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A Nail, A Rose by Madeleine Bourdouxhe

Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
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Meticulously translated from French by Faith Evans, a London-based editor, translator and literary agent, A Nail, A Rose, by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, was originally published in English in 1989 by The Women’s Press Limited. It has very recently been republished by Pushkin Press as a Pushkin Collection Title and it was an honour to be invited to read it and to share my thoughts with you all today.

Madeleine Bourdouxhe, was born in 1906, moving to Paris during the First World War. She studied Philosophy in Brussels, with her first novel published in 1937. Her work faded into relative obscurity until the 1980’s when her writings were translated, bringing her thoughts and ideas to a much wider audience. Simone de Beauvoir, the renowned French writer and feminist, described Madeline Bourdouxhe as ‘an important early feminist author‘.

Most of the stories in A Nail, A Rose were written in the years following the Second World War. Inspired by what she had experienced and what she had seen, Madeleine Bourdouxhe set about writing a collection of stories, with ideas and thoughts that would capture the mind of the reader. Appealing to the early 20th-Century avant-garde movement of Surrealism and of Existentialism, a movement that thrived throughout Europe in the 1940s and 1950s, the work of this writer was quickly embraced, discussed and analysed.

Faith Evans had the opportunity of meeting Madeleine Bourdouxhe in 1988 at her home in Brussels. At this point Faith Evans had read and translated this collection and had made many assumptions about the writer, one being that her writing days were well behind her, but this was not the case. Faith Evans also began to see beneath the surface of this enigmatic writer, this writer whose work stirred up so many conversations over the years.

‘As she talked to me in 1988 I began to see why the Occupation overshadows so many of her stories and her consciousness of herself, and to have some perception of what it means when your country is overtaken by a foreign power, especially when you yourself are patriotic but not in the least nationalistic. It’s no wonder that as a writer she has always been so preoccupied with borders and frontiers, with people who take risks, people whose lives have to be lived underground. She has experienced displacement for herself.’ – Faith Evans (Translator)

A Nail, A Rose is an anthology of seven short stories and one novella, ‘Sous le pont Mirabeau’. It is this final novella that reflects one of the more personal experiences of the author when she fled the hospital where she had just given birth as the Occupying troops continued their rampage through a war-torn Europe. This collection features women and the inner turmoil they face in their day-to-day lives, each with a very unique and different story to tell.

I am not a student of philosophy. My knowledge of intellectual literature, Existentialism and Surrealism, is non-existent. I am not in a position to write about the true feelings and experiences of the women in these stories from a philosophical perspective, but what I can say is that I found reading these stories quite intriguing. I have read translated works in the past, with Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, being one such book. There is something very fascinating about seeing the world through the eyes of these women, something very compelling about understanding the worlds they inhabited a little more.

A Nail, A Rose is a compact, yet challenging, piece of work which does require that you approach it with an open mind. It is a book that explores a variety of themes, with all focusing in on the idea of the independent woman, the strong woman.

Madeleine Bourdouxhe passed away in 1996 leaving behind a legacy of literary work that continues to invoke debate and deliberation.

I will leave you with a quote from Jonathan Coe, the Birmingham born writer/author whose work has received many prizes and awards, mainly from continental Europe.

‘Madeleine Bourdouxhe is one of the more remarkable literary discoveries of the last few years.’ – Jonathan Coe

(c) Swirl and Thread

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