A perceptive son of France once remarked that throughout history his motherland had been obliged to live dangerously. This observer saw France's perilous history as the consequence of her exposed geographic position. Others have claimed that the French people lived dangerously because their Celtic origins compelled them to combativeness; still others have ascribed France's adventurous life history to an enquiring and even aspiring national mentality, which some Frenchmen turned to individual genius in art, literature and philosophy, while others were building both the most brilliant and the most sordid of political traditions. Whatever the true causes, we are here concerned with a people whose relationship to life is as dramatic as their history has been, a people who have employed the same sense of daring in choosing their art forms, their fashions, and their cuisine, as they have in building three empires, in experimenting with almost every known form of political system, and in fighting innumerable wars and revolutions. It is no paradox then that the Frenchman can even carry his disdain for the norms of life, his apathy toward the world around him to a point of trembling danger.
France has often been described as a woman. The French people themselves have frequently chosen feminine figures to symbolize their country, suggesting in so doing the infinite variety they find in their homeland and the range of emotions which it induces in them. Indeed the Frenchman sees in France all the qualities of femininity -- the softness of her countryside, the passion of her people, the pettiness of her national jealousies, the