In the right-hand column on this page, we have long had lists of recommended books, in English and in French, some with links to pages from which the book may be purchased. Yet, there are many older books, usually out of print, which we think could be of interest to those researching their French ancestors. We thought it might be nice if we made available -- where possible -- downloads of some of the better books we have read that might shed light on the life of the French long ago. Fiction is a delight, but the best genres for this are surely epistolary collections and autobiography, so this is most of what we expect to be putting on the new page, to be found on the upper left-hand side of this blog, entitled "Good Reads" and inaugurated today.
The first book is The Little Madeleine, by Mrs. Robert Henrey. Mrs. Henrey was born Madeleine Gal in Paris in 1906, the daughter of a miner and a seamstress who also could make lace. They were poor but Madeleine was bright and observant. Her descriptions of her life in Clichy are full of the sharp, critical observations in the practical, realistic, utterly unsentimental and unromantic tone that is the hallmark of French thought. (Her title is an obvious reference to the famous first thirty pages of Proust, whose work is the marathon of description of Parisian life that we hope to run again one day.)
Time Magazine wrote of the book:
"French-born Madeleine Henrey, a highly intelligent woman, must have realized the risk she was running in writing the story of her childhood. All she had to work with were the short and simple annals of the poor. Yet The Little Madeleine is a triumph over the facts of life, a moving story of considerable charm and readability..."
The life that she describes before the First World War is as it could have been lived during the previous fifty or one hundred years: village weddings, the poor struggling to place babies with wetnurses in order to be able to work, the frantic work life of women who worked as seamstresses. With the War and the many extreme changes it brought, the new class differences, the new possibilities, her descriptions continue to be valuable to anyone researching their Parisian ancestors.
Please check out the new page; we hope you will enjoy this book and the others to come.
©2012 Anne Morddel