His father, Vincent Daudet, was a silk manufacturer — a man dogged through life by misfortune and failure. Alphonse, amid much truancy, had a depressing boyhood. On 1 November , he abandoned teaching and took refuge with his brother Ernest Daudet , only some three years his senior, who was trying, "and thereto soberly," to make a living as a journalist in Paris. Alphonse took to writing, and his poems were collected into a small volume, Les Amoureuses , which met with a fair reception. The first of his longer books, Le Petit Chose , did not, however, produce popular sensation.
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I loved the title, and the premise intrigued me. Notwithstanding the condition it is in and performs, with its grinding wheel broken, its platform brickwork grown through with grass, this affirms that the Mr Daudet finds the said windmill to his liking and able to serve as a workplace for his poetry, and accepts it whatever the risk and danger, and without any recourse to the vendor for any repairs needing to be made thereto.
It was clear that some of them were tales of people the author met and things that happened to him - some embroidered a little and some a great deal. Some were tales that had been told to him; simple stories with a ring of truth and some stories that were undoubtedly exaggerated or enhanced, for or by the author.
This is a book with the power to transport you to 19th century southern France; because Daudet had the ability to make the world around him come alive in his pages. His descriptions of the environment and his surroundings were beautifully rendered; his observations of the people he met and the people he was told about were clear and astute; and I always felt that he was pleased to be in his windmill, writing his sketches to send back to Paris.
I can understand why they made his name, why they were so very popular. I have to be just a little bit critical.
Sometimes the tone is a little off, making me feel that maybe the author was a little too cynical, his stories a little too contrived. And some of the pieces were a little too fragmented, making me wonder of this was a ragbag rather that a lovely patchwork. Not to read from cover to cover, but to recall certain characters and to revisit places that were described to me so vividly. I can recall with great pleasure a small orchard of orange trees, at the gates of Blidah, just such a place where their true beauty could be seen!
Amongst the dark, glossy, lustred leaves, the fruits had the brilliance of stained glass windows and perfumed the air all around with the same magnificent aura that usually envelops gorgeous flowers. Here and there, gaps in the branches revealed the ramparts of the little town, the minaret of a mosque, the dome of a marabout, and, towering above, the immense Atlas mountains, green at the base, and snow-capped, with drifts of snow here and there.
One night during my stay, a strange phenomenon, not seen for thirty years, occurred; the ice from the freezing zone descended onto the sleeping village, and Blidah woke up transformed, and powdered in white snow. But it was the orange orchard that was the most beautiful thing to be seen. The firm leaves kept the snow intact and upright like sorbets on a lacquered plate, and all the fruits, powdered over with frost, had a wonderful mellowness, a discrete radiance like silk-draped gold.
Lettres de mon moulin
Les lettres de mon Moulin, Alphonse Daudet