Carrel and Lindbergh

The BBC today carried a story about Alexis Carrel who got the 1912 Nobel Prize in medicine for his development of vascular grafting and tissue culture. It mentions in passing the island of St. Gildas which Carrel bought sometime after the end of WW I, I think, together with the house on it. It is in Port-Blanc, about 2 miles from the respective farms where Jean Hamel and Marie Gourhant lived. I got my name from it or rather from the Welsh saint that we imagine had lived on it. I would learn later that he lived in the sixth century and wrote in Latin the first book on the history of Britain, his De excidio et conquestu britanniae. My mother liked to reminisce on the occasional presence of Carrel at the church in Penvenan, nearby. Did she think, perhaps with her mother who was unusually educated for a farmer’s wife—she had her brevet—, that he was a miscreant tempted by the Catholic version of the faith, somewhat à la Paul Claudel behind his Notre Dame pillar? She gave me his book, L’homme cet inconnu, when I was fourteen. To bring that book back to the small seminary and have the “préfet” of discipline authorize its reading was a cinch (we had to submit all of our own books to his vigilance. The story of Tristan and Iseult was not authorized, but that is another story). No objection anywhere. Only a few years later (3 or 4?), did I finally realize that Carrel was or had long been a eugenist and was concerned, like Hitler, with the survival of a very narrowly defined, racist, western civilization. I was naïve enough not to realize what he was doing in that long-lost book. Aside from his racism, or rather along with it, he dreamt that modern science could bring immortality. Lindbergh is also featured in the BBC story because he became a friend of Carrel and lived on a close-by island with a small strip where he could land his plane. He and his wife lived on that island for barely one year. Lindbergh and the famous doctor were figures of fame that occasionally surfaced in our local conversations. Carrel is unfortunately not the only one whose skill with a scalpel got to his head and heart.

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