Thursday, March 19, 2009

French protest by reading Nicolas Sarkozy's least favourite book

The Telegraph
3/19/2009

Mr Sarkozy, a man often ridiculed in France for preferring fitness to literature, has frequently expressed his disdain for "La Princesse de Clèves" (The Princess of Cleves), a novel by Madame de La Fayette which was published in 1678 and is taught in most French classrooms.

Now, French readers have adopted the book as a symbol of dissent: as Mr Sarkozy's popularity falls, sales of the book are rising.

At the Paris book fair this week, publishers reported selling all available copies of the novel, while badges emblazoned with the slogan "I am reading La Princesse de Clèves" were a must-have item that sold out within hours.

Mr Sarkozy's views on the novel are hardly new. As far back as 2006, before he became president, he made a comment that left no doubt that his school memories of it were not happy ones.

"A sadist or an idiot, up to you, included questions about 'La Princesse de Clèves' in an exam for people applying for public sector jobs," he said, adding that it would be "a spectacle" to see low-level staff speak on the challenging work.

Since then, Mr Sarkozy has repeatedly criticised the tale of duty versus love at the 16th century court of Henri II, suggesting that knowledge of it was not useful.

Over time, his attacks have bolstered the book's popularity, and even given it a new role as a symbol of dissent at a time when public anger over Sarkozy's economic policies is high.

Public readings of the work have proliferated at universities like the Sorbonne in Paris, hit by protests over government reform plans, and at theatres.

The cultural weekly Telerama this week published results of a survey asking 100 French writers to list their 10 favourite books. "La Princesse de Clèves" came third in the overall rankings, after masterpieces by Marcel Proust and James Joyce.

Telerama commented that it was unlikely Madame de La Fayette would have done so well before Sarkozy's jibes.

Photo: A public protest reading of "La Princesse de Clèves" at the Université François-Rabelais in Tanneurs, Tours, February 16, 2009

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