- Voyage en Normandie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
For years, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Voyage en Normandie has languished in the archives. Just recently it has undergone two new editions, including this one ably edited by Malcolm Cook. Why resurrect a little-known text? Voyage is a travelogue, composed of journal entries, reflections, and cryptic notes. In 1775, Bernardin left Paris to visit his family in Normandy. He then travelled along the coast and into the interior, accomplishing most of the journey on foot. As Cook comments in his Introduction, Voyage offers an important glimpse into the author’s life, and a glimpse into the people and countryside of eighteenth-century Normandy. This short text also provides a valuable bridge between Bernardin’s better-known Voyage à l’île de France (1773) and Études de la nature (1784). Voyage en Normandie contains the seeds of Bernardin’s most important themes: voyage, nature, and the opposition of country life and city life, among others. Given the fragmentary nature of the manuscript, the ideas are evoked more than explored. For example, Bernardin gives a brief sketch of a family living an idyllic country life, a portrait fleshed out in his novel Paul et Virginie (1788). Most of the entries note Bernardin’s reactions to his surroundings. Here, too, the reader finds much to interest and entertain. Bernardin remarks on the dress and customs of the people he meets; on the commerce of the towns he visits; and on weather conditions. The first entry is dated 1 March 1775, and Bernardin quickly confronts the challenges of traversing the Norman countryside in late winter. Any reader who has accomplished a long hike will sympathize with the frequent mentions of foot ailments, and Bernardin—never shy about expressing an opinion—has much to say about the poor road conditions of rural Normandy. Several passages bear witness to Bernardin’s development as a naturalist. In one entry from the port of Dieppe, Bernardin describes the varieties of fish and marine life, where they live, and what they eat. One is struck by Bernardin’s detached, scientific tone, as well as his accent on a natural world defined by the drive for survival. We see also the development of the author’s voice. Bernardin’s direct, personal style immediately engages the reader, as opposed to the more stilted narration of Voyage à l’île de France. Bernardin is developing a moral voice as well, one that comes from his observations and less from a priori notions. If in some entries Bernardin writes approvingly of the Church, the landed gentry, and the new king, Louis XVI, in others he questions the order of the world. While parts of Voyage can be trite—country girls are invariably ‘jolies’—the book on the whole is engaging and original. There is value in resurrecting little-known texts, and we can be grateful that [End Page 600] this manuscript has been newly edited. Voyage will be of primary interest to Bernardin scholars, and it will appeal more broadly to scholars of French history, and to scholars of green studies.