Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

July 4, 2001 - Ange Pitou

Ange Pitou was a character of the Revolution fictionalized in the book of the same name written by Alexandre Dumas. In the book, Ange Pitou was a young revolutionary hero from the region of Dumas' home town of Villers-Cotterêts. The fictional character participated in the storming of the Bastille and every other major event of the time. Dumas must have been impressed with the real Ange Pitou to use this persona to tell his story. But the real man was a completely different person and even more interesting in real life. I recently passed through the village of Valainville near Chateaudun where the real Ange Pitou was born.

In real life Ange Pitou was a journalist, song writer, singer, secret agent and a rascal of a man who was sympathetic to the Royalist cause. He was arrested sixteen times but always escaped the guillotine. This feat is most remarkable since a mere suspicion was enough to justify execution at that time.

The people of the Beauce have the reputation of being dour, uninteresting people but Ange Pitou breaks the mold of the sober Beauceron. His jovial, optimistic personality and confidence in the future permitted him to overcome many hardships. In one of his many imprisonments, he shared a cell with the infamous Marquis de Sade who marveled at this man so full of life. He once said of him, "I don't know how you do it, Pitou, you are always so gay and happy". In one of the many criminal trials that he survived, the jury was so impressed with his defense that they acquitted him then took him out to dinner afterwards. He surely had a sweet personality because in his school days at Chateaudun, his friends described him as being like a warm rabbit.

His aunt dreamed that he would go to the seminary in Chartres and become a priest but he was too popular with the ladies and too curious to ignore the action in Paris. In 1789 at twenty years of age, he left the seminary with only his backpack and took route to Paris. Upon entering the city he met a mob of hungry people carrying the head of a baker on a stick and quickly learned the horror of the excesses of the revolution. Perhaps this event and the experiences of his first job as a journalist covering the early political trials of the revolution, made him a sympathizer for the royalists. One of his articles got the attention of Marie Antoinette who arranged a meeting in which he swore fidelity to her and the royalist cause. She also gave him 1500 pounds but it was not the money that drove this man. He gave away most of his money to support the royalist cause and save friends from prison and execution.

Despite his sympathies for the royalists, Ange Pitou was above all a journalist. He wrote for a number of royalist newspapers but he was not content to just write. He joined the garde nationale which permitted him to be present at all the events of the revolution while other journalists were being arrested and executed. He was present for the assault on the Tuileries in June, 1792 and the massacres of August 10 massacres but had to hide to save his life during the September massacres. He continued to write for the most counter-revolutionary newspapers but he also had the audacity to write for the newspaper of Marat who was the bloodiest of the revolutionaries.

It was after the fall of Robespierre that Ange Pitou became a true star in the modern sense of the word. He composed and sang songs in the streets of Paris that eventually gave him rock star status. He became extremely adept at changing the act to suit the audience. If the police were present, he was conservative. But if the crowd was large enough, he would incite them by grabbing his ass each time the word republic or government was pronounced. This is where Jim Morrison got the idea to expose himself in Miami.

Ange Pitou became known as "that incorrigible singer" and was feared by the authorities because of his popularity. The police were constantly plotting to entrap him but he was too clever to be ensnared. He was eventually arrested for his seditious message and the indecent ass grabbing gestures that made him so popular. He was deported to Guyana where he suffered for four years before being released. He published a book telling of his imprisonment entitled Voyage à Cayenne that was the precusor to the story of Papillion.

Ange Pitou was fearless and thrived during the most dangerous years of the revolution. However, he failed in his business ventures during calmer times. Perhaps he was just an ordinary man who became extraordinary because of the time that he lived but still I sure would have loved to see him in concert.

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June 27, 2001 - Feu de Saint Jean
June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel
June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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