A Little Tour in France
1901 edition (publ. Houghton Mifflin)
|Publisher||James R. Osgood and Company, Boston|
A Little Tour in France is a book of travel writing by Henry James. Originally published under the title En Province in 1883–1884 as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly, the book recounts a six-week tour James made of many provincial towns in France, including Tours, Bourges, Nantes, Toulouse, Arles and several others. The first book publication was in 1884. A second, extensively revised edition was published in 1900.
James gives the idea for the book in the first paragraph of the first installment of the original magazine serial: "France may be Paris, but Paris is not France." He conceived the book as a description of and even homage to the provinces. James had tried living in Paris before settling in London in 1876. He returned to France in 1882 to discover more of French provincial life than he had previously been able to see.
Summary and themes
James began his tour in Touraine, then journeyed southwest through Provence, and then north along the flooding Rhône River to Burgundy. The resulting book was a pleasant mix of art and architecture criticism, references to classic literature as well as guide-books and pamphlets, sharp observation of people and places, and knowledgeable discussion of French history and culture - all communicated in an easygoing, urbane, witty style.
James could never resist the piquant detail, like the chatty nun who guided him through Marmoutier Abbey or the tough soldiers quartered in the dismal old papal residence at Avignon. He was particularly interested in ancient cathedrals and castles, the less restored the better, though he hardly neglects present-day realities of shabby inns, talkative diners, uncomfortable train rides, and dreary museums. There's little attempt at generalization or abstract theorizing. James is usually content to describe what he saw as accurately as possible. He wrote in a letter of November 12, 1882, to Isabella Gardner: "I have seen more of France than I had ever seen before, and on the whole liked it better."
Table of contents
A Little Tour in France may be the least commented-on of all James' travel books. It lacks The American Scene's brooding intensity and occasional outrage or Italian Hours' sheer voluptuous pleasure in sights and sounds. Instead, the book seems composed in a minor key of relaxed contemplation, which gradually charms readers instead of immediately overwhelming them.
Although the book is hardly one of James' major achievements, its careful depiction of the odd, sleepy, commonplace life of provincial France in the 19th century is a valuable historical record. It's not "big" history in the sense of battles and revolutions. Rather it's a deftly written journal of the small, familiar features of everyday existence.
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