The author of Zola (1995) and Flaubert (2006) once again demonstrates his profound knowledge of French history, its people and their psyche.
Brown’s Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus (2010) showed France’s struggle from the revolution into the Third Republic. Here, the author digs even deeper in the fight for minds beginning with the effects of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. The rise of xenophobia after the loss of Alsace-Lorraine was as much an indication of anti-Semitism as anything else. The Third Republic, with its revolving door of ministers, only exacerbated the rise of extremists. Maurice Barrès, a dedicated Boulangist, was radicalized by the Panama Canal Company scandal and the Dreyfus Affair, and he blamed the Jewish syndicate. Together with Charles Maurras, he founded Action Française, a monarchist newspaper that attempted to destroy every political adversary with slander campaigns. As editor in chief, Léon Daudet completed the unholy trinity devoted to yellow journalism, using fear as the weapon of choice. His youth organization, the Camelots du Roi, was only one of the militant leagues that turned demonstrations into blood baths. The onset of World War I further fed the young intellectuals’ fears and obsessions, and Joan of Arc became their symbol of patriotism. Men like Pierre Drieu, who marched to war with the works of Nietzsche in his knapsack, and André Breton led the surrealists in their quest for the annihilation of being. Brown explores all the great and complicated minds of this period, including socialists, communists, fascists, royalists and radicals. Francophiles will love this book, but the roiling currents of philosophical and political ideas may daunt some readers.
Read this illuminating book to see frightening similarities to the early years of the 21st century. The lies, innuendo, invented evidence and baseless arguments are all too familiar.