Review # 21 / « Oublier Clémence » by Michèle Audin
Crossbow, at Gallimard, is increasingly establishing itself as a reference collection, making room for « written » texts, brilliant but confidential.
Confidential, in the sense that we know that they will not be sold in the tens of thousands and that we are unlikely to find them in literary price lists (and at the same time, when we see the freedoms that the juries are taking more and more, perhaps it is not so incredible to imagine seeing appearing in the coming years texts published by the crossbow in the said lists, but I digress).
I chose two titles in their latest releases: Forget Clemence by Michèle Audin and Hold until dawn by Carole Fives. This is the first one I would like to talk about here.
When I was in college, I did a research master’s degree in Modern Letters and I « specialized » in 18th century European literature. I mainly worked on the place of women in the novel, but without officially entering what is called the gender studies. What interested me (and still interests me) was the filter men put on women’s stories to tell them. How they modified these same stories by making them pass by their masculine subjectivity. The study was complex, especially because there is a severe shortage of material to rely on to analyze these stories of women firsthand. I have spent an impressive number of hours in the archives looking through minutes and civil status documents of all kinds to try to pull the wires and get out something that says a truth of the condition of women of the people. It was not an easy task and to do it right, it would have taken years of research, and probably a doctoral cadre. I wouldn’t say I failed but what is certain is that I didn’t succeed: my goal was too high, the task too difficult for my level considering the time I had.
I’m telling this, because what Michèle Audin does in Forget Clemence reminds me of what I’ve done over the years. Except that she does it like an author: she does not write a dissertation, does not prepare to answer the remarks and questions of a jury. It’s beautiful, it’s written and it’s particularly touching.
Michèle Audin starts from the civil status act (7 lines) of a worker who died at the age of 21 at the start of the 20th century and dissects it to tell a little bit about the story of this woman, based on what history bequeathed to us and say something about the condition of women of the people at that time. But no matter how well she goes back to the place of Clemence, it is very difficult to start almost 140 years back and to disregard modern cars and buildings to relive the everyday life of the silk worker.
This text is of rare poetry. It is short, each word is weighed, precious.
On each line, on each page, we are invited to go further than the text, to imagine the grief that the loss of a two-week-old child can cause.
We will not know how badly Clemence succumbed to 21 years of life in a hospital where we died a lot at the time, but the possibilities are many. She leaves behind an 11-month-old orphan (her second child), a widower and endless questions.
You will have to read the text to the end to understand the link between Michèle and Clémence.
Michèle Audin, Forget Clemence
ed. Gallimard, crossbow collection
65 pages, 10 €