Everybody has a certain idea of France. During the war, France was everything that England was not: defeated. Soon after the liberation, Jean-Paul Sartre, the instant spokesman of French culture, told the British: ‘Everything that you lived in pride, we lived in shame.’ But he and France soon got over it, superficially at least. The French Right, which had mostly supported Vichy, was reupholstered in Gaullist colours; the Parti Communiste Français, which had been defeatist until the USSR was invaded in 1941, wrapped itself in a blood-stained red flag and flaunted itself as ‘Le parti des 50,000 fusillés’. In fact it is doubtful if 50,000 resisters were ever shot, and by no means all of the victims were communists; but the Left in general went along with the PCF, Sartre not least. If he had any rival in post-war Paris, it was Albert Camus, who had done some practical resisting while Sartre sat in the Café Flore and thought about it.
One of the books that most impressed me in my late teens was Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. I attached its great tag line ‘Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux’ to my intellectual baggage. In fact, as I discovered when I looked at it again the other day, Camus’s