The Project

madeleineportrait (2)

Madeleine Blaess. Portrait taken in Paris 1940-44.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Phil Morris.

Although still in its early stages the project has already generated a great deal of interest and input from students and the general public as well as presenting a number of challenging research opportunities. The Blaess diary (click here for an excerpt) and letters together with a number of other diaries written by women students of the Sorbonne during the same period are the subject of a research monograph which aims to critically reconstitute the everyday life of aspirational young women of the period within the gender normative sociocultural frameworks they were compelled to challenge. Their struggle, although made harder by war, is not displaced by it. These women maintain their hope in a liberated, independent future beyond the end of the conflict.  A forthcoming article (2013 – Essays in French Literature and Culture) examines what Blaess’s unpublished Phoney War letters tell us about attitudes to the Nazi threat in both the academic community of the Sorbonne and the pension de famille Les Marroniers where Blaess lived until the exode of June 1940. Two articles on the diary – one on mental illness and the other on the student diary form – are in preparation.

I am also working on an annotated (and translated) version of the diary for the non-specialist reader.

The project has involved a great deal of work tracking down individuals mentioned in Blaess’s letters and diary. Amongst her friends Blaess counted a number of important literary figures of the inter-war and the post-war period including Sylvia Beach, Georges Auclair and Maria Hardouin (Sabine Vialla). She was also close friends with Helene Berr and Francoise Bernheim who were deported and murdered in Nazi concentration camps. I have found the friends and relatives of several people known to Blaess during the Occupation but there are many more left to find. Click here to find out who they are.

I am always on the look out for unpublished diary manuscripts and letters pertaining to this period. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think you have something which may be of interest either by e-mail w.michallat@sheffield.ac.uk or by way of the form below.

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