Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"A Piece of Bread" by Francois Coppee (1887, A Story of the Franco-Prussian War) - A Post for Paris in July # 6

Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years,is one of my favorite book blog events.  It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.

Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.

1.  "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

12.  The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith

This morning I found a free Kindle book on Amazon, international Short Stories:  French, complied by Francis Reynolds, published in 1910.  It includes stories by 13 French writers I had not previously been aware of and also short stories by  big name writers.  I love discovering new to me writers so I was very happy to find this free book.  There is no translator credit given, as was often the case 100 plus years ago.

Francois Coppee (1849 to 1908) lived all his life in Paris.  There is not a lot of information available on him online besides the Wikepedia article.  He was a poet, playwright, literary critic and wrote a number of short stories.  His work is characterized as "emotional and patriotic".  "A Piece of Bread" certainly fits this description.  It was fun to read, the ending might move you or you might say, "oh come on" but for sure it is worth the few minutes it will take you to read it.

As the story opens a very wealthy young aristocrat, the Duke de Hardimin, has taken one of his prize racing horse to bath in the hopefully health restoring waters of a famous spa.  I take this as kind of a slam on the indulgences of the spoiled rich.  The story is set during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870 to 1871.  The Duke hears of a French battle defeat and enlists in the army as a common soldier.  He is on his way to join his assigned unit.  

We next meet him on a march.  He take a piece of French Army bread from his backpack.  It is not up to his standards so he throws it in the dirt. A fellow soldier eagerly picks it up. The man tells the Duke all his life he has been hungry and probably always will.  The Duke eagerly shares his food with the stranger and these two Frenchman from very different backgrounds become friends.  One night all the men in the unit are asleep.  The officer in charge announces half the men must stand guard as there may be  Germans in the area.  He calls out the names of the men to stand guard.  The Duke, sho still sleeps, is on the list and his friend is not.  The friend volunteers to take the place of the Duke.  Soon all the men are told to retreat.  The Duke does not see his friend in the returning guards and asks where he was.  He learns his friend was shot in the head and died.

Coppee returns the Duke to Paris.  He and a wealthy friend are going for a stroll.  I will let Coppee close the story. 

""we will go home on foot—I need the air." "Just as you please, I am willing, although the walking may be bad." They dismissed their coupés, turned up the collars of their overcoats, and set off toward the Madeleine. Suddenly an object rolled before the duke which he had struck with the toe of his boot; it was a large piece of bread spattered with mud. Then to his amazement, Monsieur de Saulnes saw the Due de Hardimont pick up the piece of bread, wipe it carefully with his handkerchief embroidered with his armorial bearings, and place on a bench, in full view under the gaslight. "What did you do that for?" asked the count, laughing heartily, "are you crazy?" "It is in memory of a poor fellow who died for me," replied the duke in a voice which trembled slightly, "do not laugh, my friend, it offends me."

I enjoyed reading this story and think most others will.  

Mel de ú

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