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While the controversy, often sulphurous, rages around the "national novel", the Science & Life Notebooks (dated November 2014) very conveniently offers an issue devoted to origins of France (and of the French language). What is a nation? how did the kings draw the hexagon? Who from royal power or from revolutionary and republican France is the initiator of the construction of national feeling? From Vercingétorix to Joan of Arc, what about the legends of our ancestors? ... This essential issue of CSV gives us the keys to the making of the national novel.
“All other history is mutilated, ours alone is complete; take the history of Italy, the last centuries are missing; take the history of Germany, of England, the first are missing. Take that of France; with her you know the world ", wrote, with emphasis, Jules Michelet in 1846. In the eyes of the famous historian, France has been and must be the salvation of mankind. Thus, the exceptional character that each of us agreed to recognize in our nation in the 18th and 19th centuries stems in large part from its history. And what a story! A story centered on the achievements of the monarchy, mixed with legends and remodeled as needed according to the times, it took the form of a novel refined by Michelet himself and then taught under the Third Republic.
Using distortions which make the Gauls our ancestors or which attribute to Clovis the merit of having created France, the national myth also gives the image of an immemorial country, already present in the limbo of history. Herald of nationalism which succeeds national feeling, it is a subject of study in itself because it offers to see the principles and values of French society. But how can we distinguish in this traditional republican representation the historical foundations of the State from what is part of the collective imagination? The debate continues to divide historians today around, in particular, the content of school programs. The questioning of the construction of the nation and one of its vectors, the national language, calls for another on the existence and nature of a shared identity, themes at the heart of our current affairs.
The origins of France and the French language. Les cahiers Sciences et Vie, November 2014. On newsstands and by subscription.