The Pedagogical Imagination: The Republican Legacy in Twenty-First-Century French Literature and Film

The Pedagogical Imagination: The Republican Legacy in Twenty-First-Century French Literature and Film

The Pedagogical Imagination: The Republican Legacy in Twenty-First-Century French Literature and Film

The Pedagogical Imagination: The Republican Legacy in Twenty-First-Century French Literature and Film

Excerpt

Alphonse Daudet’s short story “La dernière classe” (The Last Class), published in 1872, takes place in a rural schoolroom in Alsace shortly after France’s defeat by Prussia in 1870–71. Beyond the classroom walls, in the distance, one hears the military exercises of the Prussian troops, a reminder that the annexed provinces of Alsace-Lorraine have fallen to Bismarck. The story describes the schoolchildren’s last French class. Thereafter, they will be required to study German. The narrator, a mediocre student named Franz, arrives late to class to discover a curious scene. Adults from the village occupy the empty seats, and the teacher, Monsieur Hamel, dressed in his Sunday best, conducts the lesson with unusual ceremony. Amid the exercises on grammar, reading, writing, and spelling, Monsieur Hamel pauses to celebrate the richness, beauty, and clarity of the French language. He also admonishes his pupils and fellow citizens for their past neglect of their studies. The teacher stresses, in particular, the urgent need to preserve and defend the French language. The nation’s survival, he explains, depends on it: studying French, learning to read and write the language, is tantamount to fighting for France. As this, the last French class draws to a close, Monsieur Hamel begins to offer some parting words. Overcome with sadness, however, he cannot speak. Instead, he turns to the blackboard and painstakingly writes in capital letters: VIVE LA FRANCE! He then, with a wave of the hand, dismisses the class.

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