Hollande's famous words: Not Shakespeare's, nor Shakespeare's

by Toby Manhire / 31 January, 2012
The mystery of the French presidential hopeful's misattribution grows curiouser and curiouser.

François Hollande was full of fire and passion. Addressing a 20,000-strong crowd, the man hotly tipped to topple Nicolas Sarkozy in this year’s French presidential election invoked that “universal message”, as famously framed by Shakespeare: “They failed because they did not start with a dream.”

One problem. The Daily Telegraph’s Paris correspondent Harry Samuel picks up the story:

Nicholas Shakespeare, journalist, novelist, biographer and direct descendant of William's grandfather, said: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the French presidential candidate had quoted me."

He instantly recognised the words as coming from his 1989 novel, The Vision of Elena Silves.

It is unlikely to help Mr Hollande's campaign to discover they were uttered by the novel's hero, Gabriel, a Maoist revolutionary who ends up a terrorist for the murderous Peruvian guerrilla group, Shining Path.

Their motto was: "Marxism – Leninism will open the shining path to revolution".

"He is saying the last Marxist revolution of the Sixties had failed, but his is going to succeed and the idea is that they failed because they did not have a dream," said Mr Shakespeare.

It would be tidier, in a way, if the yarn ended there, but it doesn’t.

In a piece for the Telegraph the following day, Mr N Shakespeare issued a mea culpa: he had combed through his novel, and the quote was after all nowhere to be found.

The idea is hardly original – that dreams are a good thing – but at the moment I don’t know where it comes from. In short, I am mortified that I went along so enthusiastically with the misattribution, and I ask for Hollande’s forgiveness.

As any schoolchild knows, it has to matter who said it – and I will continue to pay my children 20p a chapter to work alongside me to locate the prodigal phrase. To be under the impression that I wrote something I may not have done is unsettling.

Where then did those confounded words come from? Did he just make them up, thinking they sounded kind of Bard-ish?

Hollande, as far as I can tell, has remained silent on the matter. But a little online sleuthing suggests one fresh avenue.

Plug the original French phrase as uttered by Hollande – "Ils ont échoué parce qu'ils n'ont pas commencé par le rêve" – into Google, and, amid the results, there are various attributions to Shakespeare, including this one, which says the phrase comes from Hamlet. Chances are this is where Hollande or his speechwriter found the line.

A search of Hamlet appears to confirm that no such quote appears there.

But search for the French phrase in Google Books and up pops a solitary result:

This is from a French thriller novel called 127 J, by someone called Jean Marc Cornelle. Unfortunately the footnote itself is not visible in the Google Books preview. But Lewis Carroll? However mangled the spelling, it sounds promising.

Sadly, a quick search of the Alice books fails to turn up the words, but such dreamy aphorism does have the air of Alice (or the March hare?) about it.

Curiouser and curiouser.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


New Zealanders love a good ghost story
86094 2018-01-22 00:00:00Z History

New Zealanders love a good ghost story

by Redmer Yska

We New Zealanders are known for being down to earth and no-nonsense, but there's a surprising number of Kiwi stories with a supernatural element.

Read more
How to avoid burnout at work
86051 2018-01-22 00:00:00Z Psychology

How to avoid burnout at work

by Marc Wilson

Taking positive steps at work will help keep weariness at bay.

Read more
A puppy-buyer's guide to getting a new dog
86100 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z Social issues

A puppy-buyer's guide to getting a new dog

by Sally Blundell

Just saying “oh, how adorable” is not all you need to do before taking on a new dog.

Read more
Tarawera eruption: What was the mysterious ghost canoe?
86076 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z History

Tarawera eruption: What was the mysterious ghost c…

by Dale Williams

For more than 130 years, lovers of ghost stories have enjoyed talking about one of our most enduring mysteries: the Phantom Canoe of Lake Tarawera.

Read more
How to get the health benefits of nuts without the cost
85733 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How to get the health benefits of nuts without the…

by Jennifer Bowden

You need 30g of nuts a day to maximise their health benefits. Here's some tips on how to do it without putting a hole in your wallet.

Read more
Model car collector Winton Amies: 'I'm just a big kid collecting toys'
84783 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Model car collector Winton Amies: 'I'm just a big …

by Guy Frederick

When Amies moved to Naseby’s old butcher shop 22 years ago, he brought 1200 model cars with him; now he has more than 3000.

Read more
Trade Me bans sale of pugs, British and French bulldogs
86110 2018-01-20 10:49:32Z Business

Trade Me bans sale of pugs, British and French bul…

by Sally Blundell

As a result of growing concern over the welfare of pugs, British and French bulldogs, Trade Me has announced they're banning the sale of these breeds.

Read more
Puppy farming: New Zealand's secret dog-breeding shame
86056 2018-01-20 00:00:00Z Currently

Puppy farming: New Zealand's secret dog-breeding s…

by Sally Blundell

NZ has an unregulated puppy-breeding industry where unscrupulous operators can flourish, so why aren’t we following the lead of overseas governments?

Read more