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My Father's Glory & My Mother's Castle: Marcel Pagnol's Memories of Childhood Paperback – August 1, 1986
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“Pagnol lived what he made movies and wrote about.... More than just the reminiscences of a happy childhood, these pages resonate with the inspirational qualities of all Pagnol's work: the good humor, the love of nature, the sensuality, and the strong feeling for family and tradition.” ―Alice Waters
“Marcel Pagnol has taught me a great deal more than anyone would guess. In his final moments Pagnol became almost godlike in his mix of deep understanding and earthy enjoyment, his hilarious and compassionate understanding of the people of Marseilles and Provence.” ―M. F. K. Fisher
Text: English, French (translation)
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The book, then, is a sort of litmus test whereby to judge if you still have a heart in you, regardless of your age. As another reviewer puts it, only a Scrooge could put it down unmoved. But Pagnol is also both a lyrical and astute writer. Not many of us could verbally weave our fleeting childhood memories into the lost paradise we encounter in these pages. An example:
"In the central and northern parts of France, when the first brief gusts of wind blow a little too sharply in the early days of September, they pick up in passing a beautiful, bright yellow leaf which turns, slides and swirls as gracefully as a bird.....This forecasts the forests' imminent resignation: they turn russet, then black and gaunt, for all the leaves have flown in the wake of the swallows at the sound of autumn's bugle call."
Pagnol as well has a lively sense of humour, a deep sense of the bonds of family and, above all, the recall of the joy of childhood friendship and of the fleeting days of youth, all these things held in the heart and cherished all the more because of how swiftly they fly from us.
Things are not all wine and roses, of course. The book would be easily dismissible as maudlin if they were. And what youthful joy there is passes swiftly in this short, deeply moving memoir. But, as Pagnol writes near the end:
"Such is the life of man. A few joys, quickly obliterated by unforgettable sorrows.
There is no need to tell the children so."
Nor, during the reading of the greater part of this book, is there need to remind oneself so. It is enough that one's heart is reawakened to the world and made to sing.
Pagnol's father was a schoolteacher. During the Third Republic that meant more than it does today. They were selected for their anti-clerical beliefs, and used, well, much as missionaries, proselytizing secular beliefs to the youth of France. In ways, it was a peaceful French Revolution some 100 years after the first bloody one. Thus, his father was a "progressive," and Pagnol's memoir recounts some of those beliefs. And certainly one of the big advantages of being a teacher, particularly then, as it still is, mainly, now, is to have the summers off, to pursue other interests. Thus, his is an account of wonderful childhood summer's wandering in the countryside. Seeing nature whole, as well as adults in a more relaxed setting. It is an optimistic memoir, set in an optimistic time, which Barbara Tuckman called The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914, when the world would only get better... and then there was the catastrophe of World War I.
The warm, gauzy cinema-graphic images of Provence are there, for sure. But his observations of French society are keen and incisive. Consider: "I am not holding it against the Republic: no history text-book in the world has ever been anything but a propaganda pamphlet in the service of governments." Or, on the "clerical yoke": "On the other hand, it is true that my village cure, who was most intelligent and a man of dauntless charity, considered the Holy Inquisition as a kind of Family council: he said that if the prelates had burnt so many Jews and scientists, they had done so with tears in their eyes and only in order to assure them of a place in Paradise. Such is the weakness of our reasoning faculty: more often than not, it only serves to justify our beliefs."
The second book concerns his mother, and there is a Proustian tact to Pagnol's prose. Consider: "But in the shelter of the dog-rose bush under the cluster of white blooms, on the far bank of Time, a very young, dark-haired woman had been cowering for years, clutching the colonel's red roses to her fragile heart. She was listening to the keeper's shouts and the dog's hoarse wheezing. Pallid, trembling, and forever inconsolable, she did not know she was at last safe at home, in her own castle, on the land of her son."
Darker views of Provence, in particular the savage fights over the essential resource, water, are depicted in Pagnol's Jean De Florette (French Edition) . The warmer memories are in this book. Both of these books have been made into excellent movies, and I'd recommend both reading the books and watching the movies...particularly if you plan on going to, or returning to Provence. 5-stars.