Late on a summer afternoon in the very heart of rural France, in a small centuries-old house newly abandoned to its ghosts, Gillian Tindall came upon a cache of letters dating from the 1860's. Neatly folded and carefully tucked away, all were addressed to the village innkeeper's daughter, Celestine. All but one were proposals of marriage. Celestine Chaumette (1844-1933) was to reject each of these suitors to wed another; yet she preserved the letters, keeping them throughout her long life.
Something about the letters, about the woman who had so clearly cherished them, fire the historian's curiosity and the novelist's imagination. With a house in Chassignolles, Celestine's village, Ms. Tindall would spend years searching in dusty archives and farmhouse attics, probing the memories and myths of the men and women from the village and the surrounding countryside The treasure she unearthed reaches far beyond the mystery of Celestine to tell of a vanished way of life, of a century of revolutionary change - and of the strange persistence, despite all, of the past. The result is both moving and profound.
Tindall, who in English, writes about the lives of the inhabitants of Chassignolles. Tindall had discovered a packet of letters written to Celestine Chaumette, the local innkeeper's daughter, in the early 1860's. From the letters, documents, and her own encounters, she writes about the people of Chassignolles. Her writing is from the French Revolution to the present: covering a fundamental change and almost invisible continuity of an era of French history. Many stories of this particular area of the French culture are shared in the book; a great read for those interested in French history and social change.