Tabouis, Geneviève (1892–1985)
Tabouis, Geneviève (1892–1985)
French columnist, one of the first women to achieve international distinction as a journalist, who was read throughout Europe and America between WWI and WWII and despised by Hitler. Name variations: Genevieve Tabouis; Cassandra. Pronunciation: JAWN-vee-ev Tah-BOO-ee. Born Geneviève Rapatel Le Quesne on February 23, 1892, in Paris, France; died on September 22, 1985, in Paris; daughter of Fernand Le Quesne (a well-known artist) and a mother of the French upper class named Cambon; attended convent schools; spent three years at the Sorbonne and the School of Archaeology at the Louvre; married Robert Tabouis, in 1916; children: one daughter; one son.
First book, on ancient history, interrupted by World War I (1914); gained favorable reputation for journalistic work (after 1924); became foreign news editor for L'Oeuvre (1932); with Germany's invasion of France, escaped to U.S. (1939); founded and published French language magazine, Pour la Victoire, in New York (1940–45); returned to Paris (1945); for service to France, made an Officier de la Légion d'honneur and awarded Commandeur de l'orde national du Mérite.
Nebuchadnezzar; Private Life of Tutankhamen; Solomon; Blackmail or War; Perfidious Albion—Entente Cordiale; A Life of Jules Cambon; (memoirs) They Called Me Cassandra (1942); (memoirs) Vingt ans de 'suspense' diplomatique.
Throughout the 1930s, as Adolf Hitler proceeded with his ruthless, systematic takeover of Germany and the establishment of the Third Reich, one journalist writing for a leading European newspaper turned out column after column describing his motives and methods, which sent der Führer into a rage. Throughout the Western world there were many willing to credit Hitler with accomplishing something of a miracle in the way he had brought Germany back from the terrible defeat of World War I. The British lauded his ability to bring order out of chaos, Americans were ready to praise his suppression of dangerous leftists and Communists, and even the French were willing to acknowledge that at least the trains in the German Reich ran on time. So how was it that one obstinate Frenchwoman, writing for a leading French daily, could be such a thorn in his side? Week after week, she not only attributed the worst possible motives to his political moves, but anticipated his actions in ways that sometimes disrupted his carefully laid plans. There were times her predictions proved so uncannily accurate, Hitler began to believe that she could read his mind.
Except for family connections, there was not much in the early life of Geneviève Tabouis to indicate what she would become. She was born Geneviève Le Quesne on February 23, 1892, in Paris, France, the daughter of an artist, Fernand Le Quesne, and an upperclass French woman named Cambon whose family was active in government service. Two of Tabouis' uncles, Paul and Jules Cambon, were well-known diplomats. (Jules Cambon was the French ambassador to Germany.) Geneviève was educated in a convent, where she reported she "didn't learn very much." By age 15, she had raised silkworms and kept a frog, when history and poetry began to supersede her earlier enthusiasms. She studied for three years at the Sorbonne, then attended the school of archaeology at the Louvre, where she took courses in Egyptology, hieroglyphics, Egyptian literature, and Assyrian architecture. Egypt interested her most, and she called it "the most feminist country in history." When she learned how to write a letter in hieroglyphs to her favorite dancing partner, she considered the achievement one of the happiest of her life.
She was at work on a book on ancient history in August 1914 when the outbreak of World War I intervened. Shortly afterward, she met Robert Tabouis, who later became administrator of French radio, and they married in 1916. After the birth of two children, a son and daughter, Tabouis had no plans for pursuing a career, but she did follow politics with increasing interest and attended political debates in the Chamber of Deputies.
Through her uncles, Tabouis became acquainted with a number of important political figures, and it was Jules Cambon who recognized the literary flair in letters written by his niece. With his encouragement, she began to write short, amusing articles describing events and personalities for the newspaper, and her connections gave her access to good subjects. In her first major interview, however, inexperience with the ways of diplomacy nearly led her into disaster. She was in Geneva, where she spoke with the German foreign secretary, Herr Schubert, and simply wrote down everything that he told her, causing a furor when the article reached print. She learned a great deal about the art of discretion from the incident, while continuing to build her contacts, particularly in diplomatic circles.
At the end of WWI, the world of European diplomacy Tabouis had chosen to cover was in great turmoil. Older empires had been replaced by smaller nation-states, the right-wing Fascists were struggling against the left-wing Communists, and after 1929 Europe was further destabilized by the onset of the Great Depression. While many were ready to maintain peace at all costs, others wanted urgently to reject capitalism and embrace Communism, and the political atmosphere was ripe for the rise of figures of strong leadership. Thus Benito Mussolini took over the government in Italy, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, and Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron hand. Across the continent of Europe, the future of democracy looked bleak.
By the 1930s, Tabouis was a columnist for L'Oeuvre, an outstanding leftist French daily. Both an idealist and a realist, she was a passionate fighter for peace, and an ardent supporter of the new League of Nations, founded with the intention of preventing future wars. Tabouis was not a pacifist, however, and despite her close association with her uncles, she placed little faith in the effectiveness of diplomacy. In her writings, she became one of the first voices raised against the threat of the growing movement in Germany known as National Socialism. Reviewing the recent history of France, she judged that her country traditionally underestimated its opponents, a failing which had cost dearly in 1870, when Germany's Bismarck had taken over France's regions of Alsace and Lorraine. The Germans had invaded France again in 1914, and Tabouis now feared France would fall to the Germans a third time.
Compiling her stories out of her glittering Paris apartment, Tabouis kept three secretaries hard at work through long hours. Her intimate, chatty stories made good copy, and were read by virtually everyone. It was a rare week when one of her predictions did not rock a foreign office somewhere on the Continent. Quick to use the latest in technology, she made long-distance telephone lines invaluable to her work, and thought nothing of flying off to track down a story long before airplane use became commonplace.
As a woman in journalism, Tabouis experienced considerable discrimination. At the start of her career, she signed her articles G.R. Tabouis, and wrote in the masculine to disguise her gender. Later she wrote, "[I]n France men don't much like being under the orders of a woman," and she was deeply angered by one publisher who turned down a manuscript of hers, saying, "Your book, Madame, is very good. It's a terrible pity you're not a man. I should like to publish it." Nor was she appeased when her tutor, M. Reinach, the famous Hellenist scholar, explained the publisher's behavior: "It's a sort of homage which men pay to women. It shows in their hearts they fear a woman's mind and her work." In 1932, she was made foreign news editor of L'Oeuvre, and her columns were syndicated throughout Europe, Great Britain, and the United States. Tabouis rarely appeared at the newspaper's editorial offices, however, continuing to work out of her home.
Madame Tabouis knew yesterday what I am now saying to you at a time I didn't know myself what I would say. But she knew it, this wisest of all women.
Outspoken as she was, Tabouis was not without critics. For one thing, she was willing to risk making predictions, and these did not always prove true. For example, after she had speculated that an alliance would be reached between the Soviet Union, France, England, Rumania, and Turkey, in 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR that excluded the rest of Europe. But for every poor prediction there was one of deadly accuracy. History was to prove that her highly unpopular attacks on Hitler and Mussolini demonstrated an understanding of their warlike intentions that otherwise went unvoiced.
Tabouis returned to her historic interests in the writing of three books—Nebuchadnezzar, Private Life of Tutankhamen, and Solomon. Her works on politics and diplomacy included Blackmail or War, Perfidious Albion—Entente Cordiale, and A Life of Jules Cambon. "I can scarcely remember an evening when I haven't worked," she noted, "even over the weekends and at Christmas." The only form of relaxation she indicated to her readers was playing with her cats.
As the 1930s drew to a close, Tabouis' predictions proved to be all too exact. Hitler's armies first attacked Poland, then moved on to the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and France. In short order the Nazis controlled Western Europe and were moving to conquer the Soviet Union. Shortly before the German Army entered Paris, Tabouis fled for her life and eventually reached the U.S. Stripped of her citizenship by the occupying army, and tried for treason in absentia, she voiced her feelings in New York:
Today, a refugee from my country, I am being tried for treason before a court at Riom. I am deprived of all rights, including the elementary right of defending myself…. But this is not my greatest misfortune. Today, after 16 years of incessant work in behalf of an ideal, I am compelled to acknowledge that all my efforts as a writer, teacher, and public speaker have utterly failed.
Throughout WWII, Tabouis published and wrote for Pour la Victoire, the weekly French-language magazine she had founded in New York; she also wrote They Called Me Cassandra, a memoir. In 1945, followed the Liberation, she returned to France, where she wrote her second memoir, Vingt ans de 'suspense' diplomatique, and remained active in journalism until a late age, although her influence was never again as great as it had been during the interwar years. Never willing to trust the Germans, she deeply opposed moves by President Charles de Gaulle to form a closer alliance between France and West Germany. Tabouis was honored for service to her country as an Officier de la Légion d'honneur and Commandeur de l'orde national du Mérite, and when she died on September 22, 1985, age 93, she was lauded as the "doyenne of French journalists."
"Aunt Geneviève," in Time. Vol. 34, no. 24. December 11, 1939, pp. 58–59.
Bell, David S., et al., eds. Biographical Dictionary of French Political Leaders Since 1870. NY: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1990.
Goebbels, Joseph. Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. Sämtliche Fragmente. Teil I. Aufzeichnungen 1924–1941, Band 3 (1.1.1937–31.12.1939). Munich: K.G. Saur, 1987, p. 298 (diary entry dated October 11, 1937).
"La Mort de Geneviève Tabouis," in Le Monde. September 24, 1985, p. 15.
Lazareff, Pierre. Deadline. The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Last Decade in France. Trans. by David Partridge. NY: Random House, 1942.
"Mme Geneviève Tabouis," in The Times [London]. September 25, 1985, p. 14.
"Queen Journalist of Europe," in Newsweek. Vol. 16, no. 7. August 12, 1940, p. 53.
Tabouis, Geneviève. "Credo of a Frenchwoman," in Current History and Forum. Vol. 52, no. 1. September 1940, pp. 19–20.
——. They Called Me Cassandra. NY: Scribner, 1942.
——. "Were I American—," in Independent Woman. Vol. 19, no. 10. October 1940, pp. 319, 336.
Werner, Max. "Lady of the Press," in The Living Age. Vol. 351, no. 4442. November 1936, pp. 230–232.
Karin Loewen Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia