My text, and lens, for this blog is from one of the great treasures of my French library: a comprehensive textbook, Petit Miroir de la Civilisation Francaise, by Francois Denoeu. The first publication was in 1939, at the beginning of World War II. The revised publication from 1949 includes these notes from the author: “The tragic years of World War II, which started soon after the publication of this book, brought about many changes in France… a whole chapter has been added with emphasis on first-hand information and personal judgments…free from any jingoistic coloring (vi).”
Denoeu vividly includes the general lines of French culture to keep this survey from a mere catalog of dry facts and statistics. I would LOVE to have a copy of the original, pre-war, publication when France was a rich civilization in music, art, literature, science, and cuisine. Not only was French civilization altered in these areas after the war and German occupation, but it was also altered politically, geographically, and culturally.
The geographical information in my previous post, France: Revisited, The Montagnes of France, is pretty standard. Mountains, after all, cannot be altered by war. What took place on and around those mountains during WWI and WWII is another story: The Ardennes, The Alps, The Vosges. Any World War II historian, among my readers, is already recounting those battles between the Allied and German forces and the devastation that followed. Denoeu does not address these events in his text. Therefore, my Montagnes blog is pretty generic, focusing on more aesthetic and tourist qualities.
The author does, however, address the geographical changes in the Provinces of France after World War II which will be the focus of this post.
Previous to World War II, France was divided into unequal provinces. They had been attached to the royal domain, at different times, by descendants of Hugues Capet, who had reigned over France since 987. Much like the 50 distinctive states that make up the United States, the provinces, or regions, of France each had their own unique cuisine, language, flora and fauna, weather and traditions. There are 1600 distinct types of French cheese alone!! All the comforts of home…
This, of course, changed after the German occupation and decimation of the country, including 200,000 soldiers who died in battle. France would be reorganized from 50 provinces to these 37 Provinces :
La Flandre (les Flamands), L’Artois (les Artésiens), La Picardie (les Picards), La Normandie (les Normands), L’Ile-de-France (Parisiens and Versaillais),
La Champagne (les Champenois), La Lorraine (les Lorrains), L’Alsace (my relatives, the Alsaciens),
La Bretagne (les Bretons), La Maine (les Manceaux), L’Anjou (les Angevins), La Touraine (les Tourangeaux), L’Orléanais (les Orléanais), Le Nivernais (les Nivernais), La Bourgogne (les Bourguignons), La Franche-Comté (les Francs-Comtois), Le Poitou (les Poitevins), Le Berry (les Berrichons), Le Limousin (les Limousins), L’Auvergne (les Auvergnats), La Guyenne (not a general name), Les Bordeaux (les Bordelais), La Gascogne (les Gascons), Le Béarn (les Béarnais), Le Languedoc (les Languedociens), La Savoie (les Savoyards), Le Dauphiné (les Dauphinois), and La Provence (les Provencaux), La Corse (les Corses).
As of March 1982, France passed the Law of Décentralisation which gave regions their legal status. France is currently divided into 18 divisions : Bourgogne-France-Comté, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Normandy, Grand Est, Occitanie, Hauts-de-France, Auvergne-Rhône- Alpes, Brittany, Centre-Val de Loire, Corsica, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Ile-de-France, Martinique, Mayotte, Pays de la Loire, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Réunion.
Denoeu concludes this section with questions concerning the regions « Dans quelle partie de la France aimeriez-vous vivre pour ce qui est du climat » (In which part of France would you like to live according to the climate). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to have that luxury? For me, it would be Normandie! [see post
[Author’s note : This blog took several directions! My original purpose was to contrast life in the provinces of pre-war France with post-war France. Unfortunately, as a linguist, this task is not in my wheelhouse. I should leave that to the historians and sociologists!]
Francois Denoeu. Petit Miroir de la Civilisation Francaise. Boston : D.C. Heath and Company. 1938 and 1949.
Copyright 2019 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com).