Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Death of a great author

The great French writer Maurice Druon, senior member of the Académie Française, died yesterday at the age of 90. With his uncle, the novelist Joseph Kessel, Druon wrote the words of the Chant of the Partisans, with music by Anna Marly, which was rapidly adopted as the hymn of the French Résistance. It contains the memorable stanza:

Comrade, if you're killed,
Another comrade will emerge from the shadows to take your place.

I first heard this chant in extraordinary circumstances, on 19 December 1964, when the ashes of the Résistance hero Jean Moulin were transferred to the Panthéon. On that day, while catching sight of the president Charles De Gaulle, I listened to a moving speech by the minister of Culture André Malraux that would go down in literary history as one of the most celebrated French orations of the 20th century. Mysteriously, towards the end of Malraux's speech, the strains of the great Résistance hymn emerged—softly at first, then louder and louder—from a massed choir in front of the Panthéon.

Much later, Druon wrote a vast series of historical novels entitled Les Rois Maudits [The Accursed Kings] describing the troubled lives of French monarchs from Philip the Fair to John II. These stories were adapted to form a fabulous TV series, a few years ago, which I've already watched enthusiastically on two separate occasions.

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