Last Spring, Le Seuil in Paris published a collection of letters which their anonymous editor claims to have found in the attic of a French chateau. Written between 1892 and 1902, they are remarkable not only for the tale that unfolds in them, but also for the extraordinarily vivid picture they draw of the petite noblesse, the landed gentry who maintained themselves as a distinct class until the 1914-18 war swept away almost everything on which their existence had been based. Marthe records one instance of that decline.1

When the story opens, Marthe de Montbourg is twenty, unmarried, and several months shy of bearing a child gotten on her by a servant or farmhand at the family estate in Normandy. From this predicament there arises a series of calamities which Marthe’s widowed mother,...


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