‘Le Cercle de Famille’ (The Family Circle) by André Maurois

The Family Circle - French book coverAndré Maurois was a prolific author; fluent in English as well as French; and I came across him because of our shared wool textile background, a background that is present in Le Cercle de Famille (The Family Circle) which I read during my recent visit to France.  It is available in an English translation by Hamish Miles through Abe Books. If you are interested in French novels of the 1920s, Maurois is the man to start with and as well as The Family Circle, I suggest beginning with Bernard Quesnay and going on to Climats (Climates). If you read French your choice of editions will be wider.

Maurois (1885-1967) was part of a textile family, the Herzogs, who fled Alsace during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and established another mill in Elbeuf (Normandy). Blin & Blin was still, in my own textile youth, a name to conjure with when talking of woollen coatings but, like almost all of such mills in this country as well as across Europe, it is long gone. How far gone is illustrated by the fact that on a visit to Elbeuf a few years back, the Tourist Information Centre had no recollection of the firm nor, alas, of André Maurois. Sic transit gloria mundi!

As well as his novels, and a World War I humorous fictional reminiscence called Les Silences du Colonel Bramble, Maurois wrote biographies of Shelley and Byron and many more.

So, back to The Family Circle. At the beginning of the 20th century, near Rouen, a woman of good family, Madame Herpain, has an affair with another distinguished citizen, Doctor Guérin. Polite society condemns this ‘bad mother’. Of her three daughters it is Denise, very close to her father, who suffers most from this betrayal. As she grows up into a very attractive young woman she resolves to lead a different and better life than her mother; to become indeed her very opposite. She wants, therefore, to love and serve a single man. Alas, her rich banker husband disappoints her and, it seems she is inexorably drawn into imitating her despised mother. Towards the end of the novel she seems to be about to become reconciled with her once despised parent who is by now married to her Doctor lover and become a part of respectable society again.

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