Gustave Hervé (1871–1944) at the Extremes of the French Third Republic
Chapter 1 “Un Breton de Bretagne Bretonnante”
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The Breton writer Ernest Renan, a former religious student and author of the iconoclastic Vie de Jésus, defined the limits and limitlessness of Breton consciousness in his memoirs in this way. “My race, my family, my native town, the particular milieu where I grew up, closing me off from all bourgeois goals and rendering me absolutely useless for all that did not involve a pure commitment to things of the spirit, made of me an idealist, closed to all the rest.”2 Renan’s insight about the Breton character with its mixture of Celtic and French Catholic cultures became an underlying theme and the point of departure in Michael Roger Scher’s unpublished 1972 account of young Gustave Hervé.3 If Renan’s idealism led his scholastically trained mind, logically but with great difficulty, to doubt the truths of an all embracing Christianity,4 Hervé seemed to slide, as he matured, from the all embracing faith of his childhood to religious agnosticism, if not complete atheism, and a rather eclectic socialism before his infamous rectification after 1910, his gradual shift toward a French national socialism by 1916, and an even more gradual reconversion to Catholicism in the mid-1930s. Certainly, Hervé’s transformations were not without tensions, ambiguity, and apparent contradictions.
Hervé’s career and his Breton roots were described and connected in the Dictionnaire Biographique du Mouvement Ouvrier Français by characterizing him as un Breton de Bretagne bretonnante.5 “If obstinacy and stubbornness are truly ← 27 | 28...