- L’Ouest-Éclair: Naissance et essor d’un grand quotidien régional, 1899–1933
A team of historians under the able direction of three professors from the University of Rennes has produced a very interesting selection of essays on the first thirty or so years of the regional daily newspaper, L'Ouest-Éclair. The collection of fourteen essays by twenty-one contributors is divided into three sections: the context (four essays), the newspaper and its personnel (four essays), and the content (six essays). The essays vary in length from eight to twenty-four pages, and there is some overlapping of information. Because of the overlapping, an index would have been helpful.
L'Ouest-Éclair first appeared on August 2, 1899; it sought to reconcile Catholicism with republicanism. It never claimed to be Catholic but always claimed it was written by militant Catholics ("catholiques sociaux" and "démocrates chrétiens") who were republican. The majority of bishops in western France never trusted L'Ouest-Éclair; they supported a rival conservative paper, Le Nouvelliste de Bretagne. In 1910, the bishops of Brittany forbade their priests from subscribing [End Page 336] to L'Ouest-Éclair; in 1927 the bishop of Nantes labeled L'Ouest-Éclair "bad press." Abbé Félix Trochu, one of the founders, had repeated troubles with his ecclesiastical superior over his activity in the print media. Despite this lack of support from the Catholic hierarchy, L'Ouest-Éclair prospered because of its self-proclaimed moderation, its business acumen, and its appeal to rural Brittany. In 1899, the printrun was 1800; in 1913, 100,000 and in 1924, 250,000.
The first section (context) provides an overview of Catholicism in the 1890's and shows how L'Ouest-Éclair interacted with society and other newspapers (four daily and eight weekly) in the West. It sought an alternative path—a third way—between liberalism and socialism and between the politics of the conservative, royalist archbishop and the politics of the secular, anticlerical republic. Among the topics in this section are the ralliement of Leo XIII, the Dreyfus affair (and anti-Semitism), Le Sillon, election politics, and the conflict with reactionary Catholics.
After setting the religious context, the authors focus on the newspaper itself. Though sympathetic with the ralliement of Leo XIII, the Sillon, and the Parti démocrate populaire (PDP), L'Ouest-Éclair never became an organ of any movement. Thus, it succeeded despite the hot issues that it confronted: Dreyfus Affair, the separation of church and state, the condemnation of Le Sillon. Christian Hamon's essay traces the growth and financial success of L'Ouest-Éclair despite many obstacles (distribution, costs, world war, hierarchical antipathy, rival newspapers). Despite all the problems, L'Ouest-Éclair remained true to its Christian democratic origins; it instituted social benefits for its employees before they were enacted by the state. Though there is no essay focusing on the two men responsible for the success of L'Ouest-Éclair, the roles, talents and shortcomings of Abbé Trochu and Emmanuel Desgrées du Loû come through very clearly in the overall coverage of the book.
The third section begins with a discussion of the changes of the L'Ouest-Éclair's appearance (masthead, columns, photography). The next four essays analyze one topic each in order to illustrate how L'Ouest-Éclair reflected and/or molded cultural attitudes. The final essay discusses its expansion into Loire-Inférieur (Nantes). Particularly fascinating are the discussions of sports, of women, and of religion. By 1923, L'Ouest-Éclair had a daily sports page. Virna Cogo-Sternberg argues that the essential role of women remained good wife and mother. Nonetheless, L'Ouest-Éclair covered new careers for women and commented on female fashion (short skirts—knee length in 1920's—were "fort mauvais gout"). The essay on religion and death examines the secularization of Breton society and the changing attitudes toward death.
This collection is a welcome addition to study of...