West Virginia University in Vendée, France
La Maison de
Georges Clemenceau
(1841-1929)
la maison Clemenceau
 

Nicknamed "le Tigre" for his ferocious personality and ability to devour his political enemies and "le Père de la Victoire" for his critical role in leading France to victory in World War I, Georges Clemenceau is one of the greatest statesmen in modern French history.

Born in 1841 in the Vendée village of Mouilleron-en-Pareds, Clemenceau came to political life in the days following the fall of Napoleon III and the Second Empire (1870).  In stark opposition to the traditional Vendée fidelity to God and to King (thus the double hearts in the emblem), Clemenceau was a radical republican and devoted much of his energy to the cause of the Separation of Church and State.  The early years of his career saw him as mayor of the 18th Arrondissment of Paris and as Deputy in the Assemblée Nationale, where he sat dutifully on the extreme left.  His career involved the unseating of several Prime Ministers (thus his other nickname, "le tombeur de ministres"), as well controversial associations with the seditionist Boulanger, whom he assisted in discrediting, and scandals linking him to corrupt financial deals over the Panama Canal.

The 1890's saw his political fortunes on the decline, but this only allowed him to direct more energy to another and related passion:  journalism.  It was as editor of the newspaper l'Aurore that in 1898 he published the world famous article "J'Accuse" in which the novelist Emile Zola denounces the highest authorities in the French army and government for unjustly condemning the Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus to Devil's Island (see links sites devoted to the centenary of the publication of "J'Accuse" in the Zola pages on this site).  Zola's and Clemenceau's stance in favor of justice and against anti-Semitism resulted in the short term in their being accused of treason and libel.  Zola, tried and convicted, was even forced into exile, and some believe his death by asphixiation in 1902 was the work of assassins seeking vengeance over the Dreyfus Affair.  The ultimate exoneration of Dreyfus and the publicity that surrounded the Affair, however, gave new life to the political career of the Tiger.  He would soon return to a central place on the stage of French politics, serving as Senator, as Minister of the Interior, and then, at a moment when all France seemed lost, as Prime Minister during the most difficult days of the war against the German Kaiser.  It was his efforts in the Great War that revived the morale of the French nation and won him the title "Father of Victory."

Said to have fought over twenty duels in his life, Clemenceau sought refuge from the struggles of political life through his travels and through the quiet tranquility he was able to find in his seaside house on the coast of his native Vendée.  This quaint and almost modest abode, with gardens modeled after those of his and Zola's mutual friend Claude Monet, is filled with objects related to the Tiger's life and career, not the least of which is the actual tiger he killed during a trip to India and the table upon which he wrote the memoirs of an unforgettable life.