When he was born in the peaceful Cévennes village of Chamborigaud in 1925, nothing could have predicted that the war would impose itself as the cornerstone of the commitment of the future writer, journalist and cartoonist. In 1940, the young boy of barely 17 joined the ranks of the maquisards. From then on, his “tender Cévennes” will oppose the “violent Cévennes”. After being “cold to death” as a member of the resistance movement, he set about describing the violence he witnessed. The publication of “The Last Cartridge” propelled the career of this descendant of a Camisard Protestant.
Raise your eyes to the sky and gaze at a maze of stars. There are few who remain indifferent to this heavenly spectacle and the charm of the Cévennes nature. Crowned with the prestigious “International Starry Sky Reserve” award in August 2018, for the unusual absence of light pollution, the Cévennes have long been a popular destination for writers, pilgrims and hikers in search of tranquility and daydreaming. .
But while the paths invite you to cross the countryside in a rural setting, you almost risk missing out on the bloody and tragic history that made the Cévennes an important place for Protestantism in Europe. To cross this mountain range without listening to Jean-Pierre Chabrol, without sharing his feelings, is to expose oneself to only seeing the end of one’s shoes.
Among those who knew him, Marilyn Polge says: “He was a storyteller, as children he marked us”. “He made us proud of our history”she adds, before describing it as “spokesman for the Cevennes”.
Committed writer and pacifist
The Cévennes through and through, Chabrol lifts the veil on two centuries of religious persecution, which the Catholic monarchy has prescribed against Protestants. Michel Boissard, author of a biographical book on Chabrol, explains: “The consequences of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 are dramatic. Protestantism is criminalized and people are constantly at risk of the death penalty.”
The author recounts with his natural spirit the saga of the Camisards, those Protestants from the Cévennes who chose rebellion over resignation and who waged open war against Louis XIV from 1702 to 1709. Chabrol said of this period: “If you want to keep your sons, put all your loaded guns by the window.” Taking up arms was not an option for these oppressed Camisard Protestants, prepared to do anything to defend their freedom of worship. “He who is unhappy is welcomed, he who comes bare blades is slaughtered”writes Chabrol.
“The dead rest at home”
On his way through the Cévennes, the hiker may also wonder about these tombstones, which lie isolated in the middle of the gardens of many farmhouses. These clues from the past are clues that bring us back to the clues from this time of secrecy. Michel Boissard explains it “Protestants were not allowed access to public cemeteries reserved for Catholics. The dead therefore rest in their homes”.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the dragoons, these troops sent by Louis XIV to persecute and violently convert the Protestants, intruded themselves into the daily life of the Cévennes. The “dragons” reside in the homes of the locals and sow terror. According to the historian Michel Boissard, while “Cévennes Protestants wanted to forget this violent and bloody episode”Jean-Pierre Chabrol on the contrary “rehabilitated the history and sufferings of the Camisards”.
His future vision: “Man will finally be man’s friend”
The author used to say: “There are no more Cévennes than me.” Chabrol did not seek to travel the world. He saw in his meetings with the people of the Cevennes the most precious journeys. Miners, priests, old people, bowlers, all figure in his work.
Optimistically, his vision for the future will be as follows: “Soon man will be so intelligent, so good, that there will be no more war, no more armies, no more frontiers, everyone will enjoy living, comfortably, in the profession they have chosen… Man will finally be man’s friend.” A century later, it is up to each hiker to decide.