Jesuit militants never tired of telling their superiors about the "nakedness" and "savagery" of the "lost souls" whom they were attempting to save.
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Even clothed Indians seemed shamefully bare to these Catholic zealots. As one Jesuit disapprovingly sniffed, even the natives' winter furs " Volume 5 If their descriptions of Indian "licentiousness" were cloaked in terms calculated not to provoke too many explicitly concupiscent thoughts, these missionary wanderers felt no such compunction in regard to scenes of physical torture.
With a cold-blooded detachment that would 1 4 have done credit to Claude Levi-Strauss, one observer described the following sadistic procedure in almost surgical terms: " French fascination with the "horrific" novelty of America can be found with equal facility in this revealing but anachronistic the speaker, after all, is a Florentine nobleman speaking in speech fragment from Alfred de Musset's historical play, Lorenzaccio : "Ceux qui tournent autour de moi avec des yeux louches, comme autour d'une curiosite monstreuse apportee d'Amerique It was precisely the kind of semi-legendary land that John Mandeville might have visited a century or two earlier.
In any event, it was altogether different—which is to say, both weaker and coarser—than Marco Polo's China. In Tzvetan Todorov's words, the early American "Other" appertained to the class of " Despite these initial impressions and motivations, French attitudes towards the new World began to change towards the end of the eighteenth century. In the wake of Napoleon's economically motivated dumping of France's last major American possessions, "les Francais," J. Gautier reminds us, "pouvaient regretter 'd'avoir perdu ce nouvel Eden auquel ils avaient laisse le doux nom de Louisiane Around the same time, " According to biographer Henri Troyat, even Honore de Balzac—arguably the major French writer of the early s who was least demonstrably impressed by the American mirage—was inspired by the sylvan romances of James Fenimore Cooper to turn the peasant insurrectionaries in his historical novel Les Chouans into "Peaux-Rouges" in the "Bocage normand" Troyat If the romance of America was in the process of giving way to the Romance of Orientalism, the New World was simultaneously metamorphosing into a new and only slightly less monstrous shape in Gallic imaginations.
America the horrible and magical was about to be replaced by America the modern and implicitly dangerous. As Fernand Braudel observed in Le temps du monde, "Accarian de Seronne voyait, des , se lever un 'Empire americain': 'La Nouvelle-Angleterre, ecrivait-il, est plus a redouter que l'ancienne. This change, however, occurred gradually, and in a decidedly non-linear fashion.
The immense popularity of Atala was in large measure responsible for this. A relatively small part of Chateaubriand's magnum opus La Genie du christianisme, a polemic in favour of an ultra-conservative interpretation of Roman Catholicism, Atala relied heavily 1 6 on the Jesuit Relations for descriptive passages and background colour.
While opinions differ as to whether Chateaubriand ever actually set foot in America—the late nineteenth-century French literary critic Joseph Bedier remained firmly convinced that he did not—the author's decision to rely on missionary chronicles was not entirely conditioned by his religious convictions. As already mentioned in the introduction to this dissertation, that massive work was almost entirely free of "fantastic" descriptions.
What Phileas Fogg and his fellow passengers see from moving train windows is a country in the process of creating itself. In Extreme Occident, a history of French literary attitudes towards the United States, Franco-American scholar Jean Philippe Mathy wrote, "The main assumption of this study is that many French intellectuals' perceptions of America, from Tocqueville to Beauvoir, are rooted in a humanistic and aristocratic ethos derived from the models of intellectual excellence and critical practice born in the Renaissance and refined in the age of French classicism" Mathy 7.
This transmutational process probably began with Baudelaire's appropriation of Edgar Poe; it continues even now. State Department, on the other hand, came close to getting him deported.
Father Marquette's contributions were particularly appealing to Chateaubriand. In , this Jesuit wrote "La Riuiere sur laquelle nous nous embarquames s'appelle MesKousing, elle est fort large, son fond est du sable Volume 59 Such reports mingle the same seductive mixture of ethnological exactitude and Eurocentric romance that one finds first in Atala, and then—a century and a half later—in Tristes tropiques. Regardless of Chateaubriand's own familiarity with the Mississippi river, Marquette's description would be repeated almost verbatim in Atala because its narrative power was far more evocative than anything the author's own imagination could conceive.
Not until very late in the twentieth century would this Jesuitical ethnology be largely expunged from French literary consciousness. Equally appealing to Chateaubriand and his successors were the already cited Jesuit accounts of the Indian science of torture. These gory tableaux were an absolute godsend to the interlocking genres of 1 7 melodrama and grand guignol. Chateaubriand's integration of these sentimental opposites in Native protagonists contributed greatly to the invention of the "noble savage," a type much beloved by Rousseau and other eighteenth century progressives.
The Indian was not a demon, after all; he was a sort of capricious child or innocently murderous kitten. Ultimately, neither the Jesuits nor Chateaubriand were fated to mark out the boundaries of French discourse vis-a-vis the United States. For one thing, their ultra-Catholic religious views made them questionable judges of Native character and Protestant intention. Missionary emphasis on moral uplift and Classical fascination with sylvan romance were culturally-determined blinders that successfully filtered out such key historical events as the decisive French naval intervention on behalf of the thirteen revolted colonies during the American Revolutionary War, and Britain's earlier expulsion of the Acadians.
Being the first European to see the New World in its true colours was an honour historically reserved for Alexis de Tocqueville, a literary traveller who is as much esteemed for his nineteenth-century observations by contemporary American scholars as Stendhal's writings 1 8 of the same period are by modern Italian academics. Around the time when Romanticism was gradually effacing Classicism in Europe, de Tocqueville reinvigorated the still virgin field of Franco-American studies with some much-needed scientific detachment. The author's most famous book, De la democratie en Amerique, was predicated on four interlocking ideas.
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The first of these concepts related to democracy as a political institution; the second addressed the nature of revolution; the third concerned the relationship of individuals to institutions within the binding framework of social style and national character; the fourth—and to modern readers, the least convincing—was the thesis that God worked on the doings of men within the confines of a fatal circle of freedom and necessity. Unlike many later French travellers, de Tocqueville was favourably impressed by the things that he saw in America. He wrote admiringly of the checks and balances that were essential to the American system of government, of the intelligence and worthiness of the average citizen, of the innovative genius of U.
With great foresight, he saw the future parcelled out between American and Russian spheres of influence, and accurately predicted America's coming war with Mexico.
If he was not quite so prescient in regard to the War Between the States, he nonetheless pointed out many of the less obvious evils of Southern slavery, and the friction that these ills caused within the body politic. De Tocqueville has never put American backs up; indeed, he tends to make U. This was at least partly because a faint current of disdain frequently flowed beneath the onrush of his diegetic enthusiasms. Comparisons such as the following are ubiquitous: "Dans les aristocraties, les lecteurs sont difficiles et peu nombreux; dans les democraties, il est moins malaise de leur plaire, et leur nombre est prodigeux" De la democratic en Amerique.
Tome II Not for the first—and certainly not for the last—time, de Tocqueville contrasts Europe's quality with the New World's quantity. Although generally in favour of an expanded franchise in his native France, and a theoretical advocate of democracy, this articled republican is clearly troubled by the cultural cost such a transition might entail; in this regard, his views eerily prefigure the twentieth-century forebodings of Theodor W.
Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Developing on their own on the fringes of civilization, "Les Americains n'ont point d'ecole philosophique qui leur soit propre, et ils s'inquietent fort peu toutes celles qui visisent l'Europe, ils en savent a peine les noms" De la democratie en Amerique.
De Tocqueville grimly noted the absence of elegant public buildings and heroic statuary in U.
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Tome I Although abundant everywhere, American newspapers were not, it seems, of particularly high quality. For every admission of political inferiority in this book, there is a qualifying expression of cultural superiority. The statement below is a good example of the former: "Les Americains forment un peuple democratique qui a toujours dirige par 20 lui-meme les affaires publiques, et nous sommes un peuple democratique qui, pendant longtemps, n'a pu que songer a la meilleure maniere de les conduire" De la democratie en Amerique.
A prime sample of the latter runs as follows: "L'aristocratie est infiniment plus habile dans la science du legislation que ne saurait l'etre la democratie" De la democratie en Amerique. De Tocqueville's views on American racial problems were fated to make the most lasting impression on French literary travellers.
Because of his non-dogmatic Christian beliefs and aristocratic background, de Tocqueville's appreciation of American religious toleration and economic egalitarianism is greatly exaggerated. It is, for instance, hard to imagine period American Catholics, for the most part impressed into the worst-paying jobs and largely shut out of the liberal professions, agreeing with the following statement: "Aux Etats-Unis, point de haine religieuse, parce que la religion est universellement respectee et qu'aucune secte n'est dominante It is equally difficult to conceive of cellar-dwelling industrial workers accepting the ensuing formula as fact: "En Amerique, cependant, ce sont les pauvres qui font la loi, et ils reservent habituellement pour eux-memes les plus grands avantages de la societe" De la democratie en Amerique.
So clear-sighted in so many ways, de Tocqueville was strangely blind to the existence of an American class system. The religiously outcast and the working poor could only react to those cheerful over-assessments with mocking scorn. Contemporary Black and Native readers, on the other hand assuming literate communities of same then existed , could only reject the Frenchman's summation of their plight as part of a psychological survival mechanism.
To 2 1 acknowledge that things were truly as bad as this foreigner claimed was to run the risk of slipping into suicidal despair. There was a strong "noble savage" element in de Tocqueville's writings about America's original inhabitants. Indeed, it seems highly likely that they contributed to the nineteenth century annealing of an eighteenth century myth: "Les plus fameuses republiques antiques n'avaient jamais admire de courage plus ferme, d'ames plus orgueilleuses, de plus intraitable amour de l'independance, que n'en cachaient alors les bois sauvages du nouveau monde" De la democratie en Amerique.
Indians, de Tocqueville sadly noted, were steadily being pushed westward by America's small but genocidal army. Steadily, they were losing their land: "Les Indiens l'occupaient, mais ne le possedaient" De la democratie en Amerique.
In possession of vast territories and lacking major enemies in their immediate vicinity, America was a land of few soldiers but an almost infinite number of militiamen. No one would intervene on the Indians' behalf; their ancient world was doomed. If American slaves were in no danger of being immediately exterminated, in all other respects their social situation was even less enviable: "Le negre est place aux dernieres bornes de la servitude; lTndien aux limites extremes de la liberte" De la democratie en Amerique.
go to site For Black Americans, there was literally no place to run: "Les Indiens mourront dans l'isolement comme ils ont vecus; mais la destinee des negres est en quelque sort en lacee dans celle des Europeens" De la democratie en Amerique. The fates of Blacks and Indians, though diametrically opposed, were inextricably interlinked: "Ces deux races infortunes, n'ont de commun ni 22 la naissance, ni la figure, ni le langage, ni les moeurs; leurs malheurs seuls se ressemblent" De la democratie en Amerique. A cloud of dark irony surrounds their respective dooms: "Le negre voudrait se confondre avec l'Europeen, et il ne le peut.
L'Indian pourrait jusqu'a un certain point y reussir, mais il dedaigne de le tenter" De la democratie en Amerique. More than thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced, de Tocqueville wrote of the anti-Black racism found in the so-called abolitionist states—a racism more intense and bitter than any to found in the slave-owning Southern states—and of the nascent inner city ghettoes, which he believed to be already more dangerous than the meanest urban environment in continental Europe. Despite his unavoidable Eurocentric bias, de Tocqueville's gifts of observation were nothing short of extraordinary.
In conjunction with his almost untrammelled admiration for the governmental apparatus of American democracy, this republican aristocrat was totally appalled by the enforced conformity which the myth of universal freedom engendered: "Je ne connais pas de pays ou il regne en general moins d'independance et de veritable liberte de discussion qu'en Amerique" De la democratie en Amerique.
Tome I - In his eyes, the spirit of had already ossified into a rigid catechism which no-longer revolutionary citizens could, like well-trained parrots, only repeat by rote. This perhaps explains why " In the same vein, de Tocqueville noted with amusement, Americans would not gladly suffer the slightest word of criticism about their country to 2 3 emerge from even a well-intentioned foreigner's lips.
American cultural insularity, he felt, was at least equal to the nation's geographical isolation. A number of the French traveller's ideas would assume their full importance only after the passage of a century or more. En Amerique, c'est un ennemi du genre humain, et il a contre lui l'humanite tout entiere" De la democratie en Amerique. The history of the U. TV "cop show," both fictional and reality-based, amply bears out this statement. Still, despite his atypical willingness to see others as others saw themselves what other privileged Frenchman was as unreservedly appreciative of the American myth of the self-made man?
When he wrote, for instance, "J'aimerais mieux qu'on herissat la langue de mots chinois, tartares ou hurons, que de rendre incertain des mots francais," he was speaking from the pulpit of linguistic purity epitomized by the Academie Francaise. At bottom open-minded, de Tocqueville's cultural inheritance did not allow him to feel fully at ease in a semi-barbaric land that he otherwise very much admired: " If America was the hope of the future, it was 24 also a threat to the glories of the past; as a land of universal liberty, it was paradoxically a threat to the higher form of individualism that Europe's collapsing class system had once bestowed on its appointed thinkers and artists.
That the United States could fill this cultural void with the same dexterity with which it expanded the gains of the industrial revolution was something the author obviously doubted. By the late s, at least half of French pre-conceptions about America had already been formed. In his private journals Victor Hugo wrote, "L'Americain republicain est libre, vend, achete, revend et marchande et brocante des vieillards, des femmes, des vierges, et des enfants.