Fred Vargas (pseudonym of Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau) has recently been awarded the Princess of Asturias award in its literary category. Cambridge Professor of Classics, Mary Beard, received the corresponding award for Social sciences in 2016.
Although Fred Vargas is a historian and archaeologist, she is also known for being a successful crime novel writer. In fact, she started writing thrillers for fun, as an escape from her academic occupation. Her novelist career began with the publication of Les jeux de l’amour et de la mort (C205.d.7969) which won the Festival de Cognac novel prize. Continue reading →
Everybody knows about Ruth Klüger or Primo Levi; Imre Kertész won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2002, and Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. These authors are famous for their autobiographical texts about the Shoah, which they wrote after having survived the Nazi extermination camps. Their books are well known, they became part of the literary canon and have led to a lot of scholarly research.
The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection in Cambridge University Library offers a promising addition to that field of research, because the collection keeps very similar, though much lesser known books. As the Liberation Collection focuses on books published between the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 and the end of 1946, the collection’s accounts of the Holocaust rank among the earliest testimonies of Nazi crimes, deportation and mass murder during the Second World War. These testimonies range from written accounts to documents and even paintings and illustrations. Even for research focused on books about the extermination camp of Auschwitz, the Liberation Collection offers a diversity of genre, tone, biographical background and emphasis.
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 →
“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 →