The magazine’s called The Paris Review, so you’d think our archive would be lousy with poems about Bastille Day. Like, you couldn’t pluck a back issue from the shelves and point to a random page without coming across some rousing commemoration of quartorze juillet and the indomitable French spirit.
Well, you’d be wrong. There are zero poems about Bastille Day in our archive. Not even a stray mention. We’ve failed in our duties as Francophiles.
In fact, to find anything worthy of this occasion, you have to go all the way back to our first issue, from Spring 1953. There you’ll find an essay by one C. Chesnaie, “The Year in French Literature.” If you’re curious about midcentury French novels, boy, are you in for a treat—this thing is full of them! And Chesnaie doesn’t bother much with adornment. He’s giving it to you straight. Here are two of his recommendations, for instance:
If you prefer the humorous (which, like full print skirts, is in fashion this year), you should read Au Bon Beurre by Jean Dutourd. For psychological novels (not done much these recent years but enjoying a return to favor), you should read Les Amants du Theil by Paul Bodin, or La Farandole by Andre Brincourt.
There. That’s all you need to know. And he cannot tell a lie. If you were to ask for his opinion on Le Dos au mur by Gilbert Sigaux, he would tell you: “I cannot say anything about [it] because it is still at the press, except that the author already has a practiced technique and is now one of our most moving novelists.”
I wish I could offer you something better for Bastille Day, but the well is dry. And this is not an isolated incident. A search for “La Marseillaise” also yielded zero results. As a consolation prize, here’s a picture of our Summer 1968 issue, which had the Eiffel Tower on its cover:
We’ll try to get our act together for next year’s July 14. Till then, we can only hope that French literature continues to prosper, as it did in Chesnaie’s day: “they opened the bookstores to an enormous production of novels,” he wrote, “which for the past five years have been served up to the public like so many Lucky Strikes.”