Obituary: Claude Manceron
Tuesday 06 April 1999
Claude Manceron, like President Mitterrand, the man in whose service many years of his life were spent, was also a fervent admirer of Michelet. His childhood was an enchanted one, in Brittany, where his father was a naval officer married to the romantic figure of Marie Mavrogordato, a penniless Greek princess.
Then, at the age of 11, Claude was struck down by poliomyelitis and had to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, thus depriving him of all formal education. But that proved a secret blessing. He developed a passion for reading, and his parents kept him well supplied with all kinds of books - poetry, biography, navigation manuals, works of science, novels of all kinds and above all history, in which his great favourite was Michelet.
Claude Manceron was an enthusiastic filmgoer too, and it was Abel Gance's great Napoleon (the 1934 sound version of the 1927 classic) that made him decide to become an historian.
Despite his handicap, Manceron was a man of formidable courage and great intellectual energy, with a passionate love of life and enthusiasm for everything he undertook. When he was only 17 he became an instructor to the handicapped at the Saint-Clement centre, where he worked all through the Occupation.
Though he was academically unqualified, he became a great teacher of the handicapped, bringing them all his knowledge of history, natural sciences, philosophy and literature. His teaching was that of a devoted fellow-sufferer, filled with emotion, imagination and humour, the qualities he was to transform into the literary rapture of his writings.
In 1956, he published his first book, a historical novel, A peine un printemps, about an event that was to occupy his writing life, the Hundred Days - Napoleon's all-too-brief return from Elba that was to end with Waterloo. It became an immense success with critics and readers, and Manceron decided to devote the rest of his life to writing. But though his novel had been a success, he felt that the form was not really suited to all he wanted to express about history. So he followed it with Tambour de Borodino (1959), Le dernier choix de Napoleon (1960), Napoleon reprend Paris (1965) and Austerlitz (1962), all lively, exhilaratingly vivid true historical happenings and characters.
Manceron also wrote historical biographies including one devoted to his friend and adviser, Cent mille voix par jour pour Mitterrand ("One Hundred Thousand Voices a Day for Mitterrand"), when the future president was the candidate of the Left for the Presidency - he was finally elected in 1981. He also wrote books on Beaumarchais and Mirabeau (1968 and 1969).
But Claude Manceron's greatest work was one he devised when he became editorial adviser to the publisher Robert Laffont in 1960. It was to be a multi-volume work, an enormous history of the Revolution as seen through the eyes and the words of an extensive dramatis personae of real people, all speaking in character and to the immediate historical point. In 1963 he planned a series of six volumes with the overall title of Les Hommes de la liberte, of which the first tome, Les Vingt ans du roi, appeared in 1973, followed almost annually by subsequent volumes until the fifth, Le Sang de la Bastille, in 1987.
An offshoot of this task was another massive work, a Dictionnaire biographique de la Revolution francaise (1989) which brings to startling life not only the main protagonists but also the less well-known, covering 500 names from d'Abancourt, who directed the 10 August resistance in the Tuileries, to Ysabeau, representative from Indre- et-Loire at the Convention nationale.
All this later work was made possible in the peace of the countryside with the collaboration of his wife Anne, a tireless researcher. But, like his idol Michelet's final monumental Histoire, Manceron's great sequence remained unfinished with the fifth volume, when he had to abandon the sheer physical labour of writing. Until 1995, he remained in his post at the Elysee, one of Mitterrand's most treasured friends and advisers. Claude Manceron remains a shining example of triumph over adversity, and of scholarship without pedantry. And totally believable.
Claude Manceron, historian: born Paris 5 February 1923; twice married, secondly to Ann Colson; died Rambouillet, France 23 March 1999.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
Jennifer Lawrence attacks mass media again over body image
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
A very timely Great Train Robbery and a frantic 24 Hours in A&E among the highlights
Geoffrey Macnab: The Wolf of Wall Street's account of white-collar excess is A Rake’s Progress on steroids
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Arts & Ents blogs
Brian Griffin returns: Cartoon dog back from the dead in Family Guy Christmas episode
Matthew Perry: He'll be there for you
Nymphomaniac, film review: 'Despite the surreal sex scenes this is a serious drama'
FAT’s all folks: Architecture’s biggest jokers sign off in style
The Wolf of Wall Street, film review: 'A lurid, profanity bespattered movie'
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 Facebook 'self-censorship': study records when you don't post to find more ways to share
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 ‘Why we don't have snow in Saudi Arabia’: Video captures winter fun as Middle East hit with rare blizzard
- 4 Vitamin pills are a waste of money, offer no health benefits and could be harmful - study
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >