The spy who studied at Sciences Po

2018-09-07

After graduating at the top of her class in July 1940, Jeannie de Clarens, née Rousseau, set out on an extraordinary career in the world of interpretation and espionage. At 23 years old, she was to hand Allied Forces one of the Second World War’s most precious pieces of intelligence. In memory of de Clarens, a true heroine of the French Resistance, Sciences Po now pays homage by giving her name to a lecture hall.

It can often be from the blandest of backgrounds that history begins to unfold. Yet few reading the report card of Sciences Po student Jeannie Rousseau today would fail to be moved. As brilliant as it is completely banal, this report produced in Autumn 1940 reminds its reader that “due to current events, you have not been able to sit the entirety of the exams necessary for the awarding of your degree”. In the neutral language of bureaucracy, no elaboration follows as to what these “events” might be. Nor that these pages, which did not ultimately prevent Jeannie from graduating first of her class in 1940, had as their subject one of the most distinguished female spies of the Second World War. A heroine at the centre of scenes like those immortalized in Jean-Pierre Melville’s iconic film Army of Shadows, Jeannie more recently caught the attention of journalists at the New York Times. The American newspaper published in August 2017 an obituary that pays homage to the spy’s “heroic and momentous achievements” on behalf of the French Resistance. French journalists have yet to produce an equivalent.

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