Close
Close

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie is the author of Montaillou and Carnival and Professor of the History of Civilisation at the Collège de France. His article was translated by Barbara Wright.

Blumsday

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 3 November 1983

Jean Lacouture’s study of Léon Blum is entertaining and has been very well translated by George Holoch. The book’s frequent references to French names unknown across the Channel could put English readers off: but curiosity may prevail with a British public which finds itself abruptly transported into the unfamiliar territory of French political life under the Third and Fourth Republics. The book was written during the 1970s, in the climate created by the Union of the Left, and all that that implies. It shows Blum as a fascinating, attractive and appealing personality, less easily classifiable than Jaurès.

Democracy and Modernity

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 17 February 1983

In France, some years ago, a film director was making a film about the Napoleonic Wars. He enlisted more than a hundred extras to represent the French and other armies; the rate of pay for these extras was precisely the same whether they were playing officers or merely soldiers. Filming, which lasted several weeks, took place in open country, a long way from any town or village, so an open-air canteen was set up to provide for this fairly large number of ‘troops’. After a few days, the officers of this celluloid army began to eat at a separate table from the mere privates and NCOs: later on, an actual partition was put up to divide the ‘officers’ mess’ from the vulgum pecus, thereby acknowledging the social distinctions which had been established in a group where there was no difference in income.

Poland and the New France

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 4 March 1982

It is now seven months since the Socialists came to power in France – time enough for us to draw up an end-of-year or new year balance of their achievement. President Mitterrand, like Mendès-France, was long a staunch opponent of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, but, despite this, he has had no trouble in adapting to the institutions bequeathed to him by de Gaulle. In terms of ceremonial, he has abolished some needlessly regal customs brought in by his predecessor – having himself served first at table or taking precedence on entering a room; and he has avoided over-exposure on television. But he respects the undoubtedly monarchical, or at least personalised spirit of our institutions. These words are not intended to be derogatory: as a historian of the 18th century, I am more aware than most of the benefits which may be derived from monarchical or semi-monarchical structures, provided they are enlightened – and there is no doubt that our President is a man of culture. Nonetheless, the concept of a ‘personalised regime’ remains in itself inadequate to construe the situation in France. Giscard was, to some extent and without seeking to be so, a one-man show. He has been criticised for colonising the state through his supporters, but this process could not be carried beyond a certain point because the former President did not stand at the head of a major political party: he had relatively few ‘clients’ at his disposal. He attracted the support of a first-rate bureaucratic élite (men like Brossolette, Cannac and Verdeil): but he did not a priori advance liegemen whom he had brought up from nothing.

Gaul’s Seven Parts

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 3 December 1981

Halls’s book opens with a Wagnerian vision of the 1940 defeat. ‘Ignominious,’ says the English historian, who is usually more cautious in his moral judgments. I should like to point out to my eminent colleague that had it not been for the Channel, the ignominy might well have extended as far as Scotland. But let that pass. This big book is admirably informed and, with that one exception, strictly objective, even in its harshest assessments. Set up in 1940, le mauvais Vichy was quite incapable of solving the problems it was faced with, be they those of French youth or any other kind. The statut des Juifs excluded so-called non-Aryans from holding any teaching post, and this, as we know, was the worst aspect of the Pétain system, its ‘original sin’. The anti-semitic wishes of the Germans were not merely granted but even, at first, anticipated by the French authorities. Halls, who is always fair and objective, considers that Carcopino’s reforms nevertheless contained certain interesting elements, in that they were a continuation of some of the Popular Front’s ideas, and looked forward to post-war changes. Carcopino, a Roman historian, was Minister of National Education until April 1942. He often tried to prevent the worst, but was reproached for a certain laissez-faire with regard to the persecution of the Jews.

Le Roi Giscard

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 16 April 1981

As far back as we can go (at least according to Pol Bruno), the Giscard family seems to have belonged to the bourgeoisie of the Auvergne. In the maternal line they were businessmen, probably of peasant origin, who later became men of law. Edmond Giscard, father of the French President, ‘came up’ to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, attended the semi-serious, semi-fashionable lectures at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques, and then married a Mademoiselle Bardoux. The Bardoux were a typical Third Republic ‘bourgeois dynasty’. The father, Agénor Bardoux, was a minister from 1877 to 1879. Although of very moderate opinions, during the 1870s Agénor had no hesitation in opting for republicanism rather than for the monarchy. The son, Jacques, married into another upper-middle-class French family, the Georges-Picots; in 1920, his journalistic activities brought him into close touch with the heavy industry employers’ association (the Comité des Forges), and with the iron and steel-making lineage of the de Wendels. In 1922, the granddaughter, May Bardoux, married Edmond Giscard, the President’s father. René Giscard, Edmond’s brother, married into another republican dynasty, the Carnot family.

Who Controls Henry James?

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 4 December 1980

These Promenades come from a man who, although he is the most hexagonal historian in the United Kingdom, is still not recognised at his true worth south of the Channel. Right from the start of his itinerary Cobb gaily mixes everything together. He paints well-behaved Norman children such as one can only dream of meeting these days. He rides his biography backwards, he describes his period as a pion (a supervisor) in boarding-schools run either by priests or by anti-clericals, both of whom were great believers in corporal punishment. Lay or clerical, these child-rearers shared the pedagogical sadism that Dr Spock later decided to abolish: are we to believe, with reactionaries of all shades – among whom we of course are not numbered – that in doing away with the repression of children Spock gave rise to the generation of 1968, with its drop-outs of all kinds?

To write a review of a book of reviews is no simple task. It is like looking at a mirror in a mirror, as in The Lady from Shanghai, where the revolver shots are lost, finally, in the splintering glass: by dint of looking at themselves in mirrors which reflect other mirrors, neither the gunman nor his human target any longer has much idea of what exactly is going on. It was in this doubting frame of mind that I approached J.H. Hexter’s On Historians, a collection of major book reviews. The moment I began reading the list of contents I was made aware of my own provincialism. Of the seven historians studied in the book, I was familiar with only three: Fernand Braudel has been my mentor for more than quarter of a century; Lawrence Stone guided my first steps into the maze of Anglo-American historiography; Christopher Hill accompanied, a long time ago now, the infant squawks of my early Marxism, which today is much eroded. Though if I still preserve some traces of my belief in that doctrine, I owe it to the high abilities of such ci-devant Marxist historians as Hill.

Saint-Simon and Louis XIV

Robin Briggs, 26 November 1998

At the end of a work comparing the first three Bourbon kings, the duc de Saint-Simon invites us to make a final judgment between them, and to be persuaded that the precise truth has guided every...

Read More

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

Helen Cooper, 15 October 1998

This is the story of a goatherd who progressed through destitution and self-education to become the printer of the first edition of Calvin’s greatest work and one of the most respected...

Read More

Winners and Wasters

Tom Shippey, 2 April 1987

Professor Ladurie declares, near the beginning of this immensely detailed volume: ‘I hope in this study to bring to life the country people themselves.’ Such a reconstruction, he...

Read More

Male Fantasies

Eugen Weber, 10 January 1983

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie is probably the cleverest and certainly the most versatile French historian of our day. Beginning with his thèse on the peasants of Languedoc in Early Modern times,...

Read More

Ladurie’s Talents

G.R. Elton, 1 October 1981

This is the second collection of essays by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie to appear in English. The first was called The Territory of the Historian and up to a point justified its title by describing a...

Read More

Monsieur Montaillou

Rosalind Mitchison, 7 August 1980

These books are the recent work of one of the leading exponents of the ‘new’ history of the French school. The historical achievement of French academics over the last twenty years...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences