{Read ePUB} The Discovery of France (Picador Classic)Author Graham Robb – Hometrainer-tests.de

Graham Robb knows a lot of France as well as knowing a lot about France His book is a patchwork portrait, part history, part topography, part sociology.As one who has grown up within a nation that can trace its roots back for centuries, I was immediately struck by the author s account of how slowly France evolved as a single country Until the relatively recent past, he points out, it was a huge collection of small pays, each with its own narrow boundaries, its own customs, often its own language Travel further than the range of its agriculture was virtually unknown There might be a marriage linking a neighbouring pays but that in itself was rare.It was the building of the roads that began the amalgamation Roads made it possible to travel to sell what was produced Travel widened horizons for those in search for work The canal network contributed And as the roads improved, they were overtaken by the railway In a sense, national unity was forced upon France by tourism But, says the author, pockets of independence can still be found if you know where to look Robb knows.All this is fleshed out with anecdote and portrait Robb writes persuasively, and if the result is sometimes like a work of pointillism a picture emerges Read it, and the next time you stop in a village square for a beer and a croque monsieur you will look around you with different, knowing eyes. A fantastic book which shows much about the way of life in the different regions of France than I would have thought possible An amazing amount of research and personal exploration has gone into this book I shall definitely be keeping it and re reading it. On the eve of the French Revolution, France was three weeks long and three weeks wide Journey times had barely changed since the days of the Romans Think you know France Think again Robb s argument is that France was, in effect, a vast continent that had yet to be fully colonized By turning his back on the usual cast list of eighteenth and nineteenth century French history , he seeks out the daily lives of the faceless millions and their attitudes to the France in which they supposedly lived This is not a history of the French regions Rather it is a history of how those regions culturally coalesced into the centralist state that is the France of today, the celebration of home grown diversity and the supreme importance of Paris as the guardian and regulator of that diversity The first part of the book is descriptive of the state of France prior to starting on that journey of centralisation the second part seeks to describe the major stations on the journey itself Both parts are cleverly linked by reference to certain events surrounding the Cassini expedition to map France in the 1740s Two men and their assistants had taken seven years to survey a narrow corridor of land Instead of reducing the country to the size of a map they had shown how much France remained to be discovered Language is a prime key, for as the government discovered when disseminating news from Paris to the provinces, large parts of France were barely French at all Robb shows how the official idiom of the French Republic was a minority language Educated travellers were constantly amazed to find that their French was quite useless In Robb s fascinating review of the linguistic history and geography, we learn of the remarkable and now extinct whistling language of the Aas in the Pyrenees of how Breton soldiers were shot in the First World War for supposed insubordination they could not understand their orders of the o l oc crescent and why the names of the French departments are based on timeless geography.The economic lives of the regional populations is also explored, their rhythms and their motivations Boredom was as powerful a force as economic need It still is It helps to explain so many aspects of daily life that it could form the basis of an academic discipline There is a whole chapter given over to migrants and commuters, but even then strong ties fastened the migrant to the home country rather than to any concept called France or even Paris Mentally, they never left their pays In certain Paris streets, the sounds and smells of villages and provincial towns drowned out the sounds and smells of the capital Religion and superstitious beliefs also played a role in sustaining local cultic differentials The only certainty seems to be that France was a Catholic country in the sense that it was not a Protestant country I m not so sure about the validity of this sweeping statement, though, given the depth of feeling expressed in the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries But it was amusing to read that, in the 1770s, a cure near Auch was heard to call out before mass, Sorcerers and sorceresses, wizards and witches, leave thou the Church ere the Holy Sacrifice commence at which some of the congregation stood up and went out Of course, the vast progress in means of transportation was the vital element in making France discoverable, of colonizing its plains with industry and urbanism, its waste with agriculture and forestry, a complete and irreversible transformation That much is obvious, but Robb shows how this process was not so straightforward, and how sometimes it even went backwards For the advent of the railways meant that now cows and chickens reoccupied the middle of the road For those areas devoid of the new means of transport, the outside world now paradoxically seemed to shrink away and vanish Robb follows this up with a look at how the bicycle and then the car hastened the rapid disappearance of undiscovered France But as he says in his epilogue, there are still places uncolonised.Tourism too played its part in this journey No doubt Frenchmen and women began to explore different parts of the country, but Robb makes no mention of the men of Napoleon s army already doing the same before the age of the railway, though there is some irony in the fact that Napoleon s new road system at least helped speed him along to Elba.This is a fascinating book, and very well written Robb has criss crossed the country on his bicycle over many years he writes, This book is a result of fourteen thousand miles in the saddle and four years in the library and it s a shame that there is little personal involvement in the narrative which is almost wholly written in the third person Often Robb appears to stray from his route, but regardless, what he has to relate is never without interest We learn things largely omitted from the usual history books of the remarkable convoys of donkeys carrying drunken and unwanted babies to Paris of the amazing smuggling dogs of Picardy of the fact that half of the French recruits on the eve of the First World War did not know that their country had lost territory forty years before Alsace and Lorraine might as well have been foreign countries Chapters are often a series of vignettes about remarkable social customs and people, focussed on a particular theme Perhaps he should look to doing something similar to Britain His knowledge of France is clearly profound, but that s not to say there are no problems His explanation for the origins of the Cagots, for example, is unconvincing I prefer the Muslim convert theory , and I have already referred to other areas of disagreement, but these are of emphasis rather than fact It is that sometimes Robb pushes his argument too far.But if the book does have a fault, it is one that is inescapably inherent in its subject, namely the jumping from region to region, from department to department Not only does this make the map in the mind confused, it also makes the examples cited as well as the narrative itself occasionally inelegant and cumbersome One example will suffice Until the mid to late nineteenth century, almost everywhere in France, apart from the Proven al coast but not the hinterland , the north east and a narrow region from Poitou to Burgundy, at least half the people working in the open air were women The book has two sets of plates, the first consisting largely of twelve atmospheric black and there is a most useful geographical index. The book is not perfect it can meander a bit at times but it is a magificent tour de force and I learned an enormous amount from it The author delves into the past to unveil not one unified France but hundreds of individual communities, with their own language and culture, with locals who rarely travelled than a few kilometres from their place of birth and for whom the concept of France was non existent Even 200 years ago the vast majority of French did not speak French as a mother tongue, let alone feel proud of being French It was only with Napoleon that the first unifying steps were taken introducing a standard French speaking education system and it was really with the advent of massive road building in the later 1800 s, and the accessibilty to a wider world that this brought about, that the rural French who constituted the vast majortity of the population began to feel part of a greater whole But even to this day it is easy to see why the regions of France are so different the French are a disparate group of peoples who have bought into the advantages of a single nationality, but one that actually helps to preserve their regional distinciveness Fascinating With an introduction by Colm T ib n Ten years ago, I began to explore the country on which I was supposed to be an authorityFrance is a country famous for its intellectuals, its philosophers and writers, its fashion, food and wine And yet the notion of the French as one nation is relatively recent and historically speaking quite misleading In order to discover the real past of France, Graham Robb realized it was not only necessary to go back in time, but also to go at a slower pace than modern life generally allows The Discovery of France, illuminating, engrossing and full of surprises, is the result of Robb s , mile journey across France on a bicycle Winner of both the Duff Cooper and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prizes, The Discovery of France is a modern non fiction classic, a literary exploration of a remarkable nation From maps and migration to magic, language and landscape, it reveals a France few will recognize An extraordinary journey of discovery Daily Telegraph Robb s concise and fast paced writing pedals along with never a dull paragraph dazzling Sunday Times