Monday, May 11, 2020


I suppose I ought to be spending my leisure reading time, like at meals (yes, B. and I sit opposite each other at dinner, each busily reading away: this is what happens when introverted bookworms mate), on some of the new books on Tolkien that have been coming in; but I have to spend so much of my other time on Tolkien that I've been putting them off.

Right now, for instance, I'm reading The Collapse of the Third Republic by William L. Shirer, one of the fat historical volumes I inherited from my father. I read this book, this very copy, when it was new around 1969, when one would think I was too young for thousand-page historical tomes, even ones for popular readership. And it's true that I retain little from that reading, so not being an expert on French history some of this is coming as new to me. The more so as Shirer deems it necessary to back up through the entire 70-year history of the Third Republic to explain why it collapsed in 1940.

For instance, here's an anecdote that would sound goofier in any other telling than Shirer's dead-serious portentous style. In the 1880s the Third Republic was not stable or established. Remember that both Republics #1 and #2 had quickly mutated into Empires, and nobody expected better of this one. An anti-republican general with pretentions to glory (yes, a real guy) spectacularly won a parliamentary by-election in Paris over united republic-supporting opposition. As the news emerged, his followers gathered in the streets, expecting him to lead them in a march on the government offices to stage a coup. (And the government took this seriously: they were cowering under their desks.)

But the general, being French, decided to spend a few hours dallying with his mistress first. By the time he arrived, all his followers had given up and gone home.

[Interruption from cat. I am just a pathway between the table behind me and the floor in front of me.]

A few dozen pages and a few decades later, we're introduced to a rising politician named Pierre Laval. In the personality sketch, we're told that Laval "remained devoted [to his wife] to his dying day." That would be the day in 1945 that he was executed for treason, wouldn't it? But Shirer is going to keep that little nugget of information to himself for a while from those readers who don't already know it, is he? Sneaky bugger.

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