David Coward

David Coward is emeritus professor of French at the University of Leeds. His translation of Hedi Kaddour’s Waltenberg will be published next spring.

In August 1914, France mobilised jubilantly. ‘La Patrie’ was in danger and men and women of all classes and stations rallied to its defence. Florid voices on the clerical, aristocratic, conservative right defined patriotism grandly, as a mystical religion rooted in the land. Others, more worldly but no less exalted, were clear that patriotism was a hard-won secular tradition under...

The seed for this book was planted in 1972, when Carmen Callil saw Le Chagrin et la pitié, Marcel Ophuls’s stunning documentary of life in Clermont-Ferrand during World War Two. Her attention was caught by a clip showing Reinhard Heydrich, architect of the Final Solution and Himmler’s deputy, shaking hands in May 1942 with Darquier de Pellepoix, charged by the German...

Jean-Marie Déguignet was born near Quimper, in Brittany, in 1834, the fifth of ten children born to an illiterate tenant farmer. A succession of bad harvests drove the family off the land into the town and at six, Jean-Marie was sent out to beg. He survived fevers, the potato famine of 1845, and a near-fatal accident which happened when he was ‘no taller than a riding-boot’....

Having Fun: Alexandre Dumas

David Coward, 17 April 2003

Alexandre Dumas was a force of nature. The 650 or so books he published might not seem an extraordinary tally for such as Barbara Cartland, who could dictate six thousand words between lunch and tea, or Georges Simenon, who rarely spent more than a fortnight on a novel. But Dumas was not merely a novelist: he also wrote plays, travel books, memoirs, histories, accounts of great crimes plus a...

Bon Garçon: La Fontaine’s fables

David Coward, 7 February 2002

La Fontaine’s permanent place in the schoolroom has made him the most widely read of all French writers. Children take his menagerie of talking flora and fauna in their stride. Grown-ups, however, worry about his howlers (grasshoppers don’t eat worms) and mutter about the ambiguity of his moral lessons. Lamartine winced at his cynical promotion of self-interest, and for Rousseau...

One day in about 1820, so the story goes, a peasant appeared at the Bibliothèque Nationale with a cart drawn by a mule. In the cart, he said, were ‘tous les papiers de Molière’ and they were for sale. But the Library was closed and the concierge told him to come back another day. He never did and ‘Molière’s papers’ were doubtless offloaded as...

Was the creator of Figaro on the side of the angels or simply president of Beaumarchais Enterprises? In his lifetime, he was an upstart in the eyes of the great and the good, and governments suspected his motives. The middle classes envied his wealth and rejoiced at his failures, but saw him as the embodiment of successful enterprise and the defender of their cause. Popular opinion, which he manipulated expertly, hailed him as a hero, at least until 1789, when the adoring crowd spotted feet of clay and turned on him.

Quite a Show: Georges Simenon

Tim Parks, 9 October 2014

In​ 1974, aged 71, having announced the end of a writing career that had produced nearly two hundred novels, and having retreated from a mansion with 11 servants to a small house in Lausanne...

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Top-Drawer in Geneva

Michael Wood, 30 November 1995

Proust said he didn’t understand how critics could divide literary works into good and bad patches, admiring the first half of a novel by Gautier but not the second, praising everything to...

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Men, Women and English Girls

Lyndall Gordon, 24 January 1980

David Arkell calls his biography Looking for Laforgue and he has undoubtedly found him. Without attempting what is popularly labelled ‘official’ biography, Arkell’s informal...

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