115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Manufacturing French Identity through the “Unity in diversity” Trope in Le Tour de la France par deux enfants

Celine Maillard, University of Washington

Le Tour de la France par deux enfants was a major textbook in the educational landscape of the French Third Republic. Its author, Augustine Fouillée, manufactured her own vision of French identity through the “Unity in diversity” trope in order to appeal to a new audience: the primary school students coming for the popular classes of the country who attended the newly founded free schools of Jules Ferry.

Proposal: 

Le Tour de la France par deux enfants was a major textbook in the educational landscape of the French Third Republic. It also foresaw and probably contributed to the fading of regional identity, and more specifically regional languages. At the turn of the twentieth century, wandering the regions and chapters of Augustine Fouillée’s book and following the path of two orphan boys while discovering through their eyes the history, geography or national symbols of France seems like an obvious way for a primary school student to highlight one’s sense of both regional and national pride. Yet that “unity in diversity” principle eventually proved detrimental to diversity, compromising plurality while upholding national unity at the expense of regional languages. Far from having that “textbook feel” to it (at least for a child), Le Tour de la France par deux enfants reads as an exciting adventure book—at least that’s how I saw it when I fell upon it in my grandparents’ attic, more than 20 years ago.

 Although Le Tour de la France par deux enfants was technically a textbook composed with a clear sense of what children should learn from it in mind, it also qualifies as literature. If we go by the classic definition of literature as “Written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit”, Augustine Fouillée’s book definitely qualifies: whether or not it can be considered of “superior” artistic merit, it was definitely lasting since it was used in schools for almost 70 years, and is still published regularly.

Two visions of identity emerge; an organic vision of identity coming from its diversity to a more artificial one. For Jean Baubérot, French historian and sociologist, France is the product of a fusion. He believes that the sum of the country’s various regions – qualities and flaws included – adds up to a 'national melting pot', which means that what he calls “the (French) universal” is formed by its “particularisms.” For others, and that includes the historian Timothy Baycroft, the national mythology brings together “the coherent identity invented by the republican nation-builders […] and the more spontaneous and diverse images that emerged.”

So did the authorities deliberately manufacture their own vision of French identity through the “Unity in diversity” trope in Le Tour de la France par deux enfants ? Did Fouillé?

Indeed, if the author didn’t work for the Republicans, she shared most of their ideals and she intended to foster a sense of national identity among the children coming from the popular classes of France, playing masterfully with the concept of otherness to appeal to that specific audience.