it is impossible for her to imagine three million men. No one, in fact, can

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Looking back we can see how indirectly we know the environment in which nevertheless we live. (Pg.1)

There is an island in the ocean where in 1914 a few Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans lived. No cable reaches that island, and the British mail steamer comes but once in sixty days. In September it had not yet come, and the islanders were still talking about the latest newspaper which told about the approaching trial of Madame Caillaux for the shooting of Gaston Calmette.

It was, therefore, with more than usual eagerness that the whole colony assembled at the quay on a day in mid-September to hear from the captain what the verdict had been. They learned that for over six weeks now those of them who were English and those of them who were French had been fighting in behalf of the sanctity of treaties against those of them who were Germans. For six strange weeks they had acted as if they were friends, when in fact they were enemies.

They had been mistaken for six weeks, on the continent the interval may have been only six days or six hours. There was an interval. There was a moment when the picture of Europe on which men were conducting their business as usual, did not in any way correspond to the Europe which was about to make a jumble of their lives. (Pg.1)

By fictions I do not mean lies. I mean a representation of the environment which is in lesser or greater degree made by man himself. (Pg.8)

Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre (1851-1931)

Our first concern with fictions and symbols is to forget their value to the existing social order, and to think of them simply as an important part of the machinery of human communication. Now in any society that is not completely self-contained in its interests and so small that everyone can know all about everything that happens, ideas deal with events that are out of sight and hard to grasp. Miss Sherwin of Gopher Prairie,7 is aware that a war is raging in France and tries to conceive it. She has never been to France, and certainly she has never been along what is now the battlefront. Pictures of French and German soldiers she has seen, but it is impossible for her to imagine three million men. No one, in fact, can imagine them, and the professionals do not try. They think of them as, say, two hundred divisions. But Miss Sherwin has no access to the order of battle maps, and so if she is to think about the war, she fastens upon Joffre and the Kaiser as if they were engaged in a personal duel. Perhaps if you could see what she sees with her mind’s eye, the image in its composition might be not unlike an Eighteenth Century engraving of a great soldier. (Pg.6)

For it is clear enough that under certain conditions men respond as powerfully to fictions as they do to realities, and that in many cases they help to create the very fictions to which they respond. (Pg.7) The way in which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do. It does not determine what they will achieve. It determines their effort, their feelings, their hopes, not their accomplishments and results. (Pg.13)

In all these instances we must note particularly one common factor. It is the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment. To that pseudo-environment his behavior is a response. But because it is behavior, the consequences, if they are acts, operate not in the pseudo-environment where the behavior is stimulated, but in the real environment where action eventuates. (Pg.8)

The analyst of public opinion must begin then, by recognizing the triangular relationship between the scene of action, the human picture of that scene, and the human response to that picture working itself out upon the scene of action. (Pg.9)

The Trial of Madame Caillaux 

Early in the evening of 16 March 1914 Henriette Caillaux, the wife of a powerful French cabinet minister, paid an unexpected call to her husband’s most implacable enemy, Le Figaro editor Gaston Calmette. Madame Caillaux wore an expensive fur coat with a large fur muff to protect her hands from the wintry cold. Concealed inside the muff was a Browning automatic. After murmuring a few words, she drew her weapon and fired six shots at point-blank range. Calmette slumped to the floor, fatally wounded; office workers seized Madame Caillaux, smoking gun in hand. Four months later Henriette Caillaux stood accused of murder before the Paris Cour d’assises.

The date was 20 July 1914, just two weeks before Europe exploded into war. So mesmerizing was the trial that for seven long days the French press virtually ignored the looming conflict. As late as 29 July, some seventy-two hours before France mobilized for war, several leading journals devoted more front-page space to the Caillaux Affair than to the hostilities abroad. In this elegant work of microhistory, Edward Berenson tells the story of what was for commentators of the Belle Epoque “the trial of the century”. Never before had a criminal proceeding featured depositions from the president of the Republic; many of its participants ranked among the most powerful and noteworthy members of French society. They included two former prime ministers, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, directors of the leading newspapers, medical experts, literary celebrities, and intellectual luminaries. From his close analysis of this discrete but momentous event, Berenson draws a fascinating portrait of the wider field of politics and culture surrounding it. He considers the ways in which French men and women perceived some of the most fundamental concerns of their age: the meaning of crime and criminality, the power and venality of the press, the changing relations between women and men. The Caillaux Affair is a gripping narrative history that gives us new and unsuspected insight into France of the Belle Epoque.

WE&P by: EZorrilla.

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