The Trial of Charles de Gaulle
In December, 1962, when this book was published in France under the title Haute-Cour, the government stupidly banned it on the ground that it constituted an insult to the President of the Republic. It would be too bad if official French heavy-handedness and the resentment created on this side of the Atlantic by De Gaulle’s foreign policy led readers here to overlook the bias in the book and the shortcomings of the author.
Fabre-Luce wrote at a time when De Gaulle seemed to be in trouble. The Algerian War was over, the old parties were getting impatient; it was not foolish to imagine that he would find himself pushed out of power just as he had been in the winter of 1945-6. Moreover, the move De Gaulle took to prevent a repetition of history at his expense—a revision of the Constitution by referendum—shocked many Frenchmen because of his stunning disregard of his own Constitution. Opposition to De Gaulle hardened, especially in the Senate, and although De Gaulle’s proposal won at the polls, the victory was not so impressive as the General had hoped. In these circumstances it was not difficult to imagine a future trial of Charles de Gaulle, comparable to the political trials that have kept the French excited and distracted for many years. Accordingly, Fabre-Luce imagined that the new Assembly elected after the referendum of October, 1962, had deposed the uncrowned King, and that under new laws De Gaulle could be tried by the Senate for abuse of authority. Unfortunately, the Assembly elected late in November, 1962, turned out to be heavily Gaullist. Fabre-Luce, undaunted, stated in his preface that French majorities have been known to dissolve or explode.
The Trial of Charles de Gaulle is a political pamphlet. Fabre-Luce describes it as “first and foremost a literary work.” This it certainly is not: Apart from a sprinkling of biting remarks about the fictitious spectators or the fictitious lawyer supposed to defend De Gaulle (Who remains contemptuously and conveniently silent), there is nothing in the book that shows a literary imagination at work. The Trial is merely a string of speeches: some are delivered by “real” witnesses, such as former Premier Guy Mollet—and all Fabre-Luce does is to quote from statements they have made or written; others are delivered by imaginary types, such as a member of the Conseil d’Etat, a diplomat and a psychiatric expert—but all Fabre-Luce does is to put in their months charges taken from newspaper articles or books, which he lists in an appendix. In other words, The Trial is not a novel: it is the Digest of anti-Gaullism.
Inevitably some of the charges are perfectly convincing. Fabre-Luce hits the target when he analyzes De Gaulle’s tendency to rewrite his past so as to erase contradictions, or when he shows the mixture of Cyrano and Machiavelli in the General. These arguments have been made for over twenty years; their truth does not make them any fresher …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.