Saturday, October 07, 2017


Are You a Cat or a Prot?

André Gide (1869-1951), If It Die..., tr. Dorothy Bussy (London: Secker & Warburg, 1915), pp. 92-93:
My class, and indeed the whole school, was divided into factions: there was the Catholic party and the Protestant party. When I had first gone to the Ecole Alsacienne, I had learnt I was a Protestant; at the very first break, the boys had crowded round me and asked:

"Are you a Cat or a Prot?"

As I heard these mysterious words for the first time, I was perfectly dumbfounded — for my parents had taken good care not to let me know that all French people might not have the same faith, and the perfect amity that reigned between my relations in Rouen blinded me to their differences of religious belief. So I replied that I had not the least idea what they were talking about. An obliging schoolfellow took it upon himself to explain:

"Catholics are people who believe in the Holy Virgin."

Upon which I exclaimed I was certainly a Protestant. By some miracle there were no Jews among us, but a little whippersnapper, who had not spoken before, suddenly announced:

"My father is an atheist." This was said with such an air of superiority as somewhat to perplex the rest of us.

I noted the word to ask my mother what it meant.

"What does atheist mean?" I asked.

"It means a horrid foolish man."

This failing to satisfy me, I questioned further; I insisted; mamma at last, wearied out, cut me short, as she often did, with:

"You're not old enough to understand" or "There's no need for you to understand that just yet." (She had a choice of such answers which drove me wild.)

Does it seem curious that children of ten or twelve should concern themselves with such matters? I think not. It shows nothing after all but that all Frenchmen, of whatever age or class of society, have an innate need to take sides, to belong to a party.
In my elementary school it was easy to spot who was a Cat or a Prot, without asking. During the daily recitation of the Lord's Prayer (this was in the olden days, before Engel v. Vitale), the Protestants said at the end, "For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever," but the Catholics shut their mouths and skipped those words.

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