The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography

Graham Robb

Language: English

Pages: 496

ISBN: 0393333647

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

"A witty, engaging narrative style....[Robb's] approach is particularly engrossing."—New York Times Book Review, front-page review

A narrative of exploration—full of strange landscapes and even stranger inhabitants—that explains the enduring fascination of France. While Gustave Eiffel was changing the skyline of Paris, large parts of France were still terra incognita. Even in the age of railways and newspapers, France was a land of ancient tribal divisions, prehistoric communication networks, and pre-Christian beliefs. French itself was a minority language.Graham Robb describes that unknown world in arresting narrative detail. He recounts the epic journeys of mapmakers, scientists, soldiers, administrators, and intrepid tourists, of itinerant workers, pilgrims, and herdsmen with their millions of migratory domestic animals. We learn how France was explored, charted, and colonized, and how the imperial influence of Paris was gradually extended throughout a kingdom of isolated towns and villages.The Discovery of France explains how the modern nation came to be and how poorly understood that nation still is today. Above all, it shows how much of France—past and present—remains to be discovered. A New York Times Notable Book, Publishers Weekly Best Book, Slate Best Book, and Booklist Editor's Choice. 16 pages of illustrations

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visit to the cabinet d’aisances. British expectations gradually turned hotels into the efficient, impersonal establishments that the French found soulless and intimidating, but the results were not always to the liking of the foreigners. At Nîmes in 1763, Tobias Smollett found ‘the Temple of Cloacina’ ‘in a most shocking condition’: The servant-maid told me her mistress had caused it to be made on purpose for the English travellers; but now she was very sorry for what she had done, as all the

taxation was based on land, the need to measure and record holdings had given rise to some quite sophisticated village institutions that not only regulated the use of common land but also managed assets and ran a budget. When agents of the Revolution came to administer the kiss of life to the supposedly moribund towns and villages of provincial France, they found the body in surprisingly good health. Some of these towns and villages were flourishing democracies when France was still an absolute

months of hell [June to October]’. In the eastern Pyrenees, when snow was falling or when the rain had settled in, ‘men were as idle as marmots’. (The marmot is the large and floppy mountain rodent that sleeps in a burrow and was harvested rather than hunted, tossed into a rucksack and sometimes boiled while still asleep.) The man who compared his compatriots to marmots was writing in the 1880s, almost a century after the abolition of the monarchy but several decades before technology, in the

is partly because they represent hours of intellectual labour. Their writers were struggling to find the right words, dressing up their misery in stiff, incongruous clothes for a trip to the city. Exaggeration was not a miserly ruse, it was a means of survival. Tax inspectors came to villages with armed dragoons on the lookout for signs of recent income: poultry feathers on a doorstep, a new suit of clothes, fresh repairs to rotting barns and crumbling walls. The collectors themselves were

out proclamations and the rumours turn into a river of news. There is no longer any need to wait for the mail coach from Paris. The news is shouted from field to field as it was in the days before the road was built. One day, ten miles to the north, the King and Queen are arrested and taken back to Paris. Though the town gates are closed, people on the other side of Verdun hear the incredible report before sunset. Along the road that runs through Dombasle, men and women stand on their doorsteps,

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