Bulletin des lois de la République française

Imprimerie nationale
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Publisher
Imprimerie nationale
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Published on
Dec 31, 1882
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Pages
1714
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Language
French
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Penguin Island is a satirical fictional history by Nobel Prize winning French author Anatole France. It is concerned with grandnarratives, mythologizing heroes, hagiography and romantic nationalism. It is about a fictitious island, inhabited by great auks, that existed off the northern coast of Europe. The history begins when a wayward Christian missionary monk lands on the island and perceives the upright, unafraid auks as a sort of pre-Christian society of noble pagans. Mostly blind and somewhat deaf, having mistaken the animals for humans, he baptizes them. This causes a problem for The Lord, who normally only allows humans to be baptized. After consulting with saints and theologians in Heaven, He resolves the dilemma by converting the baptized birds to humans with only a few physical traces of their ornithological origin, and giving them each a soul.

Thus begins the history of Penguinia, and from there forward the history mirrors that of France (and more generally of Western Europe, including German-speaking areas and the British Isles). The narrative spans from the Migration Period ("Dark Ages"), when the Germanic tribes fought incessantly among themselves for territory; to the heroic Early Middle Ages with the rise of Charlemagne ("Draco the Great") and conflicts with Viking raiders ("porpoises"); through the Renaissance (Erasmus); and up to the modern era with motor cars; and even into a future time in which a thriving high-tech civilization is destroyed by a campaign of terrorist bombings, and everything begins again in an endless cycle.

The longest-running plot thread, and probably the best known, satirizes the Dreyfus affair — though both brief and complex satires of European history, politics, philosophy and theology are present throughout the novel. At various points, real historical figures such as Columba and Saint Augustine are part of the story, as well as fictionalized characters who represent historical people. Penguin Island is considered a critique of human nature from a socialist standpoint, in which morals, customs and laws are lampooned. For example, the origin of the aristocracy is presented as starting with the brutal and shameless murder of a farmer, and the seizure of his land, by a physically larger and stronger neighbor.
 The Secret Memoirs of Henry of Navarre's famous queen possess a value which the passage of time seems but to heighten. Emanating as they undoubtedly do from one of the chief actors in a momentous crisis in French history, and in the religious history of Europe as well, their importance as first-hand documents can hardly be overestimated. While the interest which attaches to their intimate discussions of people and manners of the day will appeal to the reader at the outset.

Marguerite de Valois was the French contemporary of Queen Elizabeth of England, and their careers furnish several curious points of parallel. Marguerite was the daughter of the famous Catherine de Médicis, and was given in marriage by her scheming mother to Henry of Navarre, whose ascendant Bourbon star threatened to eclipse (as afterwards it did) the waning house of Valois. Catherine had four sons, three of whom successively mounted the throne of France, but all were childless. Although the king of the petty state of Navarre was a Protestant, and Catherine was the most fanatical of Catholics, she made this marriage a pretext for welding the two houses; but actually it seems to have been a snare to lure him to Paris, for it was at this precise time that the bloody Massacre of St. Bartholomew's day was ordered. Henry himself escaped--it is said, through the protection of Marguerite, his bride,--but his adherents in the Protestant party were slain by the thousands. A wedded life begun under such sanguinary auspices was not destined to end happily. Indeed, their marriage resembled nothing so much as an armed truce, peaceable, and allowing both to pursue their several paths, and finally dissolved by mutual consent, in 1598, when Queen Marguerite was forty-five. The closing years of her life were spent in strict seclusion, at the Castle of Usson, in Auvergne, and it was at this time that she probably wrote her Memoirs.

In the original, the Memoirs are written in a clear vigorous French, and in epistolary form. Their first editor divided them into three sections, or books. As a whole they cover the secret history of the Court of France from the years 1565 to 1582--seventeen years of extraordinary interest, comprising, as they do, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, already referred to, the formation of the famous League, the Peace of Sens, and the bitter religious persecutions which were at last ended by the Edict of Nantes issued after Henry of Navarre became Henry IV. of France. Besides the political bearing of the letters, they give a picturesque account of Court life at the end of the 16th century, the fashions and manners of the time, piquant descriptions, and amusing gossip, such as only a witty woman--as Marguerite certainly was--could inject into such subjects. The letters, indeed, abound in sprightly anecdote and small-talk, which yet have their value in lightening up the whole situation.

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