Being a U (upper class but also University), as d’Ormesson recalled in his splendid memoir Je dirai malgré tout que cette vie fut belle (published in 2016), is «a matter of language, of dress, of table manners». A conservative with an elegant, yet rarely sardonic stroke, this was how he defined ‘68: «The astonishing psychological drama known by the benign name of ‘the events of May 1968’». His father had been an anti-fascist diplomat descending from the gentry, his mother came from an aristocratic conservative Catholic family. Born in 1925, d’Ormesson had spent his teenage years in one of the most beautiful castles in France, that of his maternal grandmother, located in Saint Fargeau. Let’s go back now to December 5, 2017: a few hours after the death of Jean d’O (as he was called by the French), destiny also took away Johnny Hallyday, who was necessarily more popular than him, and sadly the newspapers stopped publishing anecdotal stories about the prestigious intellectual, and filled up with those about the singer’s life. Macron attended both funerals. On December 8, in the Cour d’honneur des Invalides, those of Jean d’O took place, with four presidents, a few ministers, a court of Academicians of France shrouded in their black cloaks, and a handful of lecturers. The next day it was the turn of Hallyday. A million people attended the funeral procession along the Champs Elysées, coming from all over France. «I’m not afraid to die», d’Ormesson had declared a couple of years earlier. «I would only be sorry if François Hollande were the one to deliver my funeral eulogy». Hollande, present at the funeral, remained silent. Jean d’O detested him even more than he had detested Mitterrand. In his autobiography, he tells how, during a meeting at the Elysée Palace requested by Mitterrand on the last day of his mandate before Chirac took office, the President had engaged in a series of slanderous remarks about the political class of his own party, revealing himself as «the one who, after having set up the Common Programme of the Left, contributed most to the decline of communism in France». D’O was also a champion in the infrequent field of self-deprecation. For example, while admitting to a successful career as a charmer, he pretended to be surprised by somewhat short size: «If you see a hole in the crowd, that’s me». And again, «I’m a guy who wasted most of his time going out to lunch and dinner». He accused himself of being erratic and superficial, but this was only because «I tried all my life to avoid boredom, pomp, solemnity. Liberté, frivolité, éternité...». At God’s Pleasure, his most successful novel published in 1974, is the story of a family that is largely inspired by his own. Set between 1904 and 1968, it is written in elegant, clear, flutterless French. «I was born in a world that looked backwards, in which the past counted more than the future»: this was the incipit of the saga set in a fantasy castle, carved out of Saint- Fargeau. The screenplay based on the book achieved extraordinary audience peaks, increasing the popularity of Jean d’O. «The sentimental shock of the sale of the chateau of Saint-Fargeau was the inspiration for the book. We always write out of bad luck. We write because something is wrong. We write because we have a clubfoot like Byron. We write because we have epilepsy like Flaubert. We write because we’re terribly sick like Proust. We write to recover. The pain of selling my grandmother’s castle still haunts me. My other books have been written about pains, usually sentimental. Those pains fade a bit, the sorrow of the castle remains». Gifted with a phenomenal memory, Jean d’O was a champion of the well-placed and never trite quotation. Here’s one: «We were all crying. ‘To break with real things’ wrote Chateaubriand, ‘is nothing. But to break with memories!’. To part with one’s dreams breaks the heart». The novel, which became an international best seller because, d’O wrote, each one of us regrets a lost home, provided him with a way to take the pain he felt and build on it . «I replaced the castle of stones that I had been unable to preserve with a castle of words». Finally, let us add that d’O had discovered the title during one of his frequent trips to Rome (he loved Italy enormously, Rome and Venice in particular). On the architrave of an oratory a few steps from the church of San Giovanni a Porta Latina he noticed the writing, in French: «Au plaisir de Dieu». Before At God’s Pleasure, d’Ormesson had already struck a chord with French readers with his novel The Glory of the Empire, published in 1971 by Gallimard, with which he joined the publishing house’s famous reading committee. Thanks to the success of that book, and to Paul Morand’s friendship and advice, the then 48-year-old d’O became by 1973 the youngest member ever of the Académie Française, «this brotherhood of gravediggers or of penitents in green uniforms always on the lookout for national or solemn funerals» (and in fact they attended his funeral, led by the Secretary General Hélène Carrère d’Encausse). His career as an academic, remains in history the battle to finally choose among the «immortals» a woman, namely Marguerite Yourcenar, in «a company hostile to change. It was a very hard battle. There were insults from all sides. They treated me like a scoundrel». After a lengthy dispute over regulations and prejudices, in 1980 d’O eventually succeeded: «A journalist asked me: ‘So what has changed at the Académie Française?’ I replied: ‘By now there will be two toilets. On one will be written: Gentlemen; and on the other: Marguerite Yourcenar’». To enhance the importance of his figure in the history of French letters, d’Ormesson was the second living author to enter the prestigious series La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, an honor reserved until then only for the Czech writer Milan Kundera. In his long life there was even three years as the editor of Le Figaro (from ‘74 to ‘77). «I was constantly nagged by a mass of union, economic, social problems. Françoise (his wife, editor’s note) claimed that it was she who announced the big political events to me by phone while I was busy discussing with the journalists’ associations». Bored, he resigned and wrote At God’s Pleasure. Not to be outdone, at the age of 87, intrigued by the lives of the actors he had observed during the filming of the TV series based on his novel, d’Ormesson accepted to act in a film. And so here he is in Haute Cuisine, a gastro-comedy directed by Christian Vincent, who won the César award in 2013, and filmed entirely at the Elysée Palace. D’O plays François Mitterrand in it. Precisely one of two French presidents he loathed so dearly.

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