From Childhood’s Hour



In general: I am using language to make some points. The modern language Occitan still maintains two major dialects: Provençal and Languedoc (Languedoc itself is often called simply Occitan). This is a simplification of what were many dialects of a language that falls somewhere between French and Catalan and which, by the late 18th century, were deemed “local patois” and not given the status of “language”. I have used the term “Provençal” as the best approximation in narration to treat this language as what it was: the majority language of the region at the time. In dialogue, the unfortunate period-accurate locution “patois” has been used.

Marseille at this period has lately begun (in what is essentially the generation of Jean-Pierre Enjolras and Richard Combeferre) a transition away from being a purely Provençal city. Investors, industrialists, and traders came south starting roughly just before the Revolution, increasing the number of native French speakers at the top of the social ladder. In addition, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars pulled men from the Midi and mixed them with men from the rest of France, by necessity using French as the lingua franca and increasing the numbers of men who spoke some French. However, Provençal is still the language of home, of business, of the region for not just the working classes but for many in the middle classes. At sea, sailors in the Levant nearly all come from the Midi and are Provençal speaking. Bordeaux even falls within the Occitan belt, meaning much of the Atlantic seafaring population were Occitan speakers (Bordelais falls very close to Gascon in terms of dialects).

I have over-emphasised the split between 18th and 19th centuries, between the bourgeois newcomers and the working class. For perfect accuracy, the servants all speak Provençal and the masters should, too. As a work-around, I have had Henri’s nurse brought from Lyon with the family when they moved south and perhaps a greater separation of master and servants than was entirely appropriate. On the Combeferre side, Julien’s nurses and tutors have all been hired in Paris, and Cécile Combeferre has picked up only a few basics – one could describe her as that person who insists Provençal is just a way of mispronouncing French. (Which is not at all true – the grammar differs somewhat and vocabulary and pronunciation vary considerably at times.) In real life, it is entirely plausible that similar characters would have spent their lives speaking Provençal at home and at the market, possibly even with local friends, but would conduct their secondary and higher education in French. A significant amount of code switching has been lost through my simplification of the issues.

However, I think the point is important that the difference between working classes and middle classes is linguistic, the South remains far behind the North not strictly from geographic isolation but from linguistic issues that are not resolved for decades after this (you can see this in Brittany, as well, that a region with a strong cultural history falls behind the centre as the language of state takes precedence), and Hugo wanted his characters to come from the South, the one region where conservative politics and the Catholic Church remained in power throughout the Restoration, for a reason. I’ve used these two characters to highlight the disconnect that the centralisation of government in Paris made crucial to the future of the Midi. Combeferre is certainly aware of the language issue, and the solution for him, education, requires the replacement of Provençal with French, even as he may use both to some extent in daily life. Enjolras has a distance from everything and his thinking on a national plane seems to me to require a preference for French.

In short, the language issues throughout this story are true, but they are more reflective of how the situation developed through the nineteenth century rather than the single point of 1817-1819 in which the story is set.

Prologue: Les Goudes sort of exists – it is a geographical location within the city of Marseille but outside the old octroi barrier. It was once a village, and like many suburbs was subsumed into the city as the city grew. There are beautiful pictures on French Wikipedia ( The actual geography is adjusted to my own purposes. The tag is obviously William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet; the overarching title and tag are Edgar Allan Poe, taken from a poem fragment he sent in a letter to a girl with whom he was much taken in his youth.

Chapter 1: Unlike the English upper and upper middle classes of the period (and later), the French generally did not segregate their children from the family. Thus it would be expected that children learn table manners and conversation with adults as soon as they are able to sit at the dinner table with everyone else. Moreover, divisions of the house are somewhat different as there is no nursery – babies and small children would play in the informal salon; older children’s lessons might be held in the father’s study or at the dining room table. The tag is Edgar Allan Poe, from the same poem as the title.

Chapter 2: The unlabeled invective is poem 58. The tag is Catullus, poem 49.

Chapter 3: The position of a tutor was an odd one. In The Red and the Black, Stendhal seems to see nothing wrong with, in a much more circumscribed social circle, a demand that the low-born tutor dine with the family. However, my intention here is that M. Enjolras could buy and sell M. de Rênal several times over. The implied house and household are larger here than in Stendhal’s work, and the tutor should more appropriately be judged one of the higher servants. But I would not doubt that various families had various solutions to the difficulty of bringing an educated man into the house as a servant who should have some authority over the children. The tag is Alfred Tennyson, from In Memoriam.

Chapter 4: The tag is William Wordsworth, “On the Influence of Natural Objects”.

Chapter 5: The tag is William Wordsworth, “Resolution and Independence”.

Chapter 6: Screwy geography! If one looks at Google maps, to the southeast of Marseille you can see the spit of land that is constantly mentioned here. It may be wider in fiction than in real life. The tag is William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18.

Chapter 7: The postage M. Enjolras requests is much too high – it’s part of the whole tease. The tag is Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”.

Chapter 8: Without some way to keep him occupied, Julien would either have to attend the dinner party or be hidden from the dinner party, and Cécile would not like it to get around that she had her son eat in the kitchen with the servants. There were successive waves of Irish refugees around the turn of the nineteenth century. After the French Revolution, supporters of Irish independence looked to the French Republic for support, and when plots failed and organizations collapsed, men did their best to escape to France rather than face execution by the English. Some of them did very well through the Napoleonic period, married into French families, and so you see names like McKeon and O’Connor come up later in the century as their descendants get involved in politics or business. Others did less well. M. Combeferre’s anglophilia is deliberately somewhat anachronistic (and thus an eccentricity) but has a vague basis in part on the character (and thus real personage) of Captain Christy-Pallière in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series of novels. The tag is Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”.

Chapter 9: I would love to cite my travel sources, but I cannot find all of them anymore. (I think one was a rail history whose title I lost ages ago.) It is quicker going south because, according to Marianna Starke, the woman who wrote the 1829 Galignani guide to France, Italy, and Switzerland, one could take a boat down the Rhτne from Lyon to Avignon, which saved time over rather poor roads. The estimates are reasonable if using post horses, which can be done for a private carriage, both according to Mrs Starke and Victor Hugo. The distance to Les Goudes is based on Google maps. The tag is William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

Chapter 10: The tag is William Wordsworth, “It Was an April Morning, Fresh and Clear”.

Chapter 11: Families with enough room had both a “grand salon” for formal entertaining and a “petit salon” for daily use. In smaller houses, the dining table would be in the petit salon, and if necessary, people with pretensions to quality and absolutely no money would use the kitchen as the petit salon. The Combeferres obviously have money. The fashion for English nurses that Julien describes is a product of the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the reopening of the border. This was a long-lasting fashion, and like any fashion, there was no real reasoning other than English girls were “better”. Ordinarily, in a family of this class, Charles would have been put out to nurse in the country until he was weaned, possibly even left there until the age of five or so, then retrieved to the family home and put in the care of a nurse or governess until his education was advanced enough that a male tutor would be brought in. Putting a child out to nurse was a constant even among the lower classes in Paris, as Hugo recognises by stating for the reader that Fantine had suckled her own child. Cécile prefers to keep her children close to her, which I hope is slightly in her favour. She is not a good mother, but she does love her children. The contrast in décor between the Enjolras and Combeferre homes is a product of the period. Having only new furniture was rather out of place among the settled bourgeois – it was expected that pieces would be added as pieces wore out and overall redecorating would be wallpaper, curtains, possibly upholstery, knick-knacks, but rarely the outfitting of a room in entirely new pieces. Even when a married couple moved into a new house, some pieces may be provided by family. However, the Napoleonic era saw certain material excesses with the rise of certain families and the creation of the new nobility so that it was not unheard of in 1806 to build a new house and furnish it entirely from scratch. It’s not necessarily that Mme Enjolras had tacky taste; it’s that to Mme Combeferre, to not have and use the inheritance of generations is tacky regardless of what has been put together. The tag is Edgar Allan Poe, “A Dream Within a Dream”.

Chapter 12: More invented geography. One can see on Wikipedia that the hill behind what would have been the village is too sandy and salty to be good for anything, though two hundred years may change things a little. The Provençal is as accurate as poking through various teaching websites can make it. The spelling, however, probably fluctuates between classical and mistralien norms, and pronunciation is far from intuitive. “Paire” is rather like “PIE-ra”, the “n” at the end of “bonjorn” is swallowed, as is the “o” at the end of “Touneto”, “j” is a hard rather than soft sound, and anything else is more akin to Spanish than to French. Smuggling was of course endemic due to the blockades, as was slipping merchant and war ships out whenever the weather permitted (the Navy was at Toulon, however), and Patrick O’Brian mentions the ships on blockade buying fish and information from local fishermen. The tag is Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”.

Chapter 13: The tag is William Wordsworth, “The King of Sweden”.

Chapter 14: “Health officer” is my chosen translation of “officier de santé”, a category derived from the need to expand medical care into the country. One could attend a regional school for three years and qualify as a health officer and practice medicine, but not surgery, within the department of qualification, while a doctor attended one of three medical schools for four years plus produced a thesis and was qualified to practice medicine and surgery anywhere in the country. Charles Bovary, in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, is a health officer. (and his mangling of medicine comes in large part because he’s attempting things he was never taught.) The tag is Percey Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab.

Chapter 15: Descriptions of the port and hôtel de ville come from recent photographs of the Vieux Port, an 1820s painting uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, and various texts on business in France during this period. Robeirols are categorically different to dock workers and have various legal restrictions on the types of work they can perform and the ways in which they can look for work. The straw baskets on their backs are identifying markers as well as work aids that they are legally required to carry as a marker of their status – dock workers are, in essence, protected from the unfair competition of the robeirols. The first steamships in Marseille were Italian, arriving in 1818 or 1819, and were part of a regular run from Sicily to Naples to Genoa to Marseille. The tag is Percey Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound.

Chapter 16: Christopher Wren must have seemed even more dominant in London before the Blitz knocked down several of the churches and postwar redevelopment led to skyscrapers all over the City. Churchgoing in Paris was already declining before the Revolution; the Revolution and various radical attempts to remove the Church entirely merely accelerated an existing phenomenon, though actual destruction was a revolutionary act. Much of what was destroyed was not put back together until Hugo drew attention to the old meanings of the ancient churches with Notre Dame de Paris in 1832, but the ideas had certainly been circulating among small groups of interested parties well before. The book discussed is real – an 1809 publication actually written by Stephen Cullen Carpenter, giving it some time to turn up in France. The tag is William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”.

Chapter 17: The Barbary pirates were based along the Mediterranean coast of Africa – ostensibly regional governors of the Ottoman Empire, they turned to piracy to aggrandize their positions and fortunes. Britain and France paid them a bounty on a regular basis to preserve their ships and crew; America refused, had several ships taken and their crews enslaved, and under Jefferson sent its first warships to force a truce. In the end, the US did pay, but less than Tripoli was asking, and did received its citizens back. However, this was merely the First Barbary War – the second was after 1815 and involved the British and French going after a different governor. Piracy still did not stop and was a major excuse for the French invasion of Algeria some years later. It seems the most likely act of Jefferson’s presidency to make an impression on Marseille during the Napoleonic Wars without getting into minutia of tariff policy.

Chapter 18: The tag is Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”.

Chapter 19: The Latin poem is again Catullus 51, as mentioned in Chapter 2. The Macbeth extracts are from Act 1, Scene 7 and Act 5, Scene 3. The tag is William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”.

Chapter 20: All descriptions of the vendange and winemaking are derived from Wikipedia and a couple of modern texts. The “test” described was a real code used by the United Irishmen – the missing question/answer is “Where will you put it?” “In the crown of Great Britain.” The tag is from a lyric by Robert Emmet, a member of the United Irishmen.

Sources (all accessed through Google Books):

Ariès, Philippe and Georges Duby, eds. A history of private life, vol. 4: From the fires of revolution to the great war. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Carpenter, Stephen Cullen. Memoirs of the Hon. Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, Vice-President, and President of the United States of America; Containing a Concise History of Those States, From the Acknowledgement of Their Independence, with a View of the Rise and Progress of French Influence and French Principles in that Country. New York: unknown publisher, 1809.

de Girardin, Emile. De l’instruction publique en France, ouvrage utile aux familles. Paris: Mairet et Fournier, 1842.

Lepetit, Bernard. The pre-industrial urban system: France, 1740-1840. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Loubère, Leo A. The red and the white: a history of wine in France and Italy in the nineteenth century. State University of New York Press, 1978.

Sewell, William Hamilton. Logics of history: social theory and social transformation. “Chapter 9, Historical Duration and Temporal Complexity: The strange career of Marseille’s dock workers, 1814-70.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Smith, Michael Stephen. The emergence of modern business enterprise in France, 1800-1930. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Starke, Mariana. Information and directions for travellers on the continent. Paris: A and W Galignani, 1829.


Chapter 20: Long and strong then strike the lyre, / . . . Bid the fire of freedom blaze ~ Fiction ~ Home