Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Alphonse Karr

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Karr was a critic, journalist, and novelist who coined this famous epigram -- usually translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same" -- in 1849.

My favorite Alphonse Karr anecdote -- in fact, my only Alphonse Karr anecdote -- comes from a book by my new favorite author, Julian Barnes.  In 1840, Karr wrote an article insinuating that Louise Colet (the Parisian poetess who was later the lover of Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary) had her government stipend increased due to the efforts of another of her lovers, philosopher Victor Cousin.  Colet was nine months pregnant at the time, and Karr also insinuated that the baby wasn't her husband's, but Cousin's. 

Colet's husband, a "slight and prematurely stooped" professor of music, declined to challenge Karr, who was an expert swordsman and one of the best shots in Paris.  So Louise went to Karr's apartment with a kitchen knife and stabbed him in the back -- or at least she tried to. 

Karr was not badly hurt, and graciously declined to sue Colet.  But he couldn't resist poking a little fun at his preggers assailant.  

"I certainly would have been gravely harmed," he wrote, "if my attacker had struck me with a direct horizontal blow instead of lifting her arm high over her head in a tragedienne's gesture, surely in anticipation of some forthcoming lithograph of the incident."  

Karr, who later moved to Nice and grew flowers professionally -- kept the knife and exhibited it in a glass case with this label: "Given to me by Mme Colet . . . in the back."

2 or 3 lines would rewrite Karr's famous saying to make it more apropos to the last two years: Plus on veut que ça change, plus c'est la même chose ("The more you want things to change, the more they stay the same").  

Alphonse Karr

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