One of the many cultural anniversaries being celebrated this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of French novelist George Sand (see my post on February 6). As part of this Année George Sand, there was a national celebration in Paris on Sand's birthday, July 3. As recounted in an article (Chirac rend hommage à "un être exceptionnel" [Chirac gives homage to "an exceptional being"], July 3) in Le Nouvel Observateur, it was none other than the President of France, Jacques Chirac, who gave the primary address. Jacques Chirac saluted an extraordinary being who
incarnates the French spirit in all of its grandeur, [because she] did not cease to aspire to these values of liberty, equality, and fraternity that are the foundation of our country. George Sand's great battles for equality, for brotherhood, for the rights of women, still have today, more than ever, a formidable resonance. She touches us by her life, worthy of the greatest novels and which caused scandal. It is quite difficult for us today to understand the surprise and even hostility that were unleashed by her desire to live by her writing, her drive for equality, for women and for all, this flame that was revolutionary at heart, that made her seek universal suffrage, in this setting of the 19th century when all was in flux, but at the cost of great struggle!The Minister of Culture (we need one: read the Ionarts Proposal), speaking at an event on the same day at Sand's home in Nohant, recognized "her fantastic energy and strength for work, unequaled without doubt in her age, except perhaps by Balzac." She had an influence on many writers, including Dostoevsky, Henry James, and Marcel Proust. I love the fact that the French celebrate events of cultural importance and that the President himself is involved. In 2017, will the President of the United States honor the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau (b. July 12, 1817) in a similar way? Or Walt Whitman (b. May 31, 1819) or Herman Melville (b. August 1, 1819) in 2019? How about Edgar Allan Poe (b. January 19, 1809) in 2009? It sure as hell didn't happen for Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. May 25, 1803) in 2003 (Peter Y. Chou celebrated), and I waited faithfully, in vain, for poor Nathaniel Hawthorne (b. July 4, 1804) this year.