“Je Suis Charlie”
I was so glad to see a sign that read “Je Suis Charlie” at “The Center for Fiction” when I went to return my library book. The slogan has justifiably been heard and seen everywhere in the last few days, and is so appropriate in an organization devoted to writing and writers.
The declarative phrase has double meaning for me—in addition to expressing support for freedom of expression, it parallels the opening lines of my novel, “None But a King: the Story of Anne of Brittany.” My protagonist tells herself “Je suis Anne, Duchesse de Bretagne.” Repeating the words gives the thirteen year old girl strength and reminds her of the responsibilities she has to deal with as the ruler of an independent state at war with France.
Both for Anne and contemporary sympathizers carrying signs and wearing T-shirts, that expression of identity marks their resolve to live up to the symbolic meaning of the title. I would like to identify a link between Anne's life and Charlie Hebdo; but it is very difficult.
I've been reviewing my research about the period from 1488 to 1514, in which Anne ruled, as duchess of Brittany and queen of France, to find traces of the spirit of “la provoc” –the inimitable French pursuit of provocation. In Anne's time, France was a strictly Catholic country, albeit sometimes at odds, and sometimes at war with, the pope. That was long before the Protestant Reformation, before the Enlightenment, before the French Revolution. Jews had been expelled long ago, and there may have been a few Muslims in the south. The closest relationship I can find to free thinking is Anne’s pursuit of knowledge, and her encouragement of writers, artists and printers, leading to better education.
Her husbands, King Charles VIII and Louis XII both went to war in Italy and returned with greater appreciation of the arts and sciences, which they shared with their very well- educated wife and together helped to bring the Renaissance to France.
That receptivity to learning, to thinking in new ways, was the beginning of the spirit of open-mindedness, if not progressivism, that has characterized France and must not be tempered by the violence which has so often accompanied its history and progress.