Voices of the People in Nineteenth-Century France
Cambridge University Press 2017
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FolkloreNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network December 25, 2017 Rachel Hopkin
The author of this book, David Hopkin, is Professor of European Social History at Hertford College, Oxford. He is also my brother. However, I’m not featuring him on New Books in Folklore because of some misguided sense of nepotism, but rather because although he is historian by training, he is a folklorist by vocation. This duality is amply evident in his book Voices of the People in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge University Press, 2017) in which he explicitly states that he is proselytizing for a folkloric turn within the discipline of history. As he explains in his introduction, this turn essentially makes two demands of historians. Firstly, I want them to consider oral literature such as tales and songs as appropriate sources for historical analysis; secondly I want to acquaint them with those aspects of post-war folklore scholarship that provide powerful methodologies for understanding popular culture.
The bulk of the book is then given over to a series of case studies in which Hopkin practices what he preaches as he mines folklore collections for material which he then examines and interprets in order to shed light on the lives of ordinary people. The chapter titles indicate his chosen subjects: “Storytelling in a Maritime Community: Saint-Cast, 1879-1882,” “The Sailors Tale: Storytelling on Board the North Atlantic Fishing Fleet,” “Love Riddles and Family Strategies in the Dyemans of Lorraine,” “Storytelling and Family Dynamics in an Extended Household: The Briffaults of Montigny-aux-Amognes,” “Work Songs and Peasant Visions of the Social Order” and “The Visionary World of the Vallave Lacemaker.” His interpretations of the archival records offer ideas about how the folk were able to challenge authority figures from a position of safety, negotiate inequalities within their own families, maintain communal bonds despite often trying conditions, and achieve strategic marital alliances. More broadly, he shows how traditional oral forms stories, songs and riddles—provided viable mechanisms through which the poor were able to assert some degree of control over their own destinies.
Rachel Hopkin is a UK born, US based folklorist and radio producer and is currently a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University.