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 →
One of the most striking aspects of the Liberation Collection is the huge number of books consisting of personal narratives, containing the memories of people involved in and affected by World War II. Through dealing with these books one becomes very intrigued by and connected with their authors, their experiences and their suffering. Instances of personal narratives in the Liberation Collection vary widely, in terms of the backgrounds to which the authors belonged, in terms of the topics they choose to address or the quality of the publications themselves. But they all share a deeply human and personal view of the tragic conflict. Here is one example. Continue reading →