his fencing and riding prowess, he served as a model to young sportsmen … who formed a court around him."[13] A fine dancer, Saint-Georges was also invited to balls and welcomed in the salons (and boudoirs) of highborn ladies. "Partial for the music of liaisons where amour had real meaning… he loved and was loved."[14] Yet he continued to fence daily in the various salles of Paris. It was there he met the Angelos, father and son, fencing masters from London, the mysterious Chevalier d'Éon, and the teenage Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, all of whom would play a role in his future.


Nothing is known about Saint-Georges’s early musical training. "Platon", a fictional whip-toting slave commander on Saint-Domingue who, in Beauvoir’s novel "taught little Saint-Georges" the violin, is a figment of the author’s imagination.[15] Given his prodigious technique as an adult, Saint-Georges must have practised the violin seriously as a child. Yet, not before 1764, when violinist Antonio Lolli composed two concertos, Op.2 for him,[16] and 1766, when François Gossec dedicated a set of six string trios, Op.9[17] to Saint Georges, was it revealed that the famous swordsman also played the violin. The dedications also suggest that Lolli polished his violin technique and Gossec was his composition teacher. There is no basis to the not always reliable François-Joseph Fétis’ claim that Saint-Georges studied violin with Jean-Marie Leclair, however similar traits in technique indicate Pierre Gaviniès as one of his mentors. Other composers who later dedicated works to Saint-Georges were Carl Stamitz in 1770,[18] and Avolio in 1778.[19]

In 1769, the Parisian public was amazed to see Saint-Georges, the great fencer, among the violins of Gossec’s new orchestra, Le Concert des Amateurs. Two years later he became its concertmaster, and in 1772 he created a sensation with his debut as a soloist, playing his first two violin concertos, Op. II, with Gossec conducting the orchestra. "These concertos were performed last winter at a concert of the Amateurs by the author himself, who received great applause as much for their performance as for their composition."[20] According to another source, "The celebrated Saint-Georges, mulatto fencer [and] violinist, created a sensation in Paris ... [when] two years later ... at the Concert Spirituel, he was appreciated not as much for his compositions as for his performances, enrapturing especially the feminine members of his audience."[21]

Saint-Georges' first compositions, Op. I, were a set of six string Quartets, among the first in France. They were inspired by Haydn’s earliest quartets imported from Vienna by the eccentric Baron Bagge,[22] whose musicales were frequented by some of the best musicians in Paris, including Joseph. Two more sets of six string quartets, three charming forte-piano and violin sonatas, a sonata for harp and flute and six violin duos make up his chamber music output. A cello sonata performed in Lille in 1792, a concerto for clarinet and one for bassoon were lost. Twelve additional violin concertos, two symphonies and eight symphonie-concertantes, a new, intrinsically Parisian genre of which Saint-Georges was one of the chief exponents complete the list of his instrumental works, published between 1771 and 1779, a short span of eight years. Six opéras comiques and a number of songs in manuscript complete the list of his works, remarkable considering his many extra-musical activities.

In 1773, when Gossec took over the direction of the prestigious but troubled Concert Spirituel, he designated Saint-Georges as his successor as director of the Concert des Amateurs. Less than two years under his direction, “Performing with great precision and delicate nuances [the Amateurs] became the best orchestra for symphonies in Paris, and perhaps in all of Europe.”[23] As the Queen attended some of Saint-Georges' concerts at the Palais de Soubise, arriving sometimes without notice, the orchestra wore court attire for all its performances. "Dressed in rich velvet or damask with gold or silver braid and fine lace on their cuffs and collars and with their parade swords and plumed hats placed next to them on their benches, the combined effect was as pleasing to the eye as it was flattering to the ear."[24] Saint-Georges played all his violin concertos as soloist with his orchestra. Their corner movements are replete with daring batteries and bariolages,[25] brilliant technical effects made possible by the new bow designed by Nicholas Pierre Tourte Père - a perfect foil in the hands of a great swordsman. While their fast movements reveal the composer probing the outer limits of his instrument, his slow movements are lyrical and expressive, with an occasional touch of Creole nostalgia.

Saint-Georges was fortunate to be already established as a professional musician, because in 1774, when his father died in Guadeloupe, his annuity was awarded to his legitimate half-sister, Elisabeth Benedictine.[26] While before that he contributed his services to the Amateurs, he now asked for and was willingly granted a generous fee by the sponsors of the orchestra, which he had turned into the largest and most prestigious ensemble in Europe.

In 1776 the Académie royale de musique, the Paris Opéra, was once again in dire straits. Saint Georges was proposed as the next director of the opera. As creator of the first disciplined French orchestra since Lully, he was the obvious choice to rescue the prestige of that troubled institution. However, alarmed by his reputation as a taskmaster, three of its leading ladies “... presented a placet (petition) to the Queen [Marie Antoinette] assuring her Majesty that their honor and delicate conscience could never allow them to submit to the orders of a mulatto.”[27] To keep the affair from embarrassing the queen, Saint-Georges promptly withdrew his name from the proposal. Meanwhile, to defuse the brewing scandal, Louis XVI took the Opéra back from the city of Paris - ceded to it by Louis XIV a century ago - to be managed by his Intendant of Light Entertainments. Following the “affair,” Marie-Antoinette preferred to hold her musicales in the salon of her petit appartement de la reine in Versailles. The audience was limited to her intimate circle and only a few musicians, among them the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. “Invited to play music with the queen,”[28] Saint-Georges probably played his violin sonatas, with her Majesty playing the forte-piano.

The placet also ended forever Saint-Georges’ aspirations to the highest position of any musician in Paris. It was, as far we know, the most serious setback he suffered due to his color. Compared to the upheavals to come, it was a tempest in a teapot, but the wound it inflicted on Saint-Georges would fester until the Revolution. Over the next two years he published two more violin concertos and a pair of his Symphonies concertantes. Thereafter, despite of his humiliation by the operatic divas, except for his final set of quartets (Op. 14, 1785), Saint-Georges, fascinated by the stage, abandoned composing instrumental music in favor of opera.


Ernestine, Saint-Georges’s first opera, with a libretto by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, future author of Les Liaisons dangereuses, was performed on July 19, 1777 at the Comédie-Italienne. It did not survive its premiere. The critics liked the music, but panned the weak libretto, given precedence over the music at the time.[29] The Queen was there with her entourage. She came to support Saint-Georges’s opera but, after the audience kept echoing a character cracking his whip and crying “Ohé, Ohé,” the Queen gave it the coup de grace by calling to her driver: “to Versailles, Ohé!”[30]

Thanks to that fiasco, the Marquise de Montesson, morganatic wife of the Duke of Orléans, realized her ambition to engage Saint-Georges as music director of her fashionable private theater. As the failure of Ernestine had left Saint Georges insolvent, he was glad that his new position also entitled him to an apartment in the ducal mansion on the Chaussée d’Antin. After his mother died in Paris, Mozart stayed there with Melchior Grimm, who, as personal secretary of the Duke, lived in the mansion. The fact that Mozart spent over two months under the same roof with Saint-Georges, confirms that they knew each other.[33] As an added incentive, the duke appointed Saint-Georges Lieutenant de la chasse of his vast hunting grounds at Raincy, with an additional salary of 2000 Livres a year. "Saint-Georges the mulatto so strong, so adroit, was one of the hunters..."[34] Saint-Georges wrote and rehearsed his second opera, appropriately named La Chasse at Raincy. At its premiere in the Théâtre Italien, "The public received the work with loud applause. Vastly superior compared with ‘Ernestine’ ... there is every reason to encourage him to continue [writing operas].”[35] La chasse was repeated at her Majesty’s request at the royal chateau at Marly.[36] Saint-Georges’ most successful opéra comique was L’Amant anonyme, with a libretto based on a play by Mme de Genlis.[37] As a close friend of Saint-Georges, could Félicité Genlis’ anonymous hero, who woos his adored from afar but dares not to allow her to see his face, have been modeled on Saint-Georges, a ‘mulatto,’ able to be loved but never married by European women?[38]

In 1781, due to the massive financial losses incurred by its patrons in shipping arms to the American Revolution,[39] Saint Georges’s Concert des Amateurs had to be disbanded. Not one to let it go without a fight, Saint-Georges turned to his friend and admirer, Philippe D’Orléans, duc de Chartres, for help. In 1773 at age 26, Philippe was elected Grand Master of the 'Grand Orient de France' after uniting all the Masonic organizations in France. Responding to Saint-Georges’s plea, Philippe revived the orchestra as part of the Loge Olympique, an exclusive Freemason Lodge. Renamed Le Concert Olympique, with practically the same personnel, it performed in the grand salon of the Palais Royal. In 1785, Count D’Ogny, grandmaster of the Lodge and member of its cello section, authorized Saint-Georges to commission Haydn to compose six new symphonies for the “Concert Olympique.” Conducted by Saint-Georges, Haydn’s "Paris" symphonies were first performed at the Salle des Gardes-Suisses of the Tuileries, a much larger hall, in order to accommodate the huge public demand to hear Haydn’s new works.

In 1785, the Duke of Orléans died. The Marquise de Montesson, his morganatic wife, having been forbidden by the king to mourn him, shuttered their mansion, closed her theater, and retired to a convent near Paris. With his patrons gone, Saint-Georges lost not only his positions, but also his apartment. Once again it was his friend, Philippe, now Duke of Orléans, who presented him with a small flat in the Palais Royal. Living in the Palais, Saint-Georges was inevitably drawn into the whirlpool of political activity around Philippe, the new leader of the Orléanist party, the main opposition to the absolute monarchy. As a strong Anglophile, Philippe, who visited England frequently, formed a close friendship with George, Prince of Wales. Due to the recurring mental illness of King George III, the prince was expected soon to become Regent. While Philippe admired Britain’s parliamentary system, Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville, his chief of staff, envisioned France as a constitutional monarchy, on the way towards a republic. With Philippe as France's “Lieutenant-general” he promoted him as the sole alternative to a bloody revolution.

Meanwhile the duke’s ambitious plans for re-constructing the Palais-Royal left the Orchestre Olympique without a home and Saint-Georges unemployed. Seeing his protégé at loose ends and recalling that the Prince of Wales often expressed a wish to meet the legendary fencer, Philippe approved Brissot’s plan to dispatch Saint-Georges to London to ensure the Regent-in-waiting’s support of Philippe as future “Regent” of France. But Brissot had a secret agenda as well. He considered Saint-Georges, a “man of color,” the ideal person to contact his fellow abolitionists in London and ask their advice about his plans for Les Amis des Noirs (Friends of the Blacks) modeled on the English anti-slavery movement.[40]

London and Lille

In London, Saint-Georges stayed with fencing masters Domenico Angelo and Henry, his son, whom he knew as an apprentice from the halls of arms of Paris. They arranged exhibition matches for him including one at Carlton House, before the Prince of Wales, who received Saint-Georges graciously.[41] After sparring with him, carte and tierce,[42] the prince matched him with several renowned masters, including the mysterious transvestite, La Chevalière D’Éon, aged 59, in a voluminous black dress[43] A painting by Charles Jean Robineau[44] showing the Prince and his entourage watching "Mlle" D’Éon score a hit on Saint-Georges gave rise to rumors that he allowed it out of gallantry for a lady.[45] But, as Saint-Georges knew "her" having fenced with dragoon Captain D’Eon in Paris, it was probably in deference to D’Eon’s age. And, though Saint-Georges spent the rest of his stay entertaining his exigent friend, the Prince, he still took time to play one of his concertos at the Anacreontic Society.[46] He also delivered Brissot’s request to the abolitionists MPs William Wilberforce, John Wilkes, and the Reverend Thomas Clarkson. Before Saint-Georges left England, Prinny, as his intimates called him, presented him with a brace of pistols, so true as to kill at 30 yards’ distance. Prinny also had him sit for his portrait.[47] Asked by Mrs Angelo if it was a true likeness, Saint-Georges replied, "Alas, Madame it is frightfully so."[48]

Back in Paris, he completed and produced his latest opéra comiqueLa Fille Garçon, also at the Théâtre des Italiens. Once again the critics found the "poem" wanting. (Could it be that since operas were sung in French the weakness of their librettos became more evident?) "The piece, [was] sustained only by the music of Monsieur de Saint Georges.... The success he obtained should serve as encouragement to continue enriching this theatre with his productions."[49]

Compared with London, Saint-Georges found Paris seething with pre-revolutionary fervor. It was less than a year before the great conflagration. Meanwhile, with the re-construction of the Palais nearly finished, Philippe had opened several new theaters. The smallest of them was the Théâtre Beaujolais, a marionette theater for children, named after his youngest son, the duc de Beaujolais. The lead singers of the Opéra provided the voices for the puppets. It is for them Saint-Georges wrote the music of Le Marchand de Marrons (The Chestnut Vendor) with a libretto by Mme. De Genlis, Philippe's former mistress and then confidential adviser.

While Saint-Georges was away, the Concert Olympique had resumed performing at the Hôtel de Soubise, the old hall of the Amateurs, but with a different conductor: the Italian violinist Jean-Baptiste Viotti.[50] Disenchanted, Saint-George, together with the talented young singer Louise Fusil, and his friend, the horn virtuoso Lamothe, embarked on a brief concert tour in the North of France. On May 5, 1789, the opening day of the fateful Estates General, Saint-Georges, seated in the gallery with Laclos, heard Jacques Necker[51] raising his feeble voice to state, "The slave trade is a barbarous practice and must be eliminated." Choderlos de Laclos, who replaced Brissot as Philippe’s chief of staff, intensified Brissot’s campaign promoting Philippe as an alternative to the monarchy. Concerned by its success, Louis dispatched Philippe on a bogus mission to London. On July 14, 1789, the fall of the Bastille, King Louis XVI missed his opportunity to govern, and Philippe, Duke of Orléans, missed his chance to save the monarchy.

Saint-Georges, sent ahead by Laclos, stayed at Grenier’s; this hotel in Jermyn Street was a place for those bent on extravagance[52] and it was patronised by French refugees. Saint-Georges was entertaining himself lavishly.[53] His salaries gone, his largesse had to come from Philippe. Once again his assignment was to stay close to the Prince of Wales. It was not a difficult task. As soon as he arrived, Prinny took Saint-Georges to his fabled Marine Pavilion in Brighton, where he won bets placed on his guest’s prowess, took him fox hunting and to the races at Newmarket. But when Philippe arrived, it was he who became Prinny’s regular companion. Saint-Georges was rather relieved at not having to cater to Prinny's extravagant caprices, like making him jump through a speeding carriage or vault Richmond Castle's moat (presumably on horseback), to keep Philippe in the prince's thoughts.[54] Incidentally, while either Philippe or Saint-Georges were often seen with the Prince of Wales, it was never both at the same time.

A cartoon captioned "St. George & the Dragon" with the dragon symbolizing the slave trade, appeared in the Morning Post on April 12, 1789. On his previous trip to London, when Saint-Georges passed Brissot’s request onto the British abolitionists, they complied by translating their literature into French for his fledgling Société des amis des Noirs. Saint-Georges met with them again, this time on his own account. "Early in July, walking home from Greenwich, a man armed with a pistol demanded his purse. The Chevalier disarmed the man… but when four more rogues hidden until then attacked him, he put them all out of commission. M. de Saint Georges received only some contusions which did not keep him from going on that night to play music in the company of friends."[55] The nature of the attack, with four attackers emerging after the first one made sure they had the right victim, was obviously an attempt on his life disguised as a hold-up, arranged by the “Trade” to put an end to his abolitionist activities.[56]

In late June, Philippe, dubbed "The Red Duke" in London, finally realized that his “mission” there was a ruse used by the king to get him out of France. At first he consoled himself by attending horse races, trussing girls and swilling champagne with his friend, Prinny.[57] At that point, perhaps, to save his pride, Philippe clung to a vague promise made by King Louis to make him Regent of the Southern Netherlands. But when the harebrained attempt to impose him on the Belgians who wanted a Republic, failed miserably,[58] Saint-Georges, disillusioned by Philippe’s self-serving behavior, instead of returning to London, headed North, back to France.

"On Thursday, July 8, 1790, in Lille’s municipal ballroom, the famous Saint-Georges was the principal antagonist in a brilliant fencing tournament. Though ill, he fought with that grace which is his trademark. Lightning is no faster than his arms and in spite of running a fever, he demonstrated astonishing vigor."[59] Two days later looking worse but in need of funds, he offered another assault, this one for the officers of the garrison. But his illness proved so serious that it sent him to bed for six long weeks.[60] The diagnosis according to medical science at the time was “brain fever” (probably meningitis). Unconscious for days, he was taken in and nursed by some kind citizens of Lille. While still bedridden, deeply grateful to the people who were caring for him, Saint-Georges began to compose an opera for Lille’s theater company. Calling it Guillome tout Coeur, ou les amis du village, he dedicated it to the citizens of Lille. "Guillaume is an opera in one act. ...The music by Saint-George is full of sweet warmth of motion and spirt...Its [individual] pieces distinguished by their melodic lines and the vigor of their harmony. The public...made the hall resound with its justly reserved applause."[61] It was to be his last opera, lost, including its libretto.

Louise Fusil, who had idolized Saint-Georges since she was a girl of 15, wrote: "In 1791, I stopped in Amiens where St. Georges and Lamothe were waiting for me, committed to give some concerts over the Easter holidays. We were to repeat them in Tournai. But the French refugees assembled in that town just across the border, could not abide the Créole they believed to be an agent of the despised Duke of Orléans. St. Georges was even advised [by its commandant] not to stop there for long."[62] According to a report by a local newspaper: "The dining room of the hotel where St. Georges, a citizen of France, was also staying, refused to serve him, but he remained perfectly calm; remarkable for a man with his means to defend himself."[63]

Louise describes the scenario of Saint-Georges's “Love and Death of the Poor Little Bird”, a programmatic piece for violin alone, which he was constantly entreated to play especially by the ladies. Its three parts depicted the little bird greeting the spring; passionately pursuing the object of his love, who alas, has chosen another; its voice grows weaker then, after the last sigh, it is stilled forever. This kind of program music or sound painting of scenarios such as love scenes, tempests, or battles complete with cannonades and the cries of the wounded, conveyed by a lone violin, was by that time nearly forgotten. Saint-Georges must have had fun inventing it as he went along. Louise places his improvisational style on a par with her subsequent musical idol, Hector Berlioz: “We did not know then this expressive …depiction a dramatic scene, which Mr. Berlioz later revealed to us… making us feel an emotion that identifies us with the subject.” Curiously, some of Saint-Georges’s biographers are still looking for its score, but Louise’s account leaves no doubt that it belonged to the lost art of spontaneous improvisation.[64]

Tired of politics yet faithful to his ideals, St. Georges decided to serve the Revolution, directly. With 50,000 Austrian troops massed on its borders, the first citizen’s army in modern history was calling for volunteers. In 1790, having recovered from his illness, Saint-George was one of the first in Lille to join its Garde Nationale.[65] But not even his military duties in the Garde Nationale could prevent St. Georges from giving concerts. Once again he was building an orchestra which, according to the announcement in the paper, “Will give a concert every week until Easter.”[66] At the conclusion of the last concert, the mayor of Lille placed a crown of laurels on St. Georges’ brow and read a poem dedicated to him.[67]

On April 20, 1792, compelled by the National Assembly, Louis XVI declared war against his brother-in-law, Francis II.[68] General Dillon, commander of Lille, was ordered by Dumouriez to attack Tournai, reportedly only lightly defended. Instead, massive fire by the Austrian artillery turned an orderly retreat into a rout by the regular cavalry but not that of the volunteers of the National Guard.[69] Captain St. Georges, promoted in 1791,[70] commanded the company of volunteers that held the line at Baisieux.[71] A month later, "M. St. Georges took charge of the music for a solemn requiem held [in Lille] for the souls of those who perished for their city on the fateful day of April 29."[72]

Légion St.-Georges

On September 7, 1792, Julien Raimond, leader of a delegation of free men of color from Saint-Domingue (Haiti), petitioned the National Assembly to authorize the formation of a Legion of volunteers, so “We too may spill our blood for the defense of the motherland.” The next day, the Assembly authorized the formation of a cavalry brigade of "men of color", to be called Légion nationale des Américains[73] & du midi, and appointed Citizen St. Georges[74] colonel of the new regiment.[75] St. Georges’ Légion, the first all colored regiment in Europe, “grew rapidly as volunteers [attracted by his name] flocked to it from all over France.”[76]

Among its officers was Thomas Alexandre Dumas, the novelist’s father, one of St. Georges’s two lieutenant colonels.[77] Colonel St. Georges found it difficult to obtain the funds allocated to his unit towards equipment and horses badly needed by his regiment. With a number of green recruits still on foot, it took his Legion three days to reach its training camp in Laon. In February, when Pache,[78] the minister of war, ordered St. Georges to take his regiment to Lille and hence to the front, he protested that, “Short of horses, equipment and officers, I cannot lead my men to be slaughtered …without a chance to teach them to tell their left from their right.”[79]

That May, Citizen Maillard denounced St. Georges’ Legion to the Committee of Public Safety, for enrolling individuals suspected of royalist sentiments; he did not mention their being “men of color.”[80] Meanwhile Commissaire Dufrenne, one of Pache’s henchmen, accused St. Georges as: ”A man to watch; riddled by debts he had been paid I think 300,000 livres to equip his regiment; he used most of it I am convinced to pay his debts; with a penchant for luxury he keeps, they say, 30 horses in his stables, some of them worth 3000 livres; what horror…”[81] Though Dufrenne’s accusations were based on mere hearsay, Saint Georges was called to Paris where, promptly established by the Committee of Public Safety that Pache never sent his regiment any funds,[82] St. Georges was cleared of all charges and re-confirmed as Colonel of his Legion.

Meanwhile the legion's colonel had other grievances. On his return to Lille to rejoin his regiment on its way to the front, he found most of his black troopers and some of his officers gone. It must have been a bitter moment when he realized that without them his legion had lost its raison d’être. Moreover, War Minister Pache, instead of sending him supplies and officers, decreed leaving for the front, the Légion St. Georges would be renamed le 13e regiment de chasseurs à cheval, and attached to the army of Belgium. Some of its men of color were ordered to embark for the West Indies “to defend our possessions in America.”[83] Only the Legion’s first company, still called l’Américaine, retained some of Saint Georges’ original staff: Lieutenant Colonels Champreux and Dumas, and Captains Duhamel and Colin, along with seventy three of his old troopers. With Lille virtually on the front lines, while patrolling in enemy territory,"Citizen Saint-Georges, was seen by some of his comrades standing up to the enemy with only fifty of his chasseurs and taking command of a passing column, on his own volition, purely for the pleasure of serving the Republic."[84]

On January 21, 1793, Louis Capet, the former King Louis XVI, was found guilty of treason and guillotined on the Place de la Révolution (today's Place de la Concorde). General Dumouriez, who became minister of war after Pache was removed for corruption, took charge of the army of the North. Dumouriez, a Girondist, on the moderate side of the Revolution, spoke out too freely against the Jacobins of the Convention for executing the king. As a result, though revered as the hero of the French victories at Valmy and Jemappes, the National Convention ordered his arrest. Failing to dislodge him from the front, they sent a delegation led by Beurnonville, the new minister of war, to Dumouriez’s headquarters to bring him back to Paris. Colonel St. Georges was ordered to take a hundred of his chasseurs and escort the delegation from Lille to Dumouriez’s headquarters in St. Amand. On reaching the village of Orchies, claiming that the horses were fatigued after six leagues at a gallop, St. Georges asked the delegation to take another escort for the rest of the way. It is possible that, told of the purpose of the mission, he preferred not to be part of it. The delegation continued on with an escort provided by General Joseph de Miaczinsky, commander at Orchies.

Next morning at breakfast, a courier from Dumouriez arrived with a note for Miaczinsky. After reading the message, the General showed it to St. Georges and his officers. According to the note, Dumouriez, having arrested the delegation, was ordering Miaczinsky to take Lille with his division and join him in his march on Paris to "uphold the ‘will of the army,’ to reinstate the constitution of ’91 and to save the Queen.”[85] When Miaczinsky asked St. Georges to assist him on his march on Lille, St. Georges refused, saying that "being under orders to his commander, General Duval, nothing on earth could force me to fail in my duties.”[86] This was the moment when Saint-Georges, the son of a slave, chose the Revolution over his doomed Queen and the society that nurtured him. Accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Dumas and Captain Colin, he took off at a gallop to warn Lille of the looming danger. Having warned the garrison in time, when Miaczinsky arrived he was arrested by Duval.[87] Taken to Paris he was tried, found guilty and guillotined. General Dumouriez, his plans thwarted by “ the famous mulatto Saint-Georges, colonel of a regiment of hussars… “[88] together with Louis-Philippe, son of the Duke of Orléans and future king of France, defected to the Austrians.

In spite of the continuing shortages of officers and equipment, Saint-Georges’s regiment distinguished itself in the Netherlands campaign. But at the siege of Bergen op Zoom, their Colonel could not take part in the action. On 25 September St. Georges and ten of his officers were arrested and taken away. After two weeks, his officers were released, but St. Georges remained in prison.

Early that September, Maréchal Bécourt, commandant of Lille, wrote to inform the Ministry of War, that “The 13th regiment of Chasseurs, formerly called Légion St. Georges, has arrived here in great penury due to the laxity of its leader. That is the report of Lieutenant Colonel Dumas….”[89] Ten days before the arrest of Colonel St. Georges and his officers, Dumas, skipping a rank, was promoted to Brigadier General. One day later, skipping yet another rank, writing his superiors: “ …leaving for the army of the Pyrenées, I must have real Revolutionaries to work with against the enemies of our liberty…” he signed himself, "Dumas, Le General de Division."[90] Alas, Thomas Alexandre Dumas earned his spectacular rises in rank as Commissaire of General Security and Surveillance of the Committee of Public Safety.

Under the new Law of Suspects, St. Georges was incarcerated without charge in the fortress of Hondainville-en-Oise for 13 months. During his incarceration, France was in the midst of the Terror. On October 12, 1793 the Queen was guillotined on Place de la Republique; Brissot and 22 of his fellow Girondins, mounted the scaffold on October 31 and Philippe Orléans, obliged to call himself Égalité, followed them on November 5. With Danton riding in a tumbril to the scaffold, the Terror began to devour its own. The number of executions including those of ordinary citizens swelled to 26 a day. Paris grew weary of the killing and, as the successes of the army had relieved the public of the threat of invasion used by Robespierre to maintain the Terror, on July 28 the National Convention shook off its fear and sent Robespierre and 21 of his cohorts to the guillotine. St. Georges, living under the threat of execution, was spared only because Commissaire Sylvain Lejeune of Hondainvile and the district of Oise gave bloodthirsty speeches, but kept his guillotine under wraps. Three more months went by before the Committee of General Security ordered Colonel St. Georges, never charged with any wrongdoing, released from prison.[91]

His former world in Paris a thing of the past, St. Georges had only one compelling ambition: to regain his rank and his regiment. It took six months of cooling his heels at the Ministry of War, while living on an inactive officer’s half-pay, for the army to re-instate him as colonel of his regiment. In theory. In practice he found that while he was in prison his regiment had acquired, not one, but two colonels. One of them, Colonel Target, offered to cede his post to “the founder of the regiment,” but the other one, Colonel Bouquet, vowed to fight St. Georges tooth and claw. After a long and arduous year spent between hope and despair fighting to keep his post, on October 30, 1795, invoking an obscure law,[92] Bouquet won his case. Saint-Georges was dismissed from the army and ordered to leave his regiment. In addition he was ordered to retire to any community save the one where the regiment might be located. Thus ended Saint Georges’ military career, with nothing, not even a cheap medal, to show for his travails.


In Saint-Domingue, the news from abroad that the “whites of La France had risen up and killed their masters,” spread among the black slaves of the island. “The rebellion was extremely violent…the rich plain of the North was reduced to ruins and ashes…”[93] After months of arson and murder, Toussaint Louverture, a Haitian revolutionary, took charge of the slave revolt. In the Spring of 1796, a commission with 15,000 troops and tons of arms sailed for Saint-Domingue to abolish slavery. Second to Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, leader of the commission, was Julien Raimond, the founder of Saint-Georges’ Légion.

According to Louise Fusil, Saint Georges and his friend Lamothe had been absent from Paris for nearly two years. “I since learned that they had left for Saint-Domingue, then in full revolt; it was rumored they had been hung in a mutiny. I gave them up for dead and mourned them with all my heart, when one day, as I sat in the Palais Royal with a friend absorbed in a magazine… I looked up and screamed, thinking I saw ghosts. They were Lamothe and Saint Georges who, clowning, sang to me ‘At last there you are! You thought we’ve been hung /For almost two years what became of you?’ 'No, I was not sure that you were hung, but I did take you for ghosts, come back to haunt me!' 'We nearly are [ghosts] they answered, for we come from very far indeed.'”[94]

It stands to reason that Julien Raimond would want to take St. Georges, an experienced officer, with him to Saint-Domingue, then in the throes of a bloody civil war. While we lack concrete evidence that St. Georges was aboard the convoy of the commission, the fact that we find Captain Colin, and Lamotte (Lamothe) on the payroll of a ship of the convoy to Saint-Domingue, confirms Louise Fusil’s account. So does Lionel de La Laurencie’s statement: “The expedition to Saint-Domingue was Saint-Georges’ last voyage,” adding that “Disenchantment and melancholy resulting from his experiences during that voyage must have weighed heavily on his aging shoulders”[95] In the end, disheartened by the savagery of the strife between blacks and mulattoes, St. Georges and Lamothe were fortunate to escape from the island with their lives.

Within a fortnight of returning from that harrowing journey, St. Georges was again building a symphony orchestra. Like his last ensemble, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie was also part of a Masonic lodge performing in what was formerly the Palais Royal. The founders of the new Loge, a group of nouveau riche gentlemen bent on recreating the elegance of the old Loge Olympique, were delighted to find St. Georges back in Paris. According to Le Mercure Français, “The concerts…under the direction of the famous Saint Georges, left nothing to be desired as to the choice of pieces or the superiority of their execution.”[96] Though a number of his biographers maintain that at the end of his life, St. Georges lived in abject poverty, the Cercle was not exactly the lower depths. Rejected by the army, St. Georges, at age 51, found solace in his music. Sounding like any veteran performer proud of his longevity, he said : “Towards the end of my life, I was particularly devoted to my violin,” adding “never before did I play it so well!”[97]

In the late spring of 1799, there came bad news from Saint-Domingue: Generals Hédouville and Roume, the Directoire’s emissaries, reverting to the discredited policy of stirring up trouble between blacks and mulattoes, succeeded in starting a war between pro-French André Rigaud’s mulattoes, and separatist Toussaint Louverture’s blacks. It was so savage that it became known as the “War of the Knives.” Hearing of it affected St. Georges, already suffering from a painful condition which he refused to acknowledge. Two of his contemporary obituaries reveal the course of his illness and death.

La Boëssière fils: “Saint-Georges felt the onset of a disease of the bladder and, given his usual negligence, paid it little attention; he even kept secret an ulcer, source of his illness; gangrene set in and he succumbed on June 12, 1799.[98]

J. S. A. Cuvelier in his NECROLOGY: "…For some time he had been tormented by a violent fever…his vigorous nature had repeatedly fought off this cruel illness; [but] after a month of suffering, the end came on 21 Prairial [June 9] at five o’clock in the evening. Some time before the end, St. Georges stayed with a friend [Captain Duhamel] in the rue Boucherat. His death was marked by the calm of the wise and the dignity of the strong."[99]

Saint-Georges’s death certificate was lost in a fire; what remains is only a report by the men who removed his body: "St. Georges Bologne, Joseph, rue Boucherat No. 13, Bachelor, 22 Prairial year 7, Nicholas Duhamel, Ex-officer, same house, former domicile rue de Chartres, taken away by Chagneau." Over the name "Joseph" someone, no doubt the "receiver", scribbled "60 years", merely an estimate which, mistaken for a death certificate, added to the confusion about Saint-Georges’s birth-year. Since he was born in December 1745, he was only 53.[100]

Nicholas Duhamel, the ex-officer mentioned in the report of the “receivers,” a Captain in St. Georges’ Legion, was his loyal friend until his death. Concerned about his old colonel's condition, he stopped by his apartment on rue de Chartres in the Palais Royal and, having found him dying, took him to his flat in rue Boucherat where he took care of him until the end.

Cultural Notes Winter II 2023

French & Francophone Film: A Research Guide - Courtesy of the Library of the United States Congress

Lewis Wickes Hine, 1874-1940, photographer - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Directors and Cinematographers

The Francophone film world has long nurtured directors, cinematographers, and others on filmmaking teams who fundamentally change the art of cinema. This guide highlights the resources available in the Library of Congress catalog on various aspects of the Francophone film world, including directors, movements and history.

The first film directors, the Lumière brothers, Louis Jean and Auguste Marie Louis, pioneered the art of cinema when they branched out from photo equipment manufacturing to develop the cinématographe. In 1895 in Paris, the brothers screened their film La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon/Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon, the first movie premier. The brothers progressed from primitive documentaries such as La Sortie... and Le Repas de bébé/The Baby's Meal (1895) to fiction films. The novelty of the fiction form meant that film could tell stories, not just document reality.

One of the first films to include a narrative arc was L'Arroseur arrosé/The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895), a comedy short about a gardener's frustration with a water hose.

Another of the first directors was Georges Méliès. He was in the Lumière's audience at the premier of La Sortie... in 1895, and was inspired to make fantastical films that included some of the first special effects and employed editing to help tell a story. For a list of the Library's silent films and resources on those and early Francophone films click here.

Later, Abel Gance continued to experiment with film, putting montage theory into practice through editing techniques, and experimenting with camera movement via tracking shots and other methods.

In the 1920s-1930s, avant-garde and surrealist directors rejected commercial features and instead tested the limits of narrativity and consciousness. Jean Vigo, Luis Buñuel, and others produced hallucinatory work throughout this era, and their films still shock audiences today.

World War II brought Nazi censorship to screens, and imported films were banned. Many directors fled to non-Occupied areas, and to England or America, where they had mixed success. Directors who stayed in Vichy France, such as Georges Cluzot, were later punished for perceived "collaboration."

New Wave directors of the 1950s-1960s are perhaps the most well-known Francophone filmmakers: Names such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, Jacques Demy, and Alain Resnais immediately evoke the stylized, young Nouvelle Vague cinema.

The geography of Francophone cinema spread after the war. The first African feature film premiered, Sembène Ousmane's La Noire de.../Black Girl (1966), and Canada's National Film Board financed more French-language films.

This confluence of French history with film history means that Francophone film continues to be made rich by many perspectives and voices throughout the French-speaking world. Beur cinema, transnational productions, multilingual films, and women directors (such as Yamina Benguigui and Claire Denis) expand the possibilities of cinema and help us interpret the world.


Cultural Notes Winter I 2023

Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry: The Muse Who Inspired The Little Prince

Discover the true love story between the little prince and his rose that inspired Antoine Saint-Exupéry's iconic novella

Thanks to Domestika.com for this fascinating story!

Published in 1943 in English and French, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince is one of the best-selling books of all time. Its story reflects universal themes such as love, loss, and loneliness. The elegant watercolor illustrations (done by Saint-Exupéry himself) and countless novel adaptations—ranging from theater to ballet, opera, and video games—have seen The Little Prince go down in history as one of the most universal and relevant tales in literature.

Although the story is familiar to many—it's a mainstay in many children’s education—few know what (or who) inspired the iconic and emblematic tale: the relationship between its author and his wife, Salvadoran artist Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry.

More than a children's story

The story is told by a narrator, an aviator who finds himself lost in the desert after his plane crashes. There he meets the little prince, a young boy who tells him how he has traveled through space and visited different planets. As the narrator looks for ways to fix his plane before he runs out of water, the little prince tells him about his adventures, sharing his relationships with the characters he met on his travels.

Despite the children's book style and aesthetic, its observations and themes go beyond simple morals. The story deals with topics such as humanity, loneliness, friendship, love, and loss honestly and directly through its characters.

Many of the reflections revolve around adults and society: their inability to understand "the important things", their arrogance, their materialism... This, together with the illustrations that characterize the story, his powerful quotes, and his dreamlike and captivating style, earned the little prince and his characters their fame.

The rose: the little prince's love

One of the characters the little prince talks about is the rose. He confesses his love for her and describes her as vain and silly, growing on the surface of an asteroid. He explains that she is pretentious and feigns trouble to get his attention and care. During their time together, the little prince feeds her, cares for her, and protects her from the winds by covering her with a glass globe.

Despite his love for her, the little prince believes his Rose was taking advantage of him and decides to leave her behind to travel to other planets. However, when the time comes to say goodbye, the rose apologizes for not having been able to show him that she really loved him. She tells him that they have both been immature in that relationship. She wishes him well in his travels, but refuses the protection of the crystal globe he had placed to save her from the wind: from now on, she will protect herself.

The little prince regrets having paid more attention to his Rose's vain words than to her actions, which showed that she also loved him.

Later, coming across a field full of rose bushes, the little prince is saddened believing their presence means his rose is not as unique as he thought. However, with the help of a fox, he realizes this is not so: having cared for and "tamed" his rose, to him, she is the most special in the whole garden.

This event reveals one of the most important lessons—and iconic lines—from the story: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye."

Toward the end of the story, the little prince decides he wants to return to his rose, worried about leaving her alone. To do so, he allows a snake that's promised to help him return to his planet to bite him. We don't know if the young man dies or manages to reach his destination to be reunited with his rose.

Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry: the woman behind the tormented rose

Consuelo Suncín-Sandoval Zeceña was born in 1901 in Armenia, El Salvador, into a wealthy family. Because of her asthma, she moved to San Francisco, USA, and later to Mexico City and France to receive a comprehensive international education.

Despite her advantageous economic situation, Consuelo’s past made her a social pariah: her first marriage to a Mexican captain had ended in divorce, something unthinkable at the time. She hid this by saying that her husband had died in the Mexican Revolution.

Later, she traveled to Paris, where she met Guatemalan journalist and writer Enrique Gómez Carrillo, whom she married despite their age difference (she was thirty years younger). The literary critic died less than a year after the wedding, leaving her his considerable fortune, with which Consuelo settled in Buenos Aires.

In 1931, at the age of thirty, the artist met and married Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. At that time, Consuelo was a controversial figure: divorced, widowed, and with a reputation as a bohemian and problematic woman, but of undeniable magnetism.

In her biography, Consuelo de Saint Exupéry: Une mariée vêtue de noir, writer Marie-Helene Carbonel notes that in addition to being a very physically attractive woman, "she could also talk [with men]," as she was a beautiful and intelligent person as well. "It's no accident that she attracted so many intelligent and important men," the author comments.

A troubled marriage

The love between Consuelo and Saint-Exupéry was an infatuation that evolved into a tempestuous relationship. She became his muse, to whom he wrote true declarations of love in his letters. However, problems in their marriage soon began to arise.

As a Count and widely recognized writer, Saint-Exupéry belonged to exclusive social circles where a woman like Consuelo was not welcome. The French nobility and his family disliked her and her adopting the title of Countess through marriage to Antoine.

Recognized worldwide as a pioneering aviator, Saint-Exupéry traveled frequently, and on his journeys had numerous affairs with different women. Not to be left behind, throughout their marriage, Consuelo also committed numerous infidelities of her own. Their love story was stormy and troubled, and never entirely happy.
The Tale of the Rose: Consuelo's own story

The Tale of the Rose: Consuelo's own story

Saint-Exupéry disappeared in 1944, during one of his World War II aviation missions, leaving Consuelo a widow after more than a decade of marriage. Although the circumstances of his death remain shrouded in mystery, the same is not true of his relationship with his wife. A year after his disappearance, Consuelo wrote The Tale of the Rose, where she talks about her marriage to the writer.

Photograph of Antoine Saint-Exupéry and Consuelo [Source: Larepublica.pe].
Photograph of Antoine Saint-Exupéry and Consuelo [Source: Larepublica.pe].

This manuscript about her relationship with Saint-Exupéry wasn't published until 2000, many years after his death in 1979, and its pages caused a real stir in France. The Salvadoran artist speaks of a selfish and cruel Antoine, and of a bitter and troubled marriage, of her husband's numerous infidelities, and of the years full of conflict and bitterness. The book has become a sensation since its publication and has been translated into sixteen languages.

The Little Prince: a love letter

Following Consuelo's confessions in The Tale of the Rose, many critics now believe that The Little Prince is an allegory of Saint-Exupéry's life: his worries, his reflections, and regrets.

The three volcanoes on the little prince's planet represent the three volcanoes of El Salvador. The rose, vain but kind-hearted, is Consuelo. Her fragility, the chronic asthma she suffered from. The field of roses that distracts the little prince during his visit to earth and makes him doubt the value of his rose, an allegory of his numerous infidelities.

The Little Prince has gone down in history as a tale full of interesting reflections, poetic lessons, and iconic images. But for biographer Marie-Helene Carbonel, The Little Prince is a love letter and an apology, from Saint-Exupéry to Consuelo. One we don't know if she ever accepted.

Cultural Notes - Automne 2022
Where to start with: Marcel Proust

One hundred years after the French writer’s death, translator Lucy Raitz suggests some good ways into his work

Thanks to The Guardian for this fascinating story!

Article by Lucy Raitz Fri 18 Nov 2022

Marcel Proust. Illustration: Guardian Design

The long revered French novelist, critic and essayist is still thought to be one of the most influential authors of all time a century after this death on 18 November 1922. While Proust does have more than one work of fiction to his name - in 1896 he published the short story collection Les Plaisirs et Les Jours (Pleasures and Days), for example, and between 1895 and 1899 he wrote the autobiographical novel Jean Santeuil – when people refer to Proust they tend to be talking about A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Perhaps you’ve dipped in to one of the monumental novel’s seven volumes, or maybe you’ve struggled to find a way in; either way, literary translator Lucy Raitz has put together this handy guide to the great writer for anyone who wants to know his work better.

The starting point

The older narrator, who has forgotten everything about his childhood except the trauma of his mother failing to give him a goodnight kiss, dips a shell-shaped Madeleine in a cup of limeflower tea. Slowly the past uncurls its petals and Combray – the scene of all the family’s Easter holidays, with its walks, its river, its shops and its church – is restored to him. The place and its people are so vivid; unsurprisingly, since Combray is modelled on the little town of Illiers, not far from Chartres, where Proust’s father grew up and where Marcel did indeed spend holidays, staying with his aunt and uncle. Combray, which gives its name to the first part of the first volume, is the kind of place you might never want to leave, so if you stop there, you’re still winning.

The one to read on the beach

The second volume has the most beautiful and really untranslatable title A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs. “In the shade of the girls in bloom” doesn’t sound quite the same – I think translator Scott Moncrieff did it better with Within a Budding Grove. This volume takes place in the fashionable fictional seaside resort of Balbec. The narrator, now a young man, is staying with his grandmother at the Grand Hotel. He meets the painter Elstir and a gang of sporty girls, with whom he falls collectively in love. It evokes summer scenes painted by the impressionists and, indeed, Elstir is modelled in part on Monet. The very best place to read this book would of course be the Normandy coast, where you could look up from the pages to see a view that really hasn’t changed since Proust himself stayed in the Grand Hotel in Cabourg more than 100 years ago.

If you like a mystery

In volume six, La Prisonnière (The Captive), one of the flowering girls, Albertine, has become the focus for the narrator’s passion, a passion founded in possessive jealousy, hence the title. He keeps Albertine – we don’t really know how – a virtual prisoner in the Paris apartment he shares with his parents and housekeeper, Françoise. Since we see things entirely from his point of view, Albertine remains a shadowy figure, which has prompted other writers to intervene. Like Jean Rhys telling the first Mrs Rochester’s story via Wide Sargasso Sea, the writer Jacqueline Rose has told Albertine’s, and she is not the only one; the director Chantal Akerman has done it too, in her film The Captive. Proust’s biographers agree that Albertine was modelled on Alfred Agostinelli, the writer’s chauffeur-secretary-lover, who died when he crashed his plane. Albertine too dies, shortly after escaping from the narrator, in a riding accident. Through the narrator’s grief and posthumous obsessive search to discover who Albertine really was, Proust exorcises his own remorse. Death haunts this volume, as Bergotte, the fictional writer, keels over in front of Vermeer’s View of Delft, lamenting his failure to equal the painter’s liveliness. Although the death itself is bathetic, its aftermath is majestic, and perhaps what Proust would have wished for himself:

They buried him, but all through the night of his funeral, in the lit shop-windows, his books, in groups of three, kept watch like angels with outstretched wings, and seemed, for him who was no longer there, the symbol of his resurrection.

The one to give a miss

Ideally, you wouldn’t skip any of them, but … in volume four, The Guermantes Way (Part Two) a staggering number of pages are devoted to one evening at the Duchesse de Guermantes’s house in the Faubourg St Germain in Paris. In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin has a character called Rolf, who does nothing but read, making his way through the Duchesse de Guermantes’ “interminable” dinner party. It’s tempting to miss a course or two.

If you only read one

Easy. It has to be Un Amour de Swann (Swann in Love) which is that terribly 21st-century thing, a prequel. Swann’s Way is part two of the first volume, following Combray. In it, the narrator steps aside from his own consciousness to tell in every beautiful, terrible detail the story whose bare bones he has gleaned from his parents’, and grandparents’, conversations, that of Swann’s love affair with the unsuitable and unworthy Odette de Crécy. As a study in the miseries of unrequited love and obsessive jealousy, it is unparalleled. It also scotches any theory that Proust’s women are all men (often his ex-lovers) in disguise. Unlike Albertine, Odette is a woman with a complex and believable psyche. Swann in love also contains such gems as the hilariously ghastly characters the Verdurins, the piano sonata whose little phrase entrances Swann, yielding extraordinary musings on the power of music and wonderful descriptions of belle epoque Paris. It’s a bit too long to be termed a novella, but it feels like one, and might stand on the same shelf as Turgenev’s First Love, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes or JL Carr’s A Month in the Country.

Swann in Love by Marcel Proust, translated by Lucy Raitz, is published by Pushkin Press (£14.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

Merci à FRANCE 24 et au New York Times

L'"autobiographie impersonnelle" d'Annie Ernaux, prix Nobel de littérature

Le prix Nobel de littérature 2022 a été attribué, jeudi, à la Française Annie Ernaux, "pour le courage et l'acuité clinique dont elle fait preuve pour révéler les racines, la distanciation et les contraintes collectives de la mémoire personnelle", a déclaré l'Académie. Son style clinique, dénué de tout lyrisme fait l'objet de nombreuses thèses. Abandonnant très rapidement le roman, elle a inventé l"autobiographie impersonnelle". 

C'est la romancière française Annie Ernaux qui a remporté le prix Nobel de littérature 2022. L'écrivaine de 82 ans est récompensée pour "le courage et l'acuité clinique avec laquelle elle découvre les racines, les éloignements et les contraintes collectives de la mémoire personnelle", a expliqué le jury Nobel.

Prix Renaudot en 1984 pour "La Place" et finaliste du prestigieux prix Booker international en 2019, cette professeure de littérature à l'université de Cergy-Pontoise a écrit une vingtaine de récits dans lesquels elle dissèque le poids de la domination de classes et la passion amoureuse, deux thèmes ayant marqué son itinéraire de femme déchirée en raison de ses origines populaires.    

Écrivaine revendiquée de gauche, Annie Ernaux se nourrit de la sociologie bourdieusienne dont la découverte dans les années 70 lui permet d'identifier le "mal-être social" qui la ronge dès son entrée dans une école privée dans les années 50. 


En 2022, elle reprend ce récit avec des dizaines de films familiaux tournés par son ancien mari entre 1972 et 1981. "Les années super 8" sont présentés à la Quinzaine des réalisateurs à Cannes. 

"Je me considère très peu comme un être singulier mais comme une somme d'expériences, de déterminations aussi, sociales, historiques, sexuelles, de langages et continuellement en dialogue avec le monde (passé et présent)", écrit-elle dans "L'écriture comme un couteau".

Dès lors, l'écriture devient un moyen d'atteindre et de dire avec authenticité l'expérience intime de sa condition féminine modelée par Simone de Beauvoir : son dépucelage raté dans "La Honte" (1997) puis dans "Mémoire de filles" (2018), son avortement illégal vécu en 1963 comme une émancipation sociale dans "L'Evénement" (2000), l'échec de son mariage dans "La femme gelée" (1981) ou encore son cancer du sein dans "L'usage de la photo" (2005). 

Jugée par ses détracteurs comme une écrivaine obscène et misérabiliste, elle choque par la description crue de l'aliénation amoureuse dans "Passion simple" (1992). 

Origines modestes

Née en 1940, elle vit jusqu'à ses 18 ans dans le café-épicerie "sale, crado, moche, dégueulbif" de ses parents à Yvetot, en Haute-Normandie, dont elle va s'extraire grâce à une agrégation de lettres modernes obtenue à force d'un travail intellectuel intense. 

Des "armoires vides" (1974) aux "Années" (2008), cette grande et belle femme blonde va suivre une trajectoire d'écriture qui la conduit d'un premier petit roman âpre et violent à cette généreuse autobiographie historique. 

Dans "Les armoires vides", son héroïne décrit avec rage les deux mondes incompatibles dans lesquels elle évolue lors de son adolescence : d'un côté, l'ignorance, la crasse, la vulgarité des clients ivrognes, les petites habitudes minables de ses épiciers de parents et de l'autre "la facilité, la légèreté des filles de l'école libre" issues de la petite bourgeoisie.   

"Écriture plate"

Au fil des récits tous publiés chez Gallimard, l'auteure va réparer la trahison qu'elle estime avoir commise envers ses parents en leur consacrant un portrait réconcilié dans "La Place" et "Une femme" (1988). 

Son style clinique, dénué de tout lyrisme fait l'objet de nombreuses thèses. Par cette "écriture plate", elle convoque l'universel dans le récit singulier de son existence. Abandonnant très rapidement le roman, elle renouvelle le récit de filiation et invente l"autobiographie impersonnelle". 

La "saison" des Nobel s'est, ouverte, lundi avec l'attribution du Nobel de physiologie ou de médecine au paléogénéticien suédois Svante Pääbo.

Les physiciens quantiques français Alain Aspect, américain John F. Clauser et autrichien Anton Zeilinger ont été récompensés, mardi, par le prix Nobel de physique et le prix Nobel de chimie a été attribué, mercredi, aux Américains Carolyn R. Bertozzi et K. Barry Sharpless et au Danois Morten Meldal.

Les annonces du prix Nobel de la paix et d'économie sont prévues respectivement vendredi et lundi prochains.

Avec AFP et Reuters

Cultural Notes Été 2022

Merci au magazine Point de Vue et à la journaliste Mme LETANG et à Mr. POLGE

Pour Chanel, Olivier Polge capture l’essence de Paris

Par Marie Létang | 02 juillet 2022

Parfumeur exclusif de la maison Chanel, il a pris la suite de son père il y a presque dix ans. L’histoire d’un talent et d’une transmission qu’il nous confie à l’occasion de la sortie de la nouvelle eau de Chanel, Paris-Paris. 

Vous avez grandi dans l’univers du parfum avec votre père, Jacques Polge. Rêviez-vous de suivre ses traces ? 

Ma famille paternelle vient de Grasse… À la maison, il y avait partout la présence de Chanel: des échantillons, des essais que ma mère portait. Adolescent, j’ai même porté Égoïste, alors nommé Bois Noir en interne. Ce parfum me permettait aussi de masquer l’odeur de la cigarette lorsque je fumais en cachette! Je me souviens que son lancement avait été repoussé. Sortir un masculin pour une maison de mode féminine, ce n’était pas simple à l’époque. 

Donc votre destin était écrit… 

J’ai voulu tout faire, sauf ça ! J’étais attiré par la musique, les métiers manuels, et finalement je me suis dirigé vers des études d’histoire de l’art. Un été, ma mère m’a poussé à faire un stage dans un laboratoire de parfumerie, et j’ai été conquis. J’ai fini par demander à mon père s’il pouvait me mettre le pied à l’étrier… 

Olivier Polge, parfumeur de père en fils. © Chanel

Et vingt ans plus tard vous êtes arrivé chez Chanel… 

Ce n’était pas l’idée de départ. J’ai suivi mon chemin… Je me suis formé sur le tas, en faisant des stages dans des sociétés de matières premières, ensuite, je suis entré chez IFF aux États-Unis, puis en France. À 70 ans, en 2013, mon père s’est mis en tête de chercher un successeur, et les choses se sont faites très naturellement. 

Quel fut le premier parfum sur lequel vous avez travaillé ? 

On réfléchit toujours à plusieurs parfums en même temps, mais c’était le moment de la création de Misia, dont le sillage poudré évoque la meilleure amie de Coco. J’ai surtout eu la chance de démarrer avec N° 5 L’Eau, qui reprend les fondamentaux de la marque. C’est une légende que j’ai réécrite sans la dénaturer en y ajoutant notamment un souffle d’agrumes, pour en faire une fragrance moderne et fraîche. 

Est-ce facile de se réinventer, de suivre la tendance, tout en conservant l’esprit d’une maison centenaire ? 

Nous avons justement la chance d’avoir une marque emblématique faite de parfums marquants et d’éléments de style avec lesquels nous pouvons jouer. Comme disait Mademoiselle Chanel : "La mode change, mais le style reste." Je ne me sens pas enfermé par cet héritage, au contraire, la création, c’est faire des choix, cela devient intéressant de jouer avec un cadre. Je pense qu’au fil des créations on reconnaît surtout l’expression de ce style, absolument indémodable.

Au fils des années et avec la demande pour des parfums plus naturels, avez-vous changé des choses dans votre processus de création ? 

L’idée la plus importante est de retravailler les matières premières, ce que nous faisons constamment. On peut facilement obtenir des aldéhydes naturels par des procédés de concentration d’essences d’agrumes, des fractions de patchouli pour le Coco Mademoiselle. Ce n’est plus le patchouli des années 1970… 

Quelles sont les senteurs que vous préférez ? 

J’ai toujours été très attiré par les notes autour de l’iris, qui est un ingrédient très particulier. C’est une fleur dont l’odeur est celle de la racine et non du pétale. Pour les besoins de la maison, nous en avons planté quelques champs dans le sud de la France. C’est une note réellement façonnée par l’homme: il faut trois ans en terre pour que les rhizomes se développent. Pourtant, ils ne sentent pas encore, mais le principe olfactif se développe par le séchage, qui dure à nouveau trois ans. Puis avec différentes techniques d’extraction, on obtient cette senteur unique, boisée et poudrée. 

La collection des Eaux invite aux voyages. Quelles sont les destinations qui inspirent votre travail ? 

En réalité, je les vois plus comme des voyages imaginaires… Et à titre personnel, je n’ai pas forcément besoin de partir pour être inspiré, le fantasme est suffisant… Les Eaux sont d’ailleurs des métaphores de ces destinations emblématiques, devenues des influences, des éléments de style pour la maison. Biarritz me fait penser aux collections sport de Karl Lagerfeld. Édimbourg évoque l’idée d’une Coco Chanel rentrant en France chargée de tweeds. 

Que nous raconte cette nouvelle création Paris-Paris ? 

Ce fut la ville la plus difficile à décrire. Lorsqu’on y vit, on manque toujours un peu de recul. Mais pour moi, c’est la plus pertinente, construite autour de la Parisienne vue de l’étranger, image assez juste je trouve, à la fois élégante et décontractée. Je suis resté sur l’idée de la Cologne, travaillée avec une rose de Damas (Rosa damascena), pétillante, fruitée, verte, très fraîche. Elle éclate sur un fond de patchouli et une note épicée de poivre, qui vient ajouter un peu de contraste. 

Lengendary perfume "Chanel No. 5", created by designer Coco Chanel in 1920, is part of the exhibition of the German Museum of Hygiene. Photo by Martin Schutt/DPA/ABACAPRESS.COM

Join the Alliance Française de Sarasota for a special Masterclass on the Language of Scents with renowned Parisenne Parfumeur Anastasia Sokolow - Saturday 12 November from 2pm-4pm Florida time on Zoom...check out www.afsarasota.org to register...super limited places...RSVP ASAP!