French Fiction Fridays #9

September 13, 2013 | By Book Department

This week, take a moment with French Fiction Fridays to engage works of theatrical and visual art in exciting and surprising ways. The protagonist of our first novel, Bérénice 34-44 by Isabelle Stibbe, meditates on the origins of the name that shapes her character and career. Born on the exact day the Treaty of Versailles was signed, this daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants will be accepted into the Comédie Française in the face of the Occupation. In Michelle Tourneur’s novel, Death by Beauty, we meet Florentine, a young woman who wheedles her way into the solitary life and Paris studio of 19th century French painter Eugène Delacroix. Tourneur, a Delacroix scholar, has richly evoked the painter’s world and imagined his process, with the aid of an ebullient and endearing Florentine.

We hope these works, steeped in art history, inspire you to read on in French and go to the theatre or art museum. Join us next week to discover the final two books in the series.

Bérénice 34-44
by Isabelle Stibbe

Synopsis:

It’s 1934. Bérénice Capel, a young Jewish girl with a ‘dramatic’ first name, passes the entrance audition of the Conservatoire de Paris entrance auditions, against her father’s wishes. Estranged from her family but with the help of her protector—Madame de Lignières who gives Bérénice her stage name –, the young girl begins acting under the tutelage of the famous film and theatre actor and director Louis Jouvet. Bérénice de Lignières is gifted, hard-working and passionate about the stage. She studies the most prestigious roles in the repertoire. In 1937, she is accepted into the Comédie-Française
theatre company.
Neither the rise of fascism in Europe, nor political tension in France, professional rivalry, or liaisons can sully Bérénice’s happiness— she quickly becomes an acclaimed actress. In the early days of the Occupation, even before the promulgation of the Race Laws, the House of Molière excludes Jews from its company.
The past of this beautiful and remarkable Comédie-Française associate starts catching upwith her. Will she continue to hide her past, at the risk of losing more than her identity? Or will she emigrate with composer Nathan Adelman and build a new life in America?

Read excerpt (English)
Read excerpt (French)

Death by Beauty
by Michelle Tourneur

Synopsis:

When she presents herself at Eugène Delacroix’s studio, Florentine knows only one
thing: she wants to spend as much time there as she can, among his completed works and those still in progress, surrounded by the aura and charisma of a man who encompasses entire worlds within himself. She offers him her services. He has already realised she is no domestic servant, and though mistrustful and wedded to his solitary way of life, he allows himself to be won over without understanding
why.
Florentine is an orphan, brought up by a priest and his sister in a small presbytery in the Landes, lashed by the wind from the ocean, and the illuminations in an old book of hours have taught her that to live is to see. An uncle in Paris, the wealthy owner of a shop selling de-luxe fabrics, takes her into his home, and she realises that she will never see the world more vividly than through Delacroix’s paintings. And patiently, in secret, she devises the most ingenious and unexpected way of convincing him of that fact.

Read excerpt (English)
Read excerpt (French)

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