Confessions of a Concierge

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Madame Lucie`s History of Twentieth-Century France

Bonnie G. Smith

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Bonnie Smith here tells Madame Lucie's colorful life history, first by skillfully recording the concierge's reminiscences and then by describing her own observations as a participant in Madame Lucie's world. The overall effect is an unusual, richly textured image of modern France as it was experienced by a figure of the working class. Madame Lucie's life and her memories—moving, engrossing, entertaining—are a valuable source of insight into French culture and society. As she herself says early in the book, "What I'm telling is the history of France."

"Through Madame Lucie, Bonnie Smith gives us an intimate, profoundly revealing look at the lives and outlook of ordinary French men and women.  Madame Lucie's variety of experiences—the ups and down of her economic and social status, her geographic movement, the changing patterns of her familial relations—provide a panorama of life in twentieth century France."—Christopher Johnson, Wayne State University

"A vivid and moving Life History which illuminates the interdependent meanings of both terms. Bonnie Smith has written a creative, artful documentary. The simple story of a quite ordinary woman becomes a way of exploring the significance of history in the construction of individual identity and social relationships. Written sparely and with care, the book is clearly a labor of love."—Joan W. Scott, Nancy Duke Lewis University Professor and Professor of History, Brown University

"Bonnie G. Smith introduces the engaging, shrewd and manipulative Madame Lucie who here proves her mettle as a 'raconteuse,'for, as she unabashedly explains, 'What I am telling is the history of France.' "—Publishers Weekly

"The book vibrates with the recollections of the engaging 'raconteuse' during her later years, when Smith was her eager audience and observer. . . . The book is a first-rate recollection of momentous times in the recent past."—Publishers Weekly

"Madame Lucie's story is emblematic of a certain kind of French existence in this century."—Kirkus Reviews

"[Madame Lucie's] talk is always deeply engaging.  She is by turns observant, self-absorbed, shrewd, coy, witty, earthy, pious, frank, evasive, but always aware of her performance and her audience. . . . When one steps back and reflects after reading Confessions Of A Concierge, one has the sense of having felt something historically authentic. . . . Bonnie G. Smith has taken an actual character and through artifice has made her seem timeless.  Let Richelieu speak as compellingly as Madame Lucie does on how to sew worms into a ball to catch eels for a picnic. . . . Let Jean-Paul Sartre and Roland Barthes relate as spicy a version of 20th-century  French culture.  No matter what the company imagines, Madame Lucie's voice comes insistently through."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

"A fascinating journey through the daily life of a very common yet wholly unique human life.  History professor Smith has combined the reminiscences of a Parisian concierge with her own observations of a subject's world."—Booklist

"The point of all this is precisely it ordinariness.  Lucie's observations may be flawed, but they're never dull:  the girl who was born into the 'belle epoque' became a scarred survivor of the century. Balzac would have liked Madame Lemaire—but this is one story that has been wrested away from the novelists."—Newsweek

"The book becomes a sidewalk-level view of eighty years of French history; it is sometimes familiar, sometimes surprising, and always interesting."—Phoebe Lou Adams, Atlantic Monthly

"Madame Lucie's early years are seamlessly rendered from Smith's interviews into a fast-paced, richly detailed narrative. . . . Madame Lucie is so frank and unpretentious, and Smith so respectful of her subject's integrity, that we are afforded an unvarnished, refreshing view of a vanished past."—Linda Simon, Smithsonian

"Bonnie Smith weaves biography and oral history into this vivid life of Madame Lucie, concierge of a Paris hotel and witness of nearly a century of French history.  Both Smith and Madame Lucie are brilliant, flexible storytellers who present life as a continual flux between the poles of tradition and scandal, politics and private life, truth and memory. The garrulous and sometimes manipulative Madame Lucie seems more real than most subjects of biography and history: she steps out of these pages as full-bodied as a character in a novel."—Ms.

"Madame Lucie's own story is the one worth remembering, savoring, even giving up sleep to enjoy. You will still awaken refreshed."—Candyce Dostert, Wilson Library Bulletin

"Public and academic libraries will want this book for their collections, since good primary source material is difficult to find and this is so charming as well."—Library Journal

"Her story is worth the telling:  micro-history can supply a sense of the real, the concrete and the immediate lacking in the generalizations of macro-history.  Bonnie Smith, working in miniature, restores a welcome human dimension to the exploration of the French past."—James F. McMillan, Times Literary Supplement

"Confessions Of A Concierge brings out nuances and levels within popular culture often over-looked."—Nancy Lyman Roelker, Modern and Contemporary France

"An unusual and captivating introduction to official an unofficial news in [Madame Lucie's] apartment house, a working-class history of Paris and France, and finally, her own life story. . . . A kaleidescopic view of twentieth-century France, sketched by a so-called ordinary French woman with a great deal of sense and courage to survive hard timers, who can teach us a few lessons on French life and manners in our century that we cannot find in history books."—The Antioch Review

"In this vivid oral history, Madame Lucie, the elderly concierge (a sort of resident manager) of a Paris apartment building, tells the history of 20th-century France from her point of view, Smith weaves in bits of biography so that, as Madame Lucie expounds her theory that history is a continual flux between tradition and scandal, readers come to know this shrewd, pious, funny, earthy storyteller as well as we know her stories.”—Feminist Bookstore News

"Garrulous reminiscences, sprinkled with tart observations on the world around her, form a vivid personal, almost novelistic account of life in France from the turn of the century to the present day."—Alida Becker, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Witty, gritty, shrewd Madame Lucie, the concierge, has seen it all, and on Bonnie Smith's book she shares reminiscences of her colorful life.  Born in the 1890's, she describes the stirring and shattering events of the twentieth century from her special perspective. . . . Confession Of A Concierge contains nearly a century of oral history, a view of the significant events in history against a backdrop of personal ups and downs.  History is seldom this entertaining."—Theodora Nelson and Andrea Gross, Good Books for the Curious Traveler Europe

ISBN: 9780300040388
Publication Date: September 10, 1987
156 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4