Friday, September 10, 2010

More de Gaulle: "Now She is Like the Others"

As we gasp and admire at the spectacle of the incredible shrinking presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, it is pleasant to go back and again remember le grand asperge, Charles de Gaulle, of whom I wrote yesterday.  Wherefore I pulled down my copy of Clive James' quirky but compulsively readable Cultural Amnesia and flipped open to James' appreciation of the great man,.  And here is something I had forgotten: de Gaulle had a daughter "who had a severe case of Down's" syndrome," abnd, per James "died choking in her father's arms."  De Gaulle wrote to his sister: "A spirit has been set free.   But the disappearance of our poor suffering infant [she was 20--ed.], our little daughter without hope, has done us an immense pain."   He is reported to have said at her funeral: "Now she is like the others."  James explains:

The awful beauty of that remark lies in how it hints at what he had so often felt.  Wanting her to be like the normal children, the ones who couldn't help noticing that she was different, must have been the dearest wish of his private life.  Knowing that the wish could never come true mus have been his most intimate acquaintance with defeat.  For us, who overhear the last gasp of a long agony, there is the additional poignancy of recognizing that the Man of Destiny lived every day with a heavenly dispensation that he could not control.
 James appears to believe that it humanized  the angular and difficult man.  He writes:
"De Gaulle behaved as if the fate of France was his  sole concern, but the secret of his incomparable capacity to act in that belief probably lay in a central humility. ... [L]ikely ... the touchstone of his humanity was his poor daughter.  Nothing is more likely to civilize a powerful man than the presence in his house of an injured loved one his power can't help.  Every night he comes home to a reminder that God is not mocked; a cure for his invincibility.
One can only hope that that is true.  Or, one wishes that it were true. 

James' de Gaull sketch is in Cultural Amnesia pp 157-60.  And here's another excellent insight: flipping to the next, I find that James consigns to the ranks of the overrated one Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Man, I've been waiting for someone to say that.

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