N. Treizième Cahier
René Béhaine et Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), de son vrai nom Ford Hermann Hueffer, est un romancier, poète, critique et éditeur britannique.
En 1905, il publie L'Âme de Londres (The Soul of London), essai qui formera la première partie de la trilogie L'Angleterre et les Anglais (England and the English), qui paraîtra aux Etats-Unis en 1907. Son roman le plus connu, Le Bon soldat (The Good Soldier), est de 1915. Entre 1924 et 1928, il publie les quatre volumes de Finies, les parades (Parade's End).
C’est au cours des années 20 ou au début des années 30 qu’il s’intéressa à l’œuvre de René Béhaine. En janvier 1933, celui-ci écrit à son ami Sylvain Monod1 : « J’ai vu Ford Madox Ford, écrivain anglais qui m’avait fait un article considérable dans une revue américaine. Mais c’est un personnage si hallucinant lui-même qu’il n’a pas contribué à rétablir ma confiance dans la vie. »
Ford Madox Ford
Nous publions ci-après le texte anglais de l’importante préface que Ford Madox Ford donna à la traduction anglaise du deuxième livre de l’écrivain français, Les Survivants, paru en 1914, ainsi qu’une traduction partielle de cette préface, tout en espérant pouvoir en publier bientôt l’intégralité.
By FORD MADOX FORD
For many years now – for ah, how many! – M. Léon Daudet and this writer have cherished one belief. It is that the novelist whose name stands at the top of this page is the most remarkable living novelist. Flaubert said that if France had read his Education Sentimentale she would have been spared the horrors of the Débâcle of 1870. One may say of M. Béhaine that if the world would read his books – his one immense book in many parts – the world would be spared its next Armageddon … because it might know France.
Conrad spent the whole of his writing life in trying desperately to find a new form for the novel. He used to say that the writing of novels is your one occupation for the proper man, because with the novel you could do anything … provided always that you had your New Form. M. Béhaine, who has something akin to Conrad’s smouldering and passionate contempt for the imbecilities of common humanity, has, without any of poor dear Conrad’s writhings as to form, consummately given the novel at least a new status. There is about his writing not so much a smouldering contempt as a passionate austerity. Beside it, as if on a height giving on to the whole world, you view a usually imbecile and almost always disagreeable humanity. But when you have read Béhaine you will know France.
And knowledge of France is the sensitive spot of the Western Hemisphere. Sooner or later in your life you will find yourself fighting either to preserve or to destroy France. That has been the fate of humanity with almost exact regularity every half-century since first the hordes of Brennus thundered down, through the Gaul which is France, to the sack of Rome and the destruction of a mighty civilization. It has been the function of their successors periodically to thunder down towards the Mediterranean, passing through, or staying to plunder the Gaul of the moment, thus putting back the clock of our Mediterranean civilization – of our civilization which is a civilization only in so far as it is Mediterranean – a decade or so every half-century. Nevertheless, through those millennia of armed inundations, France has always come up again – not always smiling, nor even with the complacency of races who can count on always muddling through. No: grimly. For France is always grim. She has to be. She has her five annual saturnalia, the Fourth of July [Error?] the Assumption of the Virgin, and the rest, during which over all her broad acres you will hear the sound of Browning’s drum and fife … and in some of them the lovelier cornemuse.
But, once those days are over and the street dancing places restored to the traffic of the automobiles, and all her toiling millions return to the grim task of making France fit to withstand the whole world.
It is difficult to understand how France has contrived to do this for centuries when any other people must have given up the task if not in despair, then in pure weariness. For in her functions of guarding the shores of the Mediterranean and so keeping some line of contact open between Western Europe and the sources of her civilization, France for a millennium and a half has had continually to face our invasions, sporadically those of the Spaniards, Austrians, and Italians, periodically those of the Germans, and once at least for over a quarter of a century the onslaughts of the entire Western World. That is matter of fact, not of opinion. It is one of the most astonishing facts.
You begin to account for it when you see the great mountains of the Central Massif of France, terraced right up, on their steepest of escarpments to the very summits that are clear of snow for only six or eight months of the year. Compared with those monuments, the Pyramids or the vast, vulgar buildings of the Romans are mere whimsies. What then gives this people that desperate persistence that has lasted for centuries and still lasts? You answer: Only one thing can have done it, an immense sense of rectitude. If you added: and an unparalleled love of the soil, you would have the correct answer.
From where does that immense sense of rectitude come? That desperate persistence? You get the answer in M. Béhaine’s tremendous series of meticulous works. For M. Béhaine’s vast labours are produced in the spirit of an austere and conscientious judge of appeal writing a judgment. There is about him none of the careless bull-charging of a Balzac or even of the support in his attack on human problems that Flaubert got from the enraged disappointments of his native optimism. There is in M. Béhaine no optimism to be disappointed. He watches his characters with the grim amusement of a man looking at beetles trying to climb up the slippery sides of a bath.
There is one of M. Daudet’s characters in, I think, his Les Kamtschatkas who, whenever he comes upon a particular instance of unimaginative human barbarity, says: Cela vous donne une fière idée de l’homme! But I cannot imagine M. Béhaine saying that in that negative sense. There is little that is negative about him. Once, years ago, when I lived on a Mediterranean hill particularly difficult of access and he was coming to see me for the first time in that place, he arrived late. And his first remark to the lady of the house as he hurried down the precipitous garden path was: “Madam, under a king I should not have put you to this inconvenience.” He meant that under a king the posts of France would be efficient and he would have received the letter containing a plan of our approaches that she had sent him – thirty miles or so away – three days before. So he would not have been delayed. He meant that. For him the Third Republic spells inevitably unthinkable graft, unparalleled inefficiency of public services, unimaginable slothfulness of un- or under-paid public servants; and a complete indifference to all public complaint of the mandarins in the Paris ministries, the one concern of the Ministers of l’Infâme being how they may get diamond tiaras for their several mistresses before the fall of their Ministries. But, not knowing what was going on in the brain of that figure of the ancien regime with the supremely serious expression, that speech, before the lady had even been presented to the Master, gave her a fière idée of M. Béhaine among the wild roses of the Mediterranean.
M. Béhaine in short is, first, a royalist: after that an atheist; after that a Pacifist. And then he holds the singular, and to most serious Frenchmen repulsive, belief that a young man should be a virgin on his marriage. Into this last article of his creed we need not go, Anglo-Saxons presumably sharing it with him. But the other three beliefs we may consider a little.
Almost every normal Englishman and American, forgetting that tastes in governmental forms change and then return almost as completely as tastes in books, will tell you that monarchism in France is as dead as the taste for, say, the novels of Sir Walter Scott. But if you will read to the end of M. Béhaine’s book you will see the groundlessness of that belief. A very great number of the serious French believe that a king alone can save France. The more serious they are, the more seriously and with the colder tenacity they will cherish that belief. They will cherish it indeed with such icy passion that unless you are likely to be able to help the Cause forward, they will neither speak about nor expound it. Amongst themselves it will be the one continuously canvassed topic. But it is because of their taciturnity to strangers that the stranger much underestimates the strength of the movement in France.
How deeply seated it is in France, and how comprehensible in the end that fact is, you may judge from The Survivors. [This particular book occupies itself almost entirely with the class from which the real royalists are recruited: the whole series of half a score works occupies itself with the union of a daughter of the aristocracy of the ancien regime with a son of the family of the haute bourgeoisie …. Les Varambaud; and it is as it were through the eyes of that young couple, once their difficult union is effected, that we survey the currents and movements of French life at all social depths and heights.
The Revolution, if it did nothing else, added another to the ruling classes of France – that of the Haute Bourgeoisie, which to all intents, if concealedly, acts on public life as the Supreme Court does in the United States and the hereditary Second Chamber in England. It consists of all the members of the Senate, all the great judges, all the higher permanent officials, all the considerable lawyers, professors, surgeons, physicians and pharmacists, the forty French Academicians, the members of the other Academies, and, as if by courtesy, such representatives of commerce as are sufficiently long established to have founded families and to be unshakably “serious” … and at the other extreme a few Dukes who by devotion to mineralogy, biology, or the collection of the lepidopters have proved themselves to be completely without the sense of humour and the perils that a sense of humour entails on the incautious. I once heard a high French official whose position entitled him to inscribe on his cards the portentous title “Controller of Asia,” explain why he had become incurably Anglophobe. He had gone to call on Lord Strachey, Viceroy of India, then in Paris, I think, on his way out to India by way of Marseilles. When M. X. was introduced into the Viceroy’s drawing-room he found that representative of the King looking humorously at his visitor’s card which had been sent up to him. And:
“H’m,” said Strachey, “ ‘Controller of Asia?’ … I thought we had something to say to that.”
It was useless to try to persuade M. X. that the Viceroy was merely indulging a quite friendly sense of humour. M. X. remained bitterly hurt – as if he had been reproved for assuming a vainglorious function. He said that if Lord Strachey had been a serious and educated public figure, he ought to have known that the title he derided merely indicated that its bearer was permanent chief secretary of the Asiatic department of the Colonial Ministry.
Indeed, nothing remotely approaching a sense of humour is to be found in any of the characters in The Survivors, except in the case of several very old maids, nuns, and ancient priests who retain sufficient of the eighteenth-century tradition to make extremely innocuous jokes about the bodily functions of humanity – jokes that have the air of having been wrapped up in lavender for a generation. That is not to say that M. Béhaine himself possesses no sense of humour. On the contrary, he is full of it. The later volume in which the adventures with domestic helps in Brussels of Catherine de Laignes and Michel Varambaud are grimly rendered will make you laugh enough, if you are of the type to laugh at Breughel’s picture of the blind leading the blind.
Certainly outside the pictures of Breughel it would be hard to find a more fantastic collection of mentally and physically crippled, malignant, thievish, and inefficient beings than those with which M. Béhaine afflicts that unfortunate young couple. But M. Béhaine, grimly indifferent to whether you laugh or not, has merely there set himself the task of showing how Michel Varambaud, instinct with the sense of order and efficiency, shudders as if on the rack at being brought forcibly into contact with the disorder and want of efficiency that are the distinguishing characteristics of the majority of to-day’s humanity. And in the tragedy of the admirable but helpless Catherine faced with furniture that will not let itself be forced into too small rooms, with smashed tureens, unwashed rags stuffed into corners, with the thefts, greed, and continual truancy of completely undesirable female helps … in that tragedy M. Béhaine is no doubt intent on making us feel his malign condemnation for the upbringing of Catherine at the hands of her mother and the swarms of female and male religious and old maids with whom her youth was surrounded. And into that, too, creeps his almost Satanic hatred for Catholicism as affecting the young … and the grown-up young in all the other ages of man.
It is an amazing affair, that education as it is here presented … as if the young Catherine went on her pilgrim’s path towards adolescence in a perpetual shower of little papers stamped with prayers, scapulars, papier-mâché images, imitation flowers for the decoration of shrines, and all the devices invented by the lesser members of the Church for continually drawing back the pilgrim’s mind towards the affairs of that Church and instilling into her an otherworldliness that makes her completely ignore everything connected with housekeeping or the regimentation of the household and the control of its helps.
On the other hand, that education – which, however you look at it, was an education rather than instruction – was admirably calculated to impel you to regard the prospect of your ultimate dissolution with equanimity … to lead up to the frame of mind in this book where the Comte de Laignes in the family vault without any emotion indicates to the remaining members of his family where they shall finally lie ….To his sister: “You shall lie there, over Mother”; to his wife: “You beside me, if you like” … the whole transaction being taken both on his part and that of his relatives with the quite serious indifference of persons arranging before going on a journey where a party shall sit in the already engaged seats of a railway train.
How that frame of mind is produced we may tell by listening to M. Béhaine. In Catherine’s convent, as in every teaching convent in France, the day’s business is brought to an end, after a faint veneer of lay wisdom has been applied to the child’s mind, beneath the endless shower of tiny religious observances, in this way:
… Gradually night came on. In the pulpit the curé knelt and prayed. His quiet voice echoed mournfully in the dim silence of the church, and down in the shadows a muffled and uniform murmur rose in response, hardly audible, and ceasing abruptly.
After the Litany at the close of prayer there came the meditation on Death. And the sombre majesty of the words they heard awoke in those childish minds a sort of terror that haunted them till they were safely back in the class-rooms, half an hour later, each in her own place. But in bed in the dormitory at night those words, like a solemn warning, echoed again in the depths of one’s soul.
“Let us always remember that we may die to-night, let us see if we are ready to appear before God…. O God! O Moment! O Eternity! A God that is all, a moment that is nothing, an eternity that can deprive you of all or bestow all upon you for ever. A God whom you serve so ill, a moment that you turn to such little account, an Eternity that you leave to chance….”
And adroit artist that M. Béhaine is, he checks the effect of that solemnity with: Some of the little girls, afraid of dying in the night, recalled Sister Edmond’s advice and traced the names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on their forehead with their thumbs.
That is not the guffawed anti-climax of Mr. Shaw, nor the sedulously machined antithesis of Mr. Galsworthy. It is the fainter and more delicate substitute for comment by the author that is all M. Béhaine’s own. It is hardly even humorous. Yet it is as if the tremendous meditation – fit, as someone has observed, only for the mouths of saints, and hardly for common men or children – is made to be a little ridiculous since its only effect is to make children scrape their thumbs on their foreheads, in the night.
You might say that is all M. Béhaine were it not that he is a greater artist and a man more scrupulous than to let it go at that. The Catherine that that training evolves is a human being entirely desirable, of a high conscience that is yet bewildered by the terrific antitheses between which she finds herself as soon as her individual passion begins to work. She finds herself that is to say, in the volumes subsequent to The Survivors, between the immovable cliff of her parents’ opposition and the irresistibly harsh passion of her suitor, Michel Varambaud, so that she has as it were two consciences, each diametrically opposed to the other. That is the fate of poor humanity of a to-day in which so many exactly opposing causes are apparently incontrovertible.
In any case the effect of her religion-ridden education on Catherine is to render her at once singularly helpless when she comes to marry Michel and to have to face rather straitened circumstances. She has been used to a household where everything under her mother’s masterly handling has run as on wheels, to furniture that always, as if automatically, shone with beeswax and turpentine, to immense linen presses filled, as if by Providence. In all this she has taken no part. Three of her four chatelaine’s duties Catherine’s mother, the Comtesse de Laignes, performs with the admirable rectitude demanded of her position. She is the master housekeeper, the consummate organizer of all the charities of her neighbourhood, and incomparable at her social duties. She “calls” indefatigably, to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, and that perhaps is the most important of her functions, since the Cause of a class practically excluded from public service and subject to many political disadvantages is almost exclusively kept alive in salons whose communications, like creeping root-stocks, run under the whole soil of France. So that, exhaustively performing her other duties, Madame de Laignes, with every warrant from her point of view, entrusts the education of her daughter to the good nuns and secular and lay clergy who swarm in her neighbourhood. The result is to emphasize in Catherine her natural sense of rectitude and to give her that strong contempt for the things of this world that the nightly recital of the terrible meditation on Death has conferred on her. Because, paradoxically as it may seem, the French-woman of the class of Catherine de Laignes goes through what to the ladies of all other nations to-day would seem fantastic household operations, not with a view to the comforts they might be expected to produce, nor with much desire of ostentation, but simply as a matter of maintaining whole and unflawed the great tradition of harmony with the infinite that is the chief glory of France. She more than any other being of to-day would agree to the rightness of the poem of George Herbert’s that I never tire of quoting:
Each servant with this clause
Makes common things divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy cause
Makes it and the action fine.
With his remarkable and delicate art in his History of a Society, Monsieur Béhaine makes these things apparent. His art is indeed so delicate that unless you keep your awareness functioning very actively you will be apt to miss the fact that there is any design in his books. His great master was undoubtedly Flaubert, but he has advanced on the sage of Croisset to the extent that his more austere, Gallic temperament makes him eschew at once the immense horse-laugh and the recurrence to coincidence and antitheses that were part of the strengths of the author of Bouvart et Pecuchet.
Monsieur Béhaine would never entamer a whole intrigue that was to embrace and blast all the accepted ideas of science and the world with the exclamation of one of his characters to another of: “Tiens, nous avons eu la même idée, celle d’inscrire nos noms dans nos chapeaux!” He carries, nevertheless, each of the books of his series to its double climax with all the exact observance of progression d’effet of Flaubert himself. The screw of minute and breathless religious observances is turned in the case of Catherine with a gradual implacability until there is nothing to be found in the way of development but a breaking down into a complete aimlessness, and then in the void appears the already slightly sinister figure of the young Michel Varambaud, who in the subsequent volumes is to turn into her distracting fate.
Similarly, alongside the career of Catherine in her convents goes the apparently aimless gradual decay of the great house and the disruption of the unnumbered acres of Laignes. So that on the occasion of the last visit of Monsieur de Laignes to the deserted home of his childhood you seem almost physically to see the great mansion give, like an old horse, at the knees and sink for ever to the ground. And as you read that scene in its muted poignance you realize that the ambition of Monsieur Béhaine to be the historian of his day has been fully realized. Later on, when he comes to deal with that most disastrous of the only disaster to France whose disruptive effects are not even yet exhausted, you will have him rendering, through the eyes of Michel, a far more loud historic note. And with such verisimilitude that this reader at least who passed much of his youth in the Paris of the Affaire can vouch for the fact that in it Monsieur Béhaine brings to life again the crowds in the night, the shafts of light in the darkened boulevards, the innumerable cries, the very feel of the damp night air on the face of that half-century ago. For the Dreyfus Case seems always to have been transacted in a sort of darkness.
But in this particular book our author is the renderer of that of that smaller, but always active history that gnaws away the shapes of monuments, renders streets, once crowded, impenetrable with the great branches of brambles that will never again be cut, and over the names of the mightiest of the earth casts the cloak of oblivion.
His eyes fixed at random on an epitaph, he (M. de Laignes) would read over words from another age, words which his ears were long unused to hearing and of which the very sound was no longer familiar to anyone:
CY DEVANT SOUS CETTE TOMBE
REPOSE LOUIS CHARLES ANTOINE AMÉDÉE
POTHON DE LA TRENOYE, COMTE DE LAIGNES.
NÉ LE 18 AVRIL 1743, IL FUT REÇU PAGE DE MADAME
LA DAUPHINE LE 13 AVRIL 1757, FAIT CORNETTE AU
RÉGIMENT ROYAL-LORRAINE CAVALERIE EN JUILLET 1760,
POURVU D’UNE CHARGE DE LIEUTENANT DES MARÉCHAUX
DE FRANCE EN 1772, CHEVALIER DES ORDRES DU ROY
Between this date and the next there was a long interval of time. It ended:
MORT EN SON CHÂTEAU DE LAIGNES LE 9 MARS 1825
But before this calm succession of honours and titles, one following another, and in face of the empty space destined to receive his own inscription when he was dead, Monsieur de Laignes would sometimes find himself thinking with secret bitterness that beneath his name his children would read nothing.
So passing and divested of the last shreds of active political power, these aristocrats gave place to the Haute Bourgeoisie, a class which to this day remains the continuous check on public impetuosity in France. A constant factor and one almost unknown to the outside world, they continuously colour French life and thought. And they are the factor with which either the political friends or temporary invaders of France should most count – with their incredible cold seriousness and their terrifying tenacity of purpose to keep alive and dominant in the world not so much France as what France and they stand for …. To turn from that sublimity of phrase, Mr. Dreiser has observed in France a symptom that stands for that side of her activities. “What madmen you Parisians are,” said he once to an interviewer. “You have in Paris the finest night life in the world. Yet the whole city is in bed by nine o’clock.” … That is because next day at dawn that city must be up and about its unceasing task of keeping on the map what France stands for. With the wonderful efficiency of the French ménagère she keeps herself furbished up: that is the face she presents to the stranger. But with the otherworldliness of that same housewife who daily throughout her childhood recited at nightfall the meditation on Death and whose place in the family vault has been long since settled, she coldly ignores the splendours she keeps untiringly going.
It is this tenacious side of France that Monsieur Béhaine gives us. For that we cannot be too grateful to him, for you will find such a presentation in no other author as far as I know. The Comédie Humaine of Balzac is a mere fairy tale, and the vast disillusioned optimism of Flaubert, even in Education Sentimentale, is mere défaitisme beside the portrayal of bitter industry with one sole purpose that you will find in this History of a Society.
And indeed, what better illustration of his theme could you have than Monsieur Béhaine himself! A man of some property, the Germans burned his manor-house, cut down all the fruit trees which gave him his income. They gone, the priests, he being an atheist, saw to it that he received none of the reparation funds; because he was a royalist, Labour saw to it that no workmen would work at rebuilding his house; because he was a pacifist, the royalists – except for Monsieur Léon Daudet, who devotes to any new book by this author on its appearance nearly the whole of the next number of L’Action Française – give him no support, and every disaster known to humanity has since showered itself upon his head…. But Monsieur Béhaine built for himself a house with his own hands, planted himself a new garden – and with a miraculous tenacity went on – and goes on – unceasingly evolving this history of his time. Do you not recognize in that, in petto, an epitome of those marvellous workers with whom we started – the men who in spite of invasions, wars of religions, avalanches, droughts, pestilences, murrains, have gone on through the centuries terracing the great mountains of the centre of France – terracing, manuring, sowing, harvesting, and having to carry pocketfuls of dung and seeds up the sides of slopes as steep as the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whilst down below them as often as not their houses, byres, fruit trees, and gardens, lay levelled to the ground as symbol of the passage of one type or another of Visigoth or Hun ….
Mr. Crankshaw in his translation has made a valuable experiment. Possessing as he has amply shown us a smooth, musical style of his own, he has recognized that smoothness and music are not the appropriate vesture for the raven-voiced, metallic truths of his original. It was not a case for the usual listlessness of the translator of commonplaces. He has therefore of set purpose adopted a number of Gallicisms and inversions sufficient to make you have all the time the sense that it is “matter of France” that you are reading. I don’t say that he uses as many of these cross-channel devices as adorn my own pages, but he uses enough. The consequence is that if you read on through the pages without halting meticulously to question the advisability of this word or that phrase you get – or this reader certainly does – the sense that it is actually French that you are reading. It is a most singular effect. And, since it is completely without the barbarity usually attendant on literal translations, and since in its long cadences you seem to hear the bitter equanimity of the very voice of my friend Béhaine himself, you may regard it as an experiment of the greatest value and success. I wish other translators would study his effects.
Source: René Béhaine, The Survivors (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1938).
[Translator : Mr Crankshaw]
Traduction partielle, par Fabienne Couécou, de la préface de Ford Madox Ford pour le roman de René Béhaine Les Survivants (The Survivors, traduction de Crankshaw). Les textes anglais traduits sont imprimés à l’encre bleue.
Pendant de longues années – ô combien longues – M. Léon Daudet et moi-même avons partagé cette même conviction, à savoir que le romancier dont le nom figure au haut de cette page est des plus remarquables. Flaubert a dit que si la France avait lu L'Education Sentimentale elle se serait épargné les horreurs de la débâcle de 1870. Il en est de même de M. Béhaine : si le monde voulait bien lire ses livres – qui ne sont en fait qu'un seul et immense livre en plusieurs volumes – il s'épargnerait son Apocalypse à venir... parce qu'il découvrirait la France.
Pendant toute sa vie d'écrivain, Conrad a tenté désespérément d'assurer le renouveau de la forme romanesque. Il avait coutume de dire que l'écriture d'un roman est la seule qui fasse d'un auteur un homme véritable, parce que ce genre est celui qui lui offre la plus grande liberté... à la seule et unique condition qu'il ait pensé cette forme nouvelle. M. Béhaine chez qui couve, comme chez Conrad, ce mépris passionné pour l'imbécillité du commun des mortels, a su au moins conférer au roman un nouveau statut, et il a accompli cela avec naturel, sans en passer par les mêmes acrobaties quant à la forme romanesque. Il y a dans son écriture quelque chose de passionnément austère. En outre, il vous donne l'impression de voir le monde entier d'en haut, et laisse voir une humanité presque toujours désagréable et généralement imbécile. Pourtant, lire Béhaine c'est connaître la France.
Quelle est donc la cause de l'obstination de ce peuple [français] si proche du désespoir, et comment expliquer qu'elle ait perduré pendant des siècles et dure encore ? A cette question vous pouvez répondre que seule l'importance de son sens moral l'explique. Si vous y ajoutez un amour du terroir sans pareil, alors vous aurez fourni la bonne réponse. D'où provient un tel sens moral ? Comment justifier cette obstination désespérée ? La réponse à ces questions se trouve dans le formidable travail de M. Béhaine, si méticuleux.
Car Béhaine entreprend cette vaste fresque avec l'état d'esprit d'un juge d'instruction austère et consciencieux occupé à rédiger ses conclusions. On ne trouve en lui aucun des arguments balzaciens qui chargent l'accusé, sans pour autant justifier ses torts avec soin, ni même, comme c'est le cas chez Flaubert, ce naturel optimiste qui le conduit à excuser les défauts humains, puis donne naissance à des accès de rage chaque fois qu'il est déçu. Il n'existe chez Béhaine aucun optimisme susceptible d'être déçu. Il observe ses personnages avec l'amusement sordide d'un homme qui regarderait des cafards tentant d'escalader les parois glissantes d'une baignoire. L'un des personnages de Daudet – je crois qu'il s'agit du roman Les Kamtschatka – prononce ces mots à chaque fois qu'il rencontre un exemple de barbarie humaine dépourvue d'imagination : « Cela vous donne une fière idée de l'homme ! ». Mais je ne puis imaginer que Béhaine puisse s'exprimer de manière aussi négative. S'exprimer négativement ne lui ressemble guère.
Un jour, il y a des années de cela, alors que je vivais sur une colline particulièrement difficile d'accès dans le sud méditerranéen, il arriva en retard à l'occasion de sa première visite. En descendant précipitamment le sentier escarpé du jardin il s'adressa en ces termes à la maîtresse de maison : « Madame, sous la royauté je ne vous aurais pas imposé ce désagrément. » Il voulait dire qu'à l'époque des rois les postes françaises étaient efficaces et qu'il aurait pu recevoir la lettre envoyée par ses soins trois jours auparavant, dans laquelle se trouvait un plan et des indications lui permettant de parcourir les trente à quarante kilomètres séparant leurs domiciles. Cela lui aurait évité d'arriver en retard. Et il le disait avec grand sérieux. Pour lui, la Troisième République était immanquablement synonyme d'une impensable corruption, de pouvoirs publics caractérisés par une formidable inefficacité, de fonctionnaires sous-rémunérés ou non rémunérés faisant preuve d'une fainéantise inimaginable, tout cela sous le regard parfaitement indifférent des Ministères parisiens insensibles aux plaintes du public, car le seul souci des Ministres de l'Infâme était de se procurer des tiares en diamants pour leurs nombreuses maîtresses avant la chute de leurs Ministères.
Mais ne sachant pas ce que cette figure de l'Ancien Régime avait en tête, ni ce que signifiait cette contenance des plus sérieuses, avant même qu'on ne l'eût présentée au Maître, la maîtresse de maison tira de ce discours une fière idée de M. Béhaine, campé au milieu des églantines méditerranéennes.
En résumé M. Béhaine est d'abord un royaliste ; ensuite un athée et en troisième lieu un Pacifiste. Et puis il est intimement persuadé qu'un jeune homme devrait être vierge lorsqu'il se marie, une idée tout à fait singulière qui est loin de séduire la majorité des Français, même pas les plus sérieux d'entre eux. Il n'est aucunement besoin de nous attarder sur le dernier point de son credo, identique à la manière de penser anglo-saxonne. Mais on peut s'intéresser quelque peu aux trois premiers.
Presque tout Anglais et tout Américain normal, oubliant que les goûts en matière de gouvernement vont et viennent presque autant que les goûts en littérature, affirmera que le monarchisme est aussi peu vivace en France, par exemple, que l'envie de lire des romans de Walter Scott. Pourtant en lisant ce livre de Monsieur Béhaine jusqu'au bout, vous découvrirez que cette croyance est parfaitement infondée. Un très grand nombre de Français, et des plus sérieux, croient que seul un roi peut sauver la France. Plus ils sont sérieux, plus obstinée est cette croyance chez eux, devenue objet de vénération.
De fait, ils la vénèrent avec une passion tellement froide qu'ils n'en feront pas état devant vous, ni même ne vous l'exposeront, sauf si vous êtes susceptible de contribuer à faire avancer la Cause. Lorsqu'ils seront entre eux ce sera leur seul et unique sujet de conversation, exploré sans relâche. Mais leur réticence à l'aborder avec l'étranger explique que la force de ce mouvement en France soit largement sous-estimée par lui. En lisant Les Survivants, il vous sera possible de juger à quel point le Monarchisme est profondément installé en France, et finalement vous trouverez cela facile à comprendre.
Son art est si subtil qu'à moins de faire travailler vos neurones très activement, il vous arrivera de ne pouvoir distinguer l'intention globale qui se cache derrière son oeuvre. Si Flaubert fut son maître incontesté, Béhaine a dépassé le sage de Croisset dans la mesure où son tempérament gaulois plus austère le conduit à rejeter les deux points forts de l'auteur de Bouvard et Pécuchet, à savoir son énorme fou rire et son emploi récurrent de la coïncidence et de l'antithèse.
1. Voir René Béhaine : Histoire d’une Société, pages choisies présentées par Xavier Soleil, Èditions Nivoit, 2006.