Marie Cardinal, The Words… La Madelène

Le Prieuré La Madelène - Seminars, guest house and cottage

Marie Cardinal, The Words… La Madelène

Bruno Pastouret / Post on 7 June 2021

Writing about Marie Cardinal in an article published in France’s Journal du Dimanche weekly newspaper in 2013, journalist Bernard Pivot recalled that “his last summer at La Madelène had been a paradise”. It is in this place that the woman he nicknamed “The Absolute Exile”, the stateless woman, the woman who felt at home everywhere and at home nowhere, settled down in the early 1980s for the last 20 years of her life. Here, under the skies of the Vaucluse region, in the vegetation of the garden, in the fragrance of the flowers, she found a bit of the light and the scent of her beloved native Algeria. She always associated “North Africa” and “palm tree” with the word “home”. Though she had always been deeply convinced of the need for Algerian independence, she was forever hurt by the loss of her roots. Here in Malaucène, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, she found them a little.

A pied noir (a French national born in a North African colony) from the Catholic, Algerian, French and Canadian upper middle classes, a professor of philosophy in Salonika, Vienna, Lisbon and Montreal, a journalist (at French magazines L’Express, Elle and others), an actress (in 1967’s Mouchette by Robert Bresson), a screenwriter, a ghostwriter on behalf of authors lacking in inspiration, a novelist with millions of books sold and translated into 26 languages, and the co-founder of the Union of French Language Writers, Marie Cardinal had several lives. She was born in 1961, when she began her psychoanalysis. At the same time, she began to write, “because 3 sessions a week was not enough”.

Her novel The Words to Say It propelled her to the forefront of the literary scene and made her name with the public. She didn’t expect the book to have such a fate, nor did she write to be successful. She wrote out of need, painfully, struggling with her writing, which she, a craftswoman of words, was eternally discontent with. She started this novel over again – like the others – ten times. “We writers do not measure up to our writing,” she said. “It comes with the subconscious and our books are bigger than us”. The Words to Say It was the bestseller in “The Year of the Woman”, 1975, and was awarded the Littré Prize in 1976.

She didn’t like labels. Because she wrote as a woman, she has often been said to be a feminist. She always defended herself and refused to be a leading figure in any movement. Marie Cardinal was not an activist, just a famous writer who hoped that one day women would better find their place in society.

She did not define herself as a writer, but as a “storyteller”. Her work consists of some fifteen novels. While they seem to be autobiographical at heart, they are not. “I embellish,” she said, “I embellish things that I have experienced or seen, and then I put them in the mouth of someone who is me, but it is often not me!”. La Madelène serves as the backdrop for her last two novels. The final work  Amour… Amours… (1998) is an echo to her second The Hearse Mule (‘La Mule de Corbillard’) (1963), on a walk with Lola, a woman in the twilight of her life. First sitting under the trellis, then walking around the edge of her house, little by little, the memories come back.

Excerpt: “While daydreaming, Lola had come a long way. She was now on the hill overlooking her house. She found it beautiful. But as she had done earlier with “her” family, she found that possessive pronoun did not fit the reality. These buildings made up “her” house because she had bought them, but this place did not belong to her, she felt that she was the caretaker of it, nothing more. “

And that’s the way it is. Here we are, in turn, the ephemeral caretakers of Le Prieuré La Madelène, this marvelous place steeped in history that Marie Cardinal is a part of. We want to keep a trace of her passage in these walls, so we rummage. We leave her books, gleaned from local booksellers, in the large living room, available to our guests who would like to discover or rediscover her timeless writings. If their stay turns out to be too short to finish reading the book, they can take it home with them in their luggage. It delights us to see the number of volumes decrease and to always have to look for more copies, and to walk by the pool and find that one, two or three of our guests are reading the novelist!

In nearly a thousand years of existence, Le Prieuré La Madelène has welcomed a number of guests and caretakers. In turns, it has been a Benedictine priory (originally named Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine-de-Capella), a large farm with many workers, a silkworm farm, a Resistance stronghold in the scrubland of Mont Ventoux, and the residence of Marie Cardinal, who loved to host tablesful of guests. Today, it is a bed and breakfast in Provence. We are happy to enable Le Prieuré La Madelène to carry on its ancestral tradition of hospitality, in our turn. A place to meet, to exchange, to share, a place where stories and characters write History. It is important for us to pass down the memory.

Olivier and Bruno.

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