De Gaulle, by Julian Jackson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, Harvard; 928 pp., $39.95). Here is no doubt the best, most comprehensive, most politically balanced and appropriately distanced of the now four notable biographies of Charles de Gaulle. Previously, those by Jean Lacouture (1985-88), Paul-Marie de La Gorce (1967, rev. 1999), and Éric Roussel took pride of place. Now Julian Jackson, professor of history at Queen Mary University of London and the author of two books on the fall of France in 1940 and the Occupation, seems to have written the definitive work on the subject. He himself notes that “the best biography of de Gaulle [Roussel’s] is also one that is insidiously hostile to its subject,” whom Roussel depicts as “an anachronistic right-wing nationalist.” Jackson’s own book is deeply impressive, sympathetic to the great man but never overawed by him. It is also exhaustively researched, as beautifully proportioned as a building by Wren, and exquisitely written. De Gaulle himself remarked playfully that “Everybody is, has been or will be ‘Gaullist’”; a quip later reformulated by a shrewd observer as: “Outside the ultra-faithful, everyone has been, is or will be anti-Gaullist. The worst of it is that each of us is both Gaullist and anti-Gaullist and that the division runs through each of our consciences.”
Jackson’s final estimation of De Gaulle and his legacy is that his great work was the establishment of the constitution of the Fifth Republic that provided for, among other things, the election of the president by universal suffrage. “Gaullism succeeded in becoming the synthesis of French political traditions, or as de Gaulle put it, reconciling the left to the state and the right to the nation, the left to authority and the right to democracy.” De Gaulle, Jackson says, was a Bonapartist only in the sense that he succeeded where Bonaparte failed, by reconciling the Revolution and the monarchy. This he was able to do because of his role during the war years, which “allowed him to transcend normal categories of left and right. He was forever the ‘man of 18 June.’”
The Cause of Humanity and Other Stories: Rudyard Kipling’s Uncollected Prose Fictions, edited by Thomas C. Pinney (Cambridge, U.K.: 436 pp., $24.95). Thomas Pinney, said to be Kipling’s “leading editor,” has brought together 86 “items,” as he calls them, from Kipling’s years as a newspaperman in India in the 1880’s, beginning when he was 17 years old. Of these, 55 first appeared in the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, then the sole daily newspaper in the Punjab. Only three of these pieces are juvenilia, but all were written before Kipling’s return to England in 1889. They are certainly a various and varied lot. As Pinney says,
It is as though the apprentice Kipling were testing his skill by trying every possible form and mode—narrative, anecdotal, farcical, tragic, historical, fantastic, confessional, parodic, dramatic. Some were dead ends, others full of possibility.
Indeed, a good many of them are something like scraps, whose interest lies largely in demonstrating, if such were necessary, how very versatile a writer distinguished in maturity by his versatility, among many other virtues, could be. In an age when educated people, and even semieducated ones, took the vast bulk of their intellectual pleasure from reading, that was a valuable talent for an author to possess; since, in those days, people would read anything—or almost anything—provided only that it were well done. While there are many good things in this book, the best by far is the title story, “The Cause of Humanity”: a drolly macabre story in the first-person singular recited by an itinerant scoundrel and self-described “professional liver” about his experience snagging corpses (probably during the First Balkan War) to be sold on the black market to doctors and medical schools for dissection. The story, apparently written in the early summer of 1914, has gone unpublished until now: Pinney speculates that the author held it back at the time out of respect for the carnage of the war that began two months later and would have made its publication appear in bad taste. It is a fine piece of work nevertheless, strongly reminiscent, as many of these “items” are, of Mark Twain’s early work in which he drew on the American frontier in his brief capacity as a newspaperman and after, as Kipling drew on India and the CMG.