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Péguy, Charles (1873–1914) By Coustille-Cossou, Charles

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM1995-1
Published: 15/10/2018
Retrieved: 24 June 2019, from
https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/peguy-charles-1873-1914

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Abstract

French writer of the beginning of the twentieth century Charles Péguy was a socialist, a dreyfusard, a republican, a nationalist, a catholic, a mystic, successively or at the same time. Throughout his various identities, he remained first and foremost attached to literature.

Born in 1873, son of a carpenter and an upholsterer, rising from the Ecole Normale of Orléans for primary school teachers to the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris-Ulm, in his youth Péguy incarnated the meritocratic success idealised in the Third Republic, benefiting from a state policy that he would later call: ‘school follies’ (‘les folies scolaires’).

French writer of the beginning of the twentieth century Charles Péguy was a socialist, a dreyfusard, a republican, a nationalist, a catholic, a mystic, successively or at the same time. Throughout his various identities, he remained first and foremost attached to literature.

Born in 1873, son of a carpenter and an upholsterer, rising from the Ecole Normale of Orléans for primary school teachers to the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris-Ulm, in his youth Péguy incarnated the meritocratic success idealised in the Third Republic, benefiting from a state policy that he would later call: ‘school follies’ (‘les folies scolaires’). Péguy was affiliated with the Socialist Party alongside many French intellectuals and he supported the Jewish officer during the Dreyfus Affair. He made his literary debut by publishing his Cahiers de la Quinzaine in 1900. He would oversee this journal until his last days, publishing his own texts but also those of Romain Rolland, Julien Benda, Daniel Halévy, Georges Sorel, André Suarès and Bernard-Lazare.

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc (Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc, 1910) would remain his only literary success; in it he praises—through Jeannette, his growing heroine—almost naïve, modest, rural, liturgical, and firmly patriotic Catholicism. In Our Youth (Notre jeunesse), Péguy breaks with many dreyfusards (Jaurès in the first place) whom he pejoratively associates with the ‘intellectual party’ responsible for ‘having betrayed the mystical in order to do politics’—the mystical consisting in devoting oneself to a cause and politics in exploiting it. Religious poetry would follow (including Eve in 1913) in which a game of repetition and variation is instigated: Péguy’s writing follows his iterative way of thinking time; the texts reuse the same intertwining threads, forming different patterns according to their various subjects.

From the reform of the Humanities in 1902 until his last years, Péguy denounced the takeover of the French education system by Sorbonne historians. Péguy’s repetitive style challenges the rigidity of their positivist methods, performing Bergson’s emphasis on memory and duration instead of following a chronological and horizontal vision of time. He extensively criticised their belief in an empty historical science: as Clio, the muse of history in an eponymous posthumous work, asserts, ‘history is always an amateur, memory, aging is always a professional’. In L’Argent and L’Argent (suite), Péguy persisted in his polemics, lampooning the pacifists on the eve of the First World War: ‘Destroying the homeland, they destroy themselves’.

On the 5th of September 1914, he was killed by a bullet at the front in Villeroy.

After so much battling an eternal peace;

After so much war an eternal victory;

After so much misery an eternal glory;

After so much baseness an eternal rise;

After so much contesting an uncontested kingdom’.

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc (my translation from Œuvres poétiques complètes, p. 436).

List of important works

  • Jeanne d’Arc (1897)

  • De Jean Coste (1902)

  • La thèse. De la situation faite à l’histoire dans la philosophie générale du monde moderne, unfinished (1905–9)

  • Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc (1910)

  • Notre jeunesse (1910)

  • Le Porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu (1912)

  • Eve (1913)

  • L’Argent, and L’Argent (suite) (1913)

  • Note sur M. Bergson et la philosophie bergsonienne (1914)

  • Clio. Dialogue de l’histoire et de l’âme païenne, posthumous

Selected translation to English

  • The Portal of the Mystery of Hope (2005), translated by David Louis Schindler Jr, Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Complete works

  • Œuvres poétiques complètes (1941), edited by Jean Bastaire, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.

  • Œuvres en prose complètes (3 vols.: 1987, 1988, 1992), edited by Robert Burac, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.

Further reading

  • Burac, R. (1994) Charles Peguy: La revolution et la grace, Paris: Laffont.

  • Gil, M. (2011) Peguy au pied de la lettre, Paris: Edition du Cerf.

  • Rolland, R. (1944) Charles Peguy, Paris: Albin Michel.

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Published

15/10/2018

Article DOI

10.4324/9781135000356-REM1995-1

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Citing this article:

Coustille-Cossou, Charles. "Péguy, Charles (1873–1914)." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. : Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 24 Jun. 2019 https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/peguy-charles-1873-1914. doi:10.4324/9781135000356-REM1995-1

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