When things flower madly around here it doesn’t mean it’s spring. It just means: pollinate me. These beauties won’t have much trouble finding pollinators.
Moso bamboo knows it’s not time too send up shoots yet. In fact, after an ideal cool season, there’s now the chance of a dry spring and summer. That can mean later and fewer shoots. To take one’s mind off the frustrations of El Nino…what about some book talk?
Stefan Zweig was a depressive, Jewish, middle-European intellectual who wrote psychological studies of…Whoa! I’m losing you, aren’t I?
But stay with me. Zweig was an entertainer. His studies of European historical figures don’t pretend to be either history or biography. Rather, he selects a character who can’t fail to interest and lets you see the times through that character. The result can read a little like a novel and Zweig is not above the odd Hollywood flourish to keep a bit of juice in the mix. Yet for all his narrative vibrancy, he was a scholar and respected interpreter of history. The style is clear, like Orwell’s, and, like Orwell, his emphasis on character and human nature gives his work appeal to readers of all political colours.
I’d heard that his study of Fouche was a great read, but didn’t get round to it till now. Yes, it’s a great read. And what a subject! (He’s Foo-shay, by the way. There’s supposed to be an acute accent over the “e” in Fouche, but I have trouble with tech stuff.)
I’ll avoid spoilers – but was there ever such a brilliant, twisty, amoral survivor as this guy? Starting his career as a prig, a demagogue and mass-murderer in the French Revolution, he took more shapes and turns than seems possible for one man. Still loathed by nearly all to this day, Fouche was nonetheless recognised by Balzac as a genius, and Zweig, while harbouring no illusions on the character of his subject, exhibits that genius. One is even tempted to think that France and Europe were better off for his unlikely, unwanted influence over such titanic figures as Robespierre and Napoleon. Probably more lived than died because of the unloveable Joseph Fouche.
As you read the book, you find yourself shrieking: “How is Fouche going to make the next switch? Surely, he’s washed up this time!” It’s not unlike watching Indiana Jones.
A possible lesson. A guy who can walk into a room and have everyone like the way he looks and talks can make great career strides quickly. But a man who struggles from birth against a general and spontaneous dislike of his person might well develop psychic muscles others know nothing about.
Another lesson. If a screaming demagogue comes round to your house one morning, seizes your property, publicly condemns everything you stand for, then publicly shoots you into little pieces with a big cannon…Don’t worry! He probably doesn’t mean it. He’ll probably feel completely different about things by afternoon. Such was Joseph Fouche, Duke of Otranto.