39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating insight into the lost tribes of France,
This review is from: The Discovery of France (Paperback)
A Francophile with a penchant for learning about France while taking cycling holidays there, Robb has written a brilliant evocation of a lost world, when most inhabitants of France from outside the Paris region did not speak French and did not think of themselves as being French, and then an equally fascinating story of how the railway and the bicycle allowed the French state to impose "Frenchness" on the country. The book draws on evidence mostly from pre-revolutionary France, but with enough from the nineteenth century to support the thesis that it was late nineteenth century technology that made the difference. The storied are fascinating - I was particularly amused to read of a (mildish) torture called "putting on pressure" that Breton women visited on men that they caught alone, and of the fact that in creating the shrine at Lourdes that village put another local place of pilgrimage out of business. You also discover that the original Tour de France was a series of circuits by artisan journeymen and that France had its own caste of "untouchables", the cagots.
If I think that there is any deficiency it is that there is no sense of connection between these simple, sometime primitive, often poor people and any kind of larger society. Most of these people would have had landlords, and not all would have been absentee ones. Even if they did not think of themselves as French, they would have known, and have had mutual bonds of obligation to, people who did. France, after all, produced enormous armies of conscripts throughout the revolutionary wars, and France was generally regarded as the richest country in continental Europe.
As an Brit reading this book one is bound to wonder whether the same could have been said of the British population at the same time, or whether Britain changed earlier, perhaps, because it is smaller and because enclosure changed the nature of agricultural society more even than industrialisation. Perhaps Mr Robb ought to start taking cycle touring holidays in Britain?