As I’ve committed to looking at culture from all over the world, I realised I needed to start seeking out some work from smaller countries, not only large countries with huge populations and a wide choice of authors in translation. Andorra is tiny, with an area of less than 500 sq km and a population of about 80,000.
Writer Michèle Gazier was born in Andorra, although she now lives in France. Her work didn’t seem to be available in English, but I found a book in French that I thought wouldn’t send me reaching for the dictionary too often – a graphic novel about the life of Virginia Woolf, with beautiful, rich illustrations by Bernard Ciccolini. I’m a bit of an admirer of Woolf, but my knowledge of her life was quite bitty and incomplete, so I was genuinely interested to read this book and find out more, without investing (yet) in a massive doorstop of an autobiography. And I got to discover an Andorran writer at the same time!
The book, published in 2011, is part of a series entitled “Grand Destins de Femme” that seeks to provide potted biographies of important women throughout history. Gazier and Ciccolini, along with other writers and illustrators, worked on other books in this series, which includes studies of Coco Chanel, Isadora Duncan, Hannah Arendt and more.
Although the graphic novel format meant this was a simplified and slightly simplistic life (and the book is short, at around 90 pages), the ups and downs of Woolf’s life were undiluted. I learnt about her childhood and love of summer at St Ives, various escapades she took part in as a young woman (such as the Dreadnought hoax of 1910 – which wouldn’t go down quite so well nowadays), her travels and her marriage to Leonard Woolf, in addition to the development of her career as a writer, publisher and critic.
Although in many ways privileged, Woolf had more than her fair share of early losses: her beloved mother died when she was 13, her older, substitute mother-figure of an elder sister, Stella, when she was 15, her authoritarian but much-loved father when she was 22, and her brother and soul mate, Thoby, when she was 24.
The chronology, once Woolf was out of childhood, seemed a bit loose in places, but this book was a fun and informative read, albeit admittedly a bit niche for the tastes of most English-speaking readers of this blog! However, if you’re looking for way to refresh or improve your French, the books in this series are a great way to do it, while learning more about the lives of some important and influential women.