Charles-Pierre Péguy Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles-Pierre Péguy (pay-gee) was born at Orléans in the Faubourg Bourgogne on January 7, 1873, the only son of a poor working woman who was to lose her husband within a few months. Péguy was always proud to be a member of a hardworking family, and he regarded France’s peasants and workmen as its greatest strength. This pride and the strength of his mother, combined with growing up in the part of France where Joan of Arc had lived four centuries earlier, strongly influenced his work, as Joan became the subject of a large portion of his writings. He grew up under the care of his mother and grandmother, attending local schools. He was able to attend the lycée at Orléans in 1885 because of a scholarship and because of the new system of public education, which he was later to extol. Higher education even became possible; thus, after a year of military service, he attended both the Lycée Lakanal at Sceaux in 1891 and the École Normale Supérieure in 1894, which was eventually to deny him the agrégation. For this, as well as for its adherence to the values of the modern world, Péguy was to immortalize the school as “l’école dite normale, autrefois supérieure” (called normal, formerly superior). Around 1895, he became attracted to socialism, not in the Marxist sense but rather in the idealistic tradition of the early nineteenth century—the tradition of Pierre Proudhon and Pierre Leroux, as Jacques Viard has demonstrated. Péguy founded a Socialist group and at the turn of the century actively supported Dreyfus for idealistic reasons, “so that France will not be in the state of mortal sin.” Yet when, in Péguy’s view, other Socialist leaders began to use Dreyfus for their own ends, when what he originally envisioned as “mystique” degenerated into “politique,” Péguy went his own way. In 1900, he founded his...

(The entire section is 759 words.)