Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Salon: A French Theme

Today I am reading and re-reading three books: one by Honoré Balzac called Cousin Betty - having downloaded his complete works on Kindle; a biography of the magnificently complicated genius Louis Pasteur (by Patrice Debré); and the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to France.

Although I found Balzac's 'A Country Practice' very interesting, I find 'Cousin Betty' far more entertaining - concentrating, as it does, on the social mores of Paris. So far, a retired perfumer has made a proposition to a Countess, whose husband has stolen the perfumer's mistress. The Count is spending all their money keeping his new mistress and their lack of funds is making their daughter less eligible. The perfumer, whose own daughter is married to the countess's son, is proposing that the countess has an affair with him - for which he will pay her enough for her daughter's dowry. The countess has become attractive to him, he baldly explains, not only in her own right, but also as a form of revenge against her husband. Unsurprisingly, the countess is yet to be convinced.

The Pasteur book I am perusing again to remind myself of Pasteur's character (aloof, priggish and uncommunicative). There is also an excellent time-line at the back of the book which is almost essential given that each chapter is thematically rather than strictly chronologically ordered. The 'action' in the Pasteur biography takes place a little later than the Balzac books, but even so I think the Balzac gives a good feel of what French society would be like - and 'The Country Practice' a good indication of how life would be in any isolated French village of the mid nineteenth century - whatever its exact location.

Then, there is the travel guide borrowed from the library with lots of pictures and descriptions of the place. I have been to France many times, but this is good for reminding me what it is like. The area that keeps drawing me is the Languedoc-Roussillon area. The mountains remind me of the area close to Girona I visited in Spain a couple of weeks ago, and their language is similar too. The Langue d'Oc is so called because they speak a form of Catalan there; the word for 'Yes' being 'Oc' rather than 'Oui' as in French or 'Si' as in Spanish. They are all romance languages, derived from Latin, and in Latin there is no single way of saying 'Yes' and so the different languages that have developed from this have chosen different phrases to abbreviate. Welsh is also derived from the Latin, and they have stuck to the Latin root: there is no single way of saying 'Yes' in Welsh either.

However, returning to the travel guide and the Languedoc-Roussillon region... The picture I love the most is this one:

It is of an eleventh century abbey called St Martin du Canigou which can only be approached by jeep or by foot from the village of Casteil. When I was a child I used to have a big poster of this place on my wall, and used to imagine the lives of the people living there, and seeing this picture has reminded me how much I want to got there. I didn't realise at the time, but three weeks ago, in Catalonian Banyoles, I was very close - although only as the crow flies.


Blogger Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Oh, I love the cover of the travel guide, as well as the picture of the abbey.

Pasteur certainly does look "aloof and priggish" on that cover photo!

Interesting books....

Here's my post:

Sun Sept 26, 03:03:00 pm  
Blogger Sycorax Pine said...

Hmm. I have never read any Balzac, I blush to admit, but Cousin Betty sounds like a good place to start. Wasn't there a film of it several years ago, maybe under the title "Cousin Bette"?

Meanwhile, you are filling me with a longing to go to France again! It has to have been about eight years now....

Sun Sept 26, 04:25:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I'm glad you like the picture of the abbey too - Laurel-Rain!

I hadn't read any Balzac until recently either, Pour of Tor - and I think there have been several productions of Cousin Bette - the French (and therefore correct spelling, I should think). I'm longing to go to France too and am sorely tempted to just go ahead and book a flight to Toulouse.

Sun Sept 26, 04:53:00 pm  

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