Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor
Les Chênes qu'on abat
No sooner had General de Gaulle resigned, after his defeat at the referendum of April 27, 1969, than he started writing a new memoir. Even before his defeat, which he seems to have anticipated, he had begun to prepare the documents he would need in his country house at Colombey. For the next year and a half, aides brought him the papers he requested. He worked almost uninterruptedly on his manuscript, even during his holidays in Ireland and in Spain, while his daughter typed his drafts in Colombey.
He had planned to write three volumes, of course—not only had there been three volumes of War Memoirs, written during his “years in the desert” and published between 1954 and 1959, but de Gaulle, like all Gauls, according to that other great soldier-statesman-memorialist, Caesar, was an addict of the threefold division. Only the first volume of these Memoirs of Hope, Renewal, was finished and published by the time of his death on November 9, 1970. Its appearance just a month before the General’s fatal heart attack was a huge public (if not critical) success. He had written two chapters of the next volume, Endeavor, when he died. His family decided to publish them—a decision that was sharply but wrongly criticized by some reviewers, who pointed out that de Gaulle might have made further changes had he lived.
However interesting the nine completed chapters of Memoirs of Hope may be, they are but a fragment of the larger work de Gaulle had planned. Although many of his reflections on the decisions and events of the years 1958-1963 (roughly the period covered in these chapters) anticipate the dramatic crisis of May, 1968, and suggest how de Gaulle might have explained it in a third volume, these reflections are only tantalizing. Moreover, he had wanted the seventh and last chapter of Endeavor to be the keystone of the whole construction. First, he thought of writing “a chapter of a ‘philosophical’ nature, in which I shall give my personal view on the situation of France, Europe, and the world.” Later, he decided he would invent a dialogue between himself and the other great figures of French history—including Joan of Arc, Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Clemenceau—comparing his own situation with theirs.
The only indication we have of what this might have sounded like is in André Malraux’s book, Les Chênes qu’on abat…, an account of his last meeting with de Gaulle, on a snowy day in December, 1969, which includes a conversation about Napoleon during lunch. Les Chênes was as well received by the French public as Renewal (and much better received by the critics). It was published in France last spring shortly before the unfinished Endeavor, but has not yet appeared in English.
The truncated Memoirs of Hope has now been published in a single-volume English version. Terence Kilmartin’s translation is superior to Richard Howard’s translation of volumes two and three of War Memoirs, which contained several inaccuracies. But de Gaulle’s Latin style, with its…
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