Tuesday, 20 February 2018

I'm reviewing Life in the French Country House...

... Marc Girouard.

I first came across this book some years ago in its French guise as 'La Vie dans les Châteaux Français, du Moyen Age à nos Jours'.  I did think about buying it there and then, but decided that an English version would make more sense - once I'd finished with it I could search out a new and deserving home for it.  The same book in French would prove more difficult to pass on or sell.  Several months and bookshop searches later I carried my long awaited possession home and found an appropriate slot for it on one of my many bookshelves.
And there it sat.  Occasionally dipped into for some detail for research or information to answer a question.  Sometimes consulted about a particular château or manoir as part of my musings about where I might spend my time on a future trip to France.  But never actually read in its entirety, that is until I returned from my last trip and finally decided that I had to properly fill the gap in my knowledge.

The author is an architectural historian, and the book includes many plans, illustrations and photographs.  Some might think it to be an intense historical study.  And in some respects it is.  Despite that, it is also a compelling read. Girouard (and I believe that name has it's origins in Languedoc) demonstrates a keen interest in the human dimension of these vast homes and gardens.  He begins with an introduction to the French aristocracy, how it worked and influenced life on the many estates.  Moving forward through the centuries he shows how the language of chivalry is still prevalent today.  He presents to us the details of a way of life that had existed for centuries and was finally brought to book and irrevocably changed by the catastrophic events of twentieth century.

Automata, Azay-le-Rideau
The research to put such a tome together, and it is a significant read at over 300 pages, must have been phenomenal.  The acknowledgements and chapter notes at the back provide a very interesting list of documents, archives, diaries etc that had been consulted.  As a plain and ordinary reader, I pick up a book expecting to be entertained.  If I also improve my knowledge on a particular subject, I count that as an added bonus.  What I definitely do not want as a reader is to be lectured.  And a read of the foreword before I started the book made me a little apprehensive of the content.  Perhaps that is why it has spent so much time on my bookshelves before being read in it's entirety.  Having reached the final page and had a chance to absorb the extensive content, what I can now say is that it was a very interesting read.  The narrative style flows easily which, in my view, makes this a book that anyone interested in France and its history would enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment