vendredi, novembre 07, 2008

Jacques de Bourbon-Busset Obituaries Guardian

Jacques de Bourbon-Busset
French writer with a store of diplomatic anecdotes and a lifelong love that inspired his readership

Douglas Johnson, Friday May 11 2001 01.48 BST
Article history
In 1956, the French diplomat Jacques de Bourbon-Busset gave notice that he wanted to leave the foreign ministry at the Quai d'Orsay, where he was minister-plenipotentiary with some responsibility for the European nuclear research station in Geneva. He rejected what appeared to be his destiny - as an ambassador and the author of possibly interesting memoirs. He wanted to become a novelist.
So de Bourbon-Busset, who has died aged 89 after suffering a fall in the Paris métro, became a gentleman farmer and mayor of his commune in the Essonne. He also wrote some 40 volumes and won several prizes, including the Prix Proust for Les Choses Simples in 1980.

His writing falls into three categories. He enjoyed recounting the practical jokes and absurdities of officialdom, as in La Grande Conférence (1963). Secondly, as a Catholic, and an admirer of Paul Valéry, he was cynical about science and progress. In Mémoires d'un Lion (1960), for example, a lion organises the animals of the forest to destroy the plans of its human companion, who is seeking to industrialise the Yucatan. Thirdly, and more importantly, he wrote about his lasting love for his wife, Laurence Ballande, an artist whom he had married in 1944.

It may be an English reaction to de Bourbon-Busset's death, but one is surprised that he was travelling on the métro. He was a considerable aristocrat, descended on his father's side from Saint Louis and the French royal family, and on his mother's side from Louis XIV's minister, Colbert, and the astronomer Laplace. He was also a member of the Académie Française.

But he was an unusual man from an unusual family. His father, Colonel de Bourbon, Comte de Busset, was a regular army officer who became the mayor of a working-class commune and a friend of the socialist politician, Léon Blum. Rare amongst the military, he had supported Alfred Dreyfus, following the French army captain's wrongful imprisonment at the end of the 19th century. On her side, De Bourbon-Busset's mother worked as a voluntary assistant in the Htel Dieu in Paris.

They were ambitious for their son, who was educated at the lycée Janson de Sailly, where he was a pupil of the influential philosopher known as Alain. Later, at the École Normale Supérieure, he was a fellow student of Georges Pompidou and the future authors Roger Caillois and Julien Gracq. After qualifying for the foreign ministry, his first post was at the French embassy at Rome.

But the war came. De Bourbon-Busset was called up and fought in the infantry during the campaign of 1940, when he won the Croix de Guerre. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and, although he escaped twice, he was recaptured each time.

In 1944, General de Gaulle, knowing his family and having been impressed by his courage, appointed him director of the French Red Cross, an emergency appointment after which, in July 1948, de Bourbon-Busset became chief minister and adviser to the new French foreign minister Robert Schuman. The two got on well; they were both devoted to creating a Europe in which Franco-German hostility would disappear. De Bourbon-Busset was all the more determined since his mother had been shot by the Germans as she carried food to a bed-ridden neighbour.

But he remained a Normalien, appreciating the comic side of life. When the lonely and unwordly Schuman complained of being tired, his adviser suggested he take a holiday in the south. Schuman was shocked. "Le Midi!" he exclaimed, as if something improper had been proposed.

De Bourbon-Busset enjoyed telling the story of how Schuman had eventually decided to take a weekend's rest. He travelled by train to Rambouillet, where he went to the national sheep farm carrying, in a cardboard box, the sandwiches that he had made for his stay.

De Bourbon-Busset also enjoyed the tricks that he and his fellow diplomats played on the prime minister, Georges Bidault. At one point, Jean Monnet's plan for the European Steel and Iron Community, the first step towards what became the Common Market, was left in his drawer - so that Bidault could not claim not to have been informed about it, although he knew none of the details which he might have opposed.

The theme of lasting love that escapes from time, in De Bourbon-Busset's writing, earned him some criticisms, usually of a jovial nature. In the speech receiving him at the Académie Française in 1981, Michel Déon commented that few writers had placed their wives on so high a pedestal.

Madame de Bourbon-Busset died in 1984. Her husband continued to dedicate his books to her, the last being, La Raison ardente (2000). He is survived by his daughter and three sons.

Jacques de Bourbon-Busset, diplomat and novelist, born April 27 1912; died May 7 2001