French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has ignited controversy due to his views on classic proto-novel, The Princess of Cleves.
Sarkozy says that he suffered by being made to read it at school. He also says that:
A sadist or an idiot - you decide - included questions about La Princesse de Clèves in an exam for people applying for public sector jobs." He puffed that it would be "a spectacle" to see low-level staff talk about the difficult work published in 1678.”
Criticism of literature is now common both from the right and left. The nominal UK Left use words like ‘elitist’ to describe literature. They have more important things on their minds such as conjuring up slogans like ‘Education! Education! Education!’ (Tony Blair) – have they given much thought to education since then? Doesn’t seem so. The Right see literature as an irrelevance. If it doesn’t sell well, doesn’t create wealth and shore up the economy, what possible use can it be? Apparently Boris Johnson thinks about poetry while he’s driving on motorways (must avoid him if I ever spot him behind a wheel) or hanging over the edge of a cliff in sub-zero temperatures, but not at most other times. I wonder what the last contemporary poetry collection he bought was.
Anyway, back to France and Sarkozy. The French public have reacted by buying the book. Apparently, this week the Paris Book Fair sold out of badges saying "I'm reading La Princesse de Clèves."
What we need is for Gordon Brown to declare that poetry gives him a headache. We need Virgin Media to set an exam for staff requiring them to read the complete oeuvre of Geoffrey Hill and talk about it under controlled conditions before being eligible for employment. That should create a fair amount of outrage. We need all political parties to quiz prospective candidates on their knowledge of the Barque Press list and only choose those who score 0/100. We need bank staff, particularly those eligible for multi-million pound pensions, to sound off about how being forced to read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in school has ruined their lives.
Everyone will be reading poetry in protest. It will be the ultimate resistance.