BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT CHAUVIN
INTRODUCTORY NOTES ON CHAUVIN
Each of the three acts is a single scene, requiring three sets in all.
Nicolas Chauvin, of "chauvinism" notoriety, returns from Waterloo to receive honors from Napoleon, whose charisma engenders a personified alter-ego in Chauvin. Chauvin returns home. His family welcomes him, but he cannot put his experiences in the Napoleonic wars behind him, nor escape the nagging of his alter-ego, and suffers a conflict between his domestic role and his sense of an ideological mission.
He travels around France, carrying his monomania everywhere. At a theater in Paris he interrupts a play with his ranting, but he still suffers from irresolution. Finally, his alter-ego subsumes his domestic self. In his new incarnation, he abandons the distraught wife to march into the future without them.
A wounded soldier, Nicolas Chauvin, is discharged from Napoleon's army with high honors. A rogue soldier, Dibroc, is pardoned by Napoleon so that he can assist Chauvin in his return home. From the solicitude of Napoleon toward Chauvin is born, like Athena from the brain of Zeus, fully grown and fully armed, a new Chauvin, IChauvin, representing the thoughtful Chauvin, the incipient ideology of "Chauvinism".
Chauvin, with Dibroc, arrives home with two comrades, Picot and Souvan. Chauvin's wife, Adele, and the two children by Nicolas, Henri and Jeanette, welcome him, but he cannot escape his experience of war in the Napoleonic army, nor his alter ego in IChauvin. Napoleon, fleeing from the advancing Allied armies and those who will restore the monarchy, comes through Rochefort, Chauvin's hometown and birthplace, and happens to stop for a brief respite outside Chauvin's house where Chauvin's wife has a bakery. Chauvin recognizes the furtive Napoleon, but he is not accustomed to seeing this divine emperor in his deposed state. He acts brashly and almost gets the emperor captured by some royalist-terrorists before Napoleon makes his escape. Chauvin concludes he must abandon his wife and children and pursue his transcendental view of reality elsewhere.
He will travel around France carrying his ideology to every corner. Chauvin, a true believer, has a natural affinity for a theatrical setting to exhibit his sentiments. At a theater in Paris he interrupts a play in progress with his ranting. One patron, Mme Germaine de Staël, a prominent literary figure of the time, opposes him. He equivocates, suffering from doubt and irresolution. Finally, Chauvin is subsumed by his ideological alter-ego, IChauvin. In his new incarnation, he alienates Adele. IChauvin goes into the world with his followers, leaving a heartsick Adele behind.
Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Napoleon: A History of European Civilization from 1789 to 1815. New York: MJF Books, 1975.
Imbert de Saint-Amand, Marie Louise: The Island of Elbe, and the Hundred Days. Trans. By Elizabeth Gilbert Martin. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899.
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. New York: Time Inc., Book Division, 1963.
J. Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël. New York: Time-Life Books, 1958.
INTRODUCTORY NOTES ON CHAUVIN
Nicolas Chauvin, the mythical super-patriot, was declared to have been born in Rochefort, France, and reported to have flourished in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century. He was a French soldier under the First Republic (the French Revolution) and the Empire (the Napoleonic armies). He was reported to have been born circa 1780, enlisted in Napoleon's army at age 18, fought in numerous campaigns and wounded 17 times. He showed great courage, and being severely wounded and mutilated, he received from Napoleon a sword (a saber of honor), a red ribbon, and a pension of 200 francs. He nourished a blind idolatry for his hero, Napoleon. His enthusiasm for the emperor and his professions of militant patriotism won for him the ridicule of his comrades and gave rise to the term, "chauvinism", the eponym for blind and excessive nationalism. The character was developed by Arrago in searching for the etymology of "Chauvinism" for the Dictionnaire de la Conversation 1834. Presently, exaggerated and excessive nationalism has become a modern social phenomenon. It exalts consciousness of nationality to the extent of spreading hatred of minorities and other nations. Hannah Arendt in "Imperialism, Nationalism, Chauvinism," The Review of Politics, provides an interesting understanding of the concept:
Chauvinism is an almost natural product of the national concept insofar as it springs directly from the old idea of the ‘national mission.’ . . . (A) nation's mission might be interpreted precisely as bringing its light to other, less fortunate peoples that, for whatever reason, have miraculously been left by history without a national mission. As long as this concept did not develop into the ideology of chauvinism and remained in the rather vague realm of national or even nationalistic pride, it frequently resulted in a high sense of responsibility for the welfare of backward peoples. [p. 457]
Nationalism is associated with militarism, imperialism and racism. Chauvinism may currently be applied to xenophobia, Christian fundamentalism, ethnocentrism, male chauvinism, etc., or for basically any persecution of out-groups by in-groups. If one were culturally astute, one would be politically correct (to equate the two), and, therefore, one would not be a chauvinist. Ultimately, chauvinism is the fanatical attack of the true believer on the government, stirring to life a complacent and even "decadent" society through a leader who knows the process of religiofication to ignite a national virility. Such fanaticism is an important invention, "a miraculous instrument for raising societies and nations from the dead - an instrument of resurrection." (Hoffer). Chauvin was lampooned frequently on the French stage in the 1830s, as in a play by Eugène Scribe, called Le soldat laboureur (the citation may have been wrong - and one comprehensive list does not contain that title). His first appearance was in a vaudeville, La Cocarde Tricolore, Episode de la guerre d'Alger, by the brothers Cogniard, Charles Théodore and Jean Hippolyte (1831). Chauvin came to typify the cult of military glory that was popular after 1815, among the Veterans of Napoleon's armies. It is probably the effect of the Napoleonic wars on Napoleon's soldiers that contributed significance to the concept of "nationalism" and not anything that Napoleon himself said. Throughout the Nineteenth Century, French chauvinists called for the regeneration of the spirit that had electrified the Napoleonic armies. British chauvinism became "jingoism", and chauvinism and jingoism were matched by "100 percent Americanism". (Generally, the preceding was taken from the following secondary sources: Encyclopedia Americana; Webster Biographical Dictionary; New Century Cyclopedia of Names; Encyclopedia Britannica.) What conjectures follow presume those simple facts from secondary sources, and of some facts of historical chronology for the post-Napoleonic period, amplified by the creation of a multitude of fictions. For example, we have Chauvin being born July 4, 1776, and being conscripted into the Revolutionary army at 17, in 1793, during the Reign of Terror.
The life of Nicolas Chauvin is the source of the eponym "chauvinism" or "chauvinist". Central to the theme is the "appearance" of a second, "spiritual" presence of Nicolas Chauvin, becoming the embodiment of an "ideological" Chauvin (denoted thus: IChauvin). The drama issues from the ideology and the "religiofication" (i.e., unifying a people whose existence is threatened by generating a spirit of self-sacrifice to transform the people, normally democratic, into a militant or revolutionary party) of super-patriotism for the France that was known in the Napoleonic period, beginning with the First Republic, the French Revolution, before the Royalist Restoration. In this conception, chauvinists are one type of people who have adapted to one way of life and who are incapable of adapting to a changed state of affairs. Their adaptation precludes adaptability. Their beliefs are scripted and their brains are wired by charismatic leaders, whose power and authority are based on their mere assertions. They are supported by "true-believers" who too readily accept those ideas. The ideology of the leader and followers is the yardstick by which they measure all things. They are people who have lost their niche and in their rigid denial of a changed state of affairs and facts contrary to their ideas are attempting to cope by re-establishing a state in which their niche is restored to its former concordance with the background, in this case, the military glory under "the little corporal", the spirit of Napoleon's armies. Their characteristic reaction is ideologically reactionary, but not violent, at first. The roots of chauvinism lie in this one mythical person's behavior, around which coagulated a clot of causes of those times. Our times are seeing the continuation of the struggles of nationalism and the further spread of the phenomenon of cults, along with a rising sensitivity to the conflicts among cultural groups, such as the sexes (sexism, "male chauvinist pig", "female chauvinist sow") and an expansion of the eponym into new fields of battle (national and religious chauvinisms). In fact, a chauvinism for every demographic category, sex, age, race, blood, religion, nationality, etc., probably exists as a phenomenon in contemporary society.