The Innkeeper’s Daughter

Claire Harman

  • Célestine: Voices from a French Village by Gillian Tindall
    Sinclair-Stevenson, 286 pp, £17.99, April 1995, ISBN 1 85619 534 1

A batch of seven letters caused this book to be written: six love-letters and one letter home from a brother in the Army. They are the only remaining personal papers of a French-woman called Célestine Chaumette, and Gillian Tindall found them in an otherwise almost empty house in the village of Chassignolles in Central France, where she and her family have had a summer home for more than twenty years. The little box containing the letters had been overlooked by whoever had cleared the house: Tindall read them, found one date – 1862 – then another, noticed the very different hands and some quirky archaisms, and began to speculate. ‘Once ephemeral as butterflies, they had been cherished and kept for reasons of obscure pride, comfort or regret; messages from a life already past to Célestine, they had undergone a long hibernation.’ From this fragile remnant, she started to reconstruct the life of the village and its inhabitants at the time of Célestine’s birth a hundred and fifty years ago.

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