Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
By Gery de Pierpont
Heritage and literature dialogue: Robert Louis Stevenson
There are some texts which describe atmospheres and historical settings so realistically that they can almost bring old stones back to life. When words, musical cadences and poetry bring scenes alive, describing personalities, passionate encounters and tragedies, we are inescapably drawn back in time. Particularly if these are read in the actual settings they describe …
The “Heritage and Literature dialogues” will give you a little flavour of this timeless alchemy, a sample of imaginary delights to be discovered when you stay in history, after a quick trip to your local bookshop!
Rediscover 19th century rural France
Early work of the famous author of the « Treasure Island » and « Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde », “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes” is an appealing, surprising and humorous book that became a reference in travel literature. Along his way through the Cévennes, Robert Louis Stevenson explores some of the dramatic historical events of this wild French region and describes its typical villages and inhabitants in the 1870s. But of course, the main character of the story is his stubborn donkey Modestine…
Excerpt: old inns’ promiscuity…
« The auberge of Bouchet St. Nicholas was among the least pretentious I have ever visited; but I saw many more of the like upon my journey. Indeed, it was typical of these French highlands. Imagine a cottage of two stories, with a bench before the door; the stable and kitchen in a suite, so that Modestine and I could hear each other dining; furniture of the plainest, earthen floors, a single bed-chamber for travellers, and that without any convenience but beds. In the kitchen cooking and eating go forward side by side, and the family sleep at night. Any one who has a fancy to wash must do so in public at the common table. The food is sometimes spare; hard fish and omelette have been my portion more than once; the wine is of the smallest, the brandy abominable to man; and the visit of a fat sow, grouting under the table and rubbing against your legs, is no impossible accompaniment to dinner.
« But the people of the inn, in nine cases out of ten, show themselves friendly and considerate. As soon as you cross the doors you cease to be a stranger; and although these peasantry are rude and forbidding on the highway, they show a tincture of kind breeding when you share their hearth. (…)
« In these hedge-inns the traveller is expected to eat with his own knife; unless he ask, no other will be supplied: with a glass, a whang of bread, and an iron fork, the table is completely laid. (…)
« The sleeping-room was furnished with two beds. I had one; and I will own I was a little abashed to find a young man and his wife and child in the act of mounting into the other. This was my first experience of the sort; and if I am always to feel equally silly and extraneous, I pray God it be my last as well. I kept my eyes to myself, and know nothing of the woman except that she had beautiful arms, and seemed no whit embarrassed by my appearance. As a matter of fact, the situation was more trying to me than to the pair. A pair keep each other in countenance; it is the single gentleman who has to blush. »
Exerpt from “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes“, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879), chapter “I have a Goad”.