Douglas Johnson

Douglas Johnson is Emeritus Professor of French History at University College London and a senior member of the Franco-British Council.

Too Much Gide: French writers (1940-53)

Douglas Johnson, 15 November 2001

The historians who have argued that the continuities of French history count for more than its ruptures and revolutions have tended to avoid examining the disastrous year of 1940, when the Third Republic came to a bad end and the German Occupation began. These four books suggest that even this cataclysm can be fitted into the pattern of continuity.

In her long and detailed examination of the...

From 1830, when it was conquered, until 1962, when the Evian Agreements made it into an independent state, Algeria was said to be French. Since 1962, because of French investment there, and government loans, as well as the presence on French soil of large numbers of Algerians, France and Algeria have continued to form a strange but inseparable duality. Lionel Jospin, sending his good wishes to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, after his election to the Algerian Presidency on 15 April, spoke of the intimate knowledge that each country had of the other, and said that relations with Algeria were fundamental for France.

Counting their rosaries

Douglas Johnson, 14 May 1992

Just after 8 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, 24 May 1989, a special unit of gendarmes entered the priory of Saint François at Nice in search of a certain Paul Touvier, who was living there under the name of Paul Lacroix. An arrest was made and within half an hour Touvier was on his way to Fresnes prison in Paris. He was eventually installed in its hospital. The gendarmes had been searching monasteries in Northern and Central France on the two preceding days and, worried lest their man should get away, had travelled through the night. They were right to be worried: the object of their search, then a man of 74, had been on the run for some forty-five years. The facts were simple enough. Touvier came from a very Catholic, right-wing family in Chambéry in Savoy. He had been discharged from the Army and, on its formation by the Vichy Government in 1943, joined the Milice – a paramilitary force charged with maintaining order, putting down the Resistance and persecuting the Jews. It took over these duties from the regular French Police, whose resolve was supposedly flagging, and from the too easily outwitted Germans. Touvier rapidly reached a position of some administrative authority in the organisation and was allegedly prominent in a number of well-known cases involving the murder and deportation of Jews and Resistance fighters in the Lyons region. When the Liberation came, his name was included on the list of those who were to be brought to justice, but he always got away – even when he was arrested in Paris he succeeded, mysteriously, in walking out of the police headquarters in the Rue des Saussaies.

He knows a little place

Douglas Johnson, 13 February 1992

The contents of this vulgar and irritating book – can the author have deliberately set out to be irritating? – are totally predictable. It is, however, unexpected that we have to wait until page 166 before encountering a familiar example of what some consider to be admirable behaviour. A man leaves a restaurant, naturally a grand and expensive establishment, after paying his bill. The mâitre d’hotel follows him and asks if he has not forgotten something. The diner, heroic in his conviction that the mâitre d’hotel has not done his duty by him, produces a ten-pound note. ‘This was for you,’ he says. But, instead of handing it over, he produces his cigarette lighter and burns the note in the face of the mâitre d’hotel, bids him good evening and goes on his way.’

A Waistcoat soaked in Tears

Douglas Johnson, 27 June 1991

About Rousseau, as about Romanticism, it is tempting to use the word ‘disorderly’. Maurice Cranston showed us in the first volume of this, the most masterly of biographies how he had spent his early life as a wanderer and adventurer, he had been an itinerant tutor, a humble music-copier, an ambitious composer; the lover of a Swiss countess and the secretary to a diplomat; he had become a fashionable writer with an obsession about preserving his independence; he was an uneasy Catholic who needed a religion and who thought that he had found it in Protestantism; he was someone who discovered that his waistcoat was soaked in tears but who had not been aware that he had been weeping.


Paul Driver, 9 October 1986

From the general reader’s point of view, this tome – a scrupulous, detailed inventory of Beethoven’s pocket and desk sketchbooks, locating every extant leaf – is about as...

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