French author Violette Leduc (1907-1972) piqued our interest lately, so we read this tiny novella of barely 100 pages. The Lady and the Little Fox Fur (1965) is an imaginative tale of a poverty-stricken old lady finding release through an unlikely object.
Drenched in the spirt of Paris, there are elements of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London here.
Poverty is the central element of the tale – a soul left to rot by the bustle of wealth – but the heart is the triumph of human imagination, where a solitary object can transform your daily existence into a wonderous thing.
The Lady and the Little Fox Fur
Right! This wee one is about an old lady who has a tiny flat – an attic, essentially – deep in Paris.
Retired, but poor, she spends her days counting coffee beans as she listens to the sounds of the bustling city streets. But she is not content. She is, in fact, wasting away into starvation.
Pacing the streets of Paris in an attempt to define her existence, she’s alarmed to find her treks across the city result in little recognition. She is a nobody. A little old lady of no worth.
In despair, or to avoid it, she stumbles across a fox fur scarf that’s discarded on the streets. In that one item, she finds a form of personal freedom – relying on her imagination, she turns her lonely slide into nothingness into a world of newfound possibilty.
Ultimately, despite the sense of loss and unfortunately relentless nature of ageing, there’s a life-affirming message amongst the sense of loss.
It’s a message shared by Leonara Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet (1976). The defiance of an old lady written off by society – fighting back against the world. Old age is no barrier. It isn’t a sign of irrelevance.
But the novella also channels the sense of puny uselessness we all feel in a big city. Whether it’s Paris or, for us, the concrete paradise of Manchester, you’re ultimately lost in the relentless wash of citizens – everyone trampling along in self-importance toward their destination.
There is no conversation. Manners are only there through the demands of local authorities. And it’s not until you reach your destination – work, for most of us – that familiar faces restore a sense of humanity.
And this slight novella speaks volumes on that – it’s a message for our times.
The hustle and bustle of city life doesn’t mean we should shut off into private bubbles. Ignore the world around you if you wish. But there are those with the imagination to elevate high above everything else.
Arguably, this is the most evocative city in the world. Paris, seemingly in the very beating heart of France, is awash with culture, organised chaos, food, wine, cafes, and all manner of other excellence.
With its stunning architecture and confident sense of easy brilliance, the city is one of those places you simply have to visit.
But for the cultural scene, something else is going on there – and it was most fervent during the 20th century.
Leduc’s work won the attentions of the legandary Simone de Beauvoir, arguably most famous for post-WWII text The Second Sex.
Leduc was born in Pas-de-Calais, right at the most northern tip of the city. Raised in poverty in a difficult family situation, she suffered from self-esteem issues due to her mother domineering behaviour.
She also, of course, lived through two World Wars.
Her first attempt at education was brought to an abrupt halt by the first one. But she eventually went off to boarding school – her experiences there formed much of the sexual nature of some of her novels. And they caused immense controversy in France.
But she still remains a lesser known writer from the era, although it’s difficult to stand out against giants such as Camus, Sartre, and de Beauvoir. But this one tiny tome is credit to her talent – and it’s a minor gem every reader she give a whirl.