A Frenchman’s Year in Suffolk, 1784
François de la Rochefoucauld & Norman Scarfe
Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2011 (1988)
Paperback. xxvii + 234 pp. ISBN 978-1843836759. £12.99
Reviewed by Isabelle Bour
Université de la Sorbonne nouvelle - Paris III
The front cover of this book, first published in 1988, is somewhat misleading, as Norman Scarfe is the translator and editor of François de la Rochefoucauld’s travel account, written for his father in 1784. The title-page with its lengthy subtitle is more detailed and accurate, as it states :
French impressions of Suffolk life in 1784 including a preliminary week in London, brief visits to Cambridge, Colchester, Mistley and Harwich and a fortnight’s tour of Norfolk. The Mélanges sur l’Angleterre of François de la Rochefoucauld supplemented by the journaux de voyage of Alexandre de la Rochefoucauld and the lettres à un ami of their companion, Maximilien de Lazowski. Translated and edited by Norman Scarfe and with a Foreword by Edmée de la Rochefoucauld.
This paperback edition is a straightforward reprint of the last hardbound edition: on page VII there is a long description of the illustrations on the endpapers which are no longer there.
Norman Scarfe’s twenty-page introduction provides useful biographical information about the duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt and his two sons François and Alexandre. Commentary on François’s perception of England is reserved for the notes, which are always precise—correcting earlier errors—if occasionally whimsical. The translation is a fluent one, couched in twentieth-century English. There are forty-four very welcome illustrations, of people and, mostly, of towns and houses visited by the French party.
François de la Rochefoucauld, only eighteen years old when he undertook his year-long visit to Suffolk and Norfolk, is an extremely perspicuous and sober observer. That is probably because he had already spent two years touring France before coming to England to improve his knowledge of the language and to learn about new agricultural and manufacturing methods. The La Rochefoucauld sons and Lazowski were lucky enough to have Arthur Young as a guide during their five-day tour on the Essex border and in East Suffolk in July 1784; that was the beginning of a staunch friendship between Young and the duke’s family. François was much struck by the prosperity of English farmers compared with their French counterparts, by the cleanliness of their houses; he also gives a lot of specific details about agricultural methods. But his long stay gave him an opportunity to find out about many other aspects of English life—tea-drinking, after-dinner drinking sessions, horse-racing at Newmarket, the relaxed approach of the English to religion, among other things. His account, arranged under various headings rather than strictly chronologically, really brings eighteenth-century East Anglia to life.
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