Who is Chantal Thomas, elected to the chair of Jean d'Ormesson at the French Academy?


The writer, essayist and researcher embodies a “joyful sense of self” that her predecessor would not have denied.

Who is Chantal Thomas, elected to the chair of Jean d’Ormesson at the’ French Academy?

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She has a look as sparkling as her illustrious predecessor, intelligence, erudition, a taste for freedom and the moment. Chantal Thomas, not to be confused with stylist Chantal Thomass, is known to the general public as the author of Farewell to the Queen, Prix Fémina 2002 (she also sits on the jury for this prize), adapted for the screen by Benoît Jacquot, or L'Échange des princesses, directed by Marc Dugain, but there are many other paths (sand or snow) to access his protean work. This unclassifiable and radiant personality, whose last and wonderful opus appeared in the Traits et portraits collection of the Mercure de France has just been published, does not allow herself to be confined. But here are five entries to approach his universe, whose cafés, from Cafés de la mémoire to Café vivre, are essential stops that he misses, as we all do! Academician Chantal Thomas? Jean d'O must be delighted. And their mutual friend, Dany Laferrière, too.

A childhood at the beach

Since Memories of the low tide, her first autobiographical book, Chantal Thomas, born in Lyon in 1945, tells, by describing her mother who loves swimming – a passion she inherited – how the Arcachon basin where she grew up counted in her relationship to time, to nature, to freedom, and, from childhood, to the stories that her best friend and they invented by the sea. Of sand and snow comes today to complete this family story with the portrait of a father who died too soon, who cultivated the fearlessness of his granddaughter. From this childhood, Chantal quickly learned to see “sparkle the richness of the immediate”.

At the Roland Barthes seminar

Barthes? This is the essential step to know the mold – or the opposite of the mold – in which this young woman of the liberated sixties was intellectually shaped, without ever finding herself a prisoner: her Pour Roland Barthes is an exercise in admiration for a hyper sensitive lover of language, literature and photography – an art that the writer shares with her master in freedom. We find in the New York years of Chantal Thomas the curiosity of the mythologies of her time for her contemporaries. An openness to all times that allows the eighteenth-century woman to write about her dear Thomas Bernhard.

The passion of the 18th century and… of the feminine

Historian, Chantal Thomas has devoted a large part of her writings to her favorite century: the 18th century. Sade, Casanova have no more secrets for her, and the figure of Marie-Antoinette has inspired her more than any other. Chantal Thomas has learned a lot from women, and shares with generous subtlety an erudite feminism that passes through the portraits of Madame de Staël or the Marquise de Rambouillet, which sit side by side in a delightful book on the art of conversation.

>Personal essayist

The first of her essays How to Bear Your Freedom (1998) remains a manual for emancipating yourself from everything, including the prisons of yourself, based on her research as a historian and a personal life led off the beaten path. beaten. As a response to this first book, Souffrir (2003) brings together portraits of women, and men too, struggling or reveling in all kinds of suffering. The two essays keep each other company, as in life, with just the right amount of rigor and humour, lightness and seriousness.

Traveling writer

Any change of scenery benefits her. We find in the latest opus (in words and images) Chantal Thomas's passion for Japan, but readers of Café vivre (which pays tribute to Nicolas Bouvier) and even more of East Village Blues, where she recounts her first time in New York, coached “on the road” by Kerouac, right from high school. New York has become her second city with Paris where she lives, and besides Arcachon we must mention Nice where she goes swimming. Elsewhere is youth and otherness to her, she tells it in this carnal and sparkling style that makes her mark.