Richard Viven at Literary Review:
Who was Charles de Gaulle? Stop the clock in 1939 and he was an eccentric army officer. Stop it in July 1940, after he had flown to London, and he was claiming to represent France against the Vichy regime – though some Englishmen admired this right-wing Catholic because they thought of him as almost as much of an opponent of the Third Republic as he was of the Vichy state. Stop the clock in 1945 and he was head of the French government, supported by republicans and even communists. Stop it a year later and he had resigned in a huff; his career was apparently over. The British ambassador to Paris wrote: ‘On … the eve of the anniversary of Louis XVI’s execution, General de Gaulle cut off his own head and passed into the shadow-land of politics.’ In 1958 he was back in power, mainly because the army hoped that he would preserve French Algeria. Four years after this, he withdrew French forces from Algeria, claiming that this was what he had always intended to do. Some of his numerous right-wing enemies responded to his ‘treason’ with a succession of assassination attempts. By the mid-1960s, he was presiding over a prosperous and stable country. Then, in May 1968, faced with a student uprising, he seemed to totter on the edge of the abyss before restoring his grip on power by presenting himself as a defender of order. However, perhaps because he never felt comfortable as a conventional conservative, he resigned the following year.