Pierre Boucher and New France


Portrait and signature of P. Boucher (from 662:3.c.95.10).

Pierre Boucher was born in Mortagne-au-Perche, France in 1622. When he was twelve, his family left to settle in New France (Canada). His father, Gaspard, worked for the Jesuits in Notre-Dame-des-Anges (Quebec) and they took care of the education of the children, especially Pierre. He was interested in the life of the native peoples and he became interpreter of Iroquoian languages, particularly Huron. He was a missionary assistant to the Jesuits in Huronia from 1637 to 1641.

Pierre Boucher, like New France pioneers Samuel de Champlain and Jean Talon, believed in miscegenation with the native peoples. Pierre married Marie-Madeleine Chrestienne (or Marie Ouebadinskoue) a Huron girl educated by the Ursulines, who later died in childbirth (1649) along with their child. In 1652 he married Jeanne Crevier, with whom he had fifteen children. From 1645 to 1667, he lived in the little settlement of Trois-Rivières (see View 1 below), founded in 1634 and second permanent settlement in New France after Quebec City. Boucher was twice-governor of Trois-Rivières (1653-58, 1662-67). Continue reading

France and female authors


Britain celebrated Jane Austen’s bicentenary last year; but who could be her French counterpart?

A few months ago, a colleague, tongue-in-cheek, slammed a newspaper article on my desk with these words: “This doesn’t surprise me about the French at all: so misogynist!”. The article was about the French baccalauréat exam and revealed that 2017 was the very first year in which a text by a female author had been included in the official syllabus.

This doesn’t surprise me either. The French female authors I studied at school and university were indeed very thin on the ground. But I’ve always been uneasy at dismissing it as pure sexism. Could it not be that women have simply been less likely to embrace a literary career in France? When I compare with Britain, I am struck by how many female authors seem to have been around in the 18th and 19th centuries: Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë… You can barely find one or two women writers for the same period on the other side on the Channel. Have they all been forgotten? Or did they simply never exist in the first place? And why would that be? My theory is that religion played a part in this. Protestants, more prevalent in England, were encouraged to study the Bible for themselves and taught to read and interpret the text, whether male or female – whereas Catholics, more prevalent in France, were not. Indeed, five of the British authors I’ve just named were clergymen’s daughters. Maybe having a history with a few ruling queens in it wasn’t harmful either, something that could never have happened in France because of the French interpretation of the Salic law. Or maybe there really were as many female authors in France and we just don’t know about them. Continue reading

Surrealism in Egypt

A couple of weeks ago I heard a piece on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row (still available here) about an exhibition at Tate Liverpool, on until March next year, which highlights the surrealist movement in Egypt and the associated Art et Liberté group.

Our copy of the related exhibition catalogue is in French (Art et Liberté: rupture, guerre et surréalisme en Égypte (1938-1948)S950.a.201.5158) as the exhibition started off last year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This major exhibition took six years to bring together and features 130 artworks by 37 painters, along with 200 archival documents. By August next year it will have been seen in five different locations: Paris, Madrid, Düsseldorf, Liverpool and Stockholm. The exhibition catalogue has been produced in five languages, French, Spanish, German, English and Arabic, but not Swedish (I think Stockholm was perhaps a later addition to the tour as it is not included in the itinerary given in the catalogue). Continue reading

Lyon dans les chaînes, or how to illustrate suffering beautifully



Lyon dans les chaînes (Liberation.a.60) is a wonderfully illustrated account of the occupation and liberation of the city of Lyon by journalist Pierre Scize. This large volume, held at Cambridge University Library as part of the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection, has an extensive number of coloured lithographs “printed under the surveillance of the artist”, Julien Pavil. The 625 copies of the work were produced between 15 December 1944 and 29 June 1945, which tells us a great deal about the effort and dedication the French were willing to put into book publishing after the Liberation. Continue reading

Radio broadcasting and the war

“La chanson des V”. Beethoven’s famous 5th symphonie start was the signature tune for the BBC programme “Les Français parlent aux français”. The rythm of its first four notes equals the letter “V” (for Victory) in morse code. Liberation.b.34

The powerful role of radio propaganda during World War II cannot be overestimated. Information was transmitted quickly to vast populations across borders, overpassing enemy lines. In the UK, the BBC would broadcast in several languages, including French of course, and would even send secret messages to the French Resistance in the form of apparently senseless phrases. The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection has several publications related to this topic, some of them particularly fascinating.

Maurice Van Moppès was an illustrator, Free France member and broadcaster who worked for “Les Français parlent aux français”, one of the BBC radio programmes that transmitted news from the Front (for more on this check the 5 volumes of Ici Londres, 1940-1944: les voix de la liberté, 539:1.b.820.2-6). The programme was also supposed to boost the French people’s morale and send code messages to the Résistance. Continue reading