Illustrated manuscript by a 15-year-old orphan at the Monastery of St. Claire in Aurillac, France
M'tère de Ste Claire d'Aurillac. Résumé des exercices de la 4ème classe. Lucie Darses, enfant de Marie. 1899. Aurillac, France: Made by hand, 1899. Oblong quarto, 14 x 9 inches. Hardcover, black embossed paper boards backed in green calfskin. 23 manuscript leaves, amateurishly bound with some pink sewing thread visible in places. Condition Very Good with some scuffing to the exterior, mild foxing primarily to endpapers and intermittent fingersoil in the margins.
An eclectic manuscript culminating a young woman’s Class 4 studies (roughly the end of middle school in the U.S. system), summarizing the lessons and showcasing her promise as a teacher. Incredibly earnest, vulnerable, and possibly cunning—depending on translation. The first section presents standard grammar and arithmetic lessons done in decorative calligraphy, accented with swathes of color and graphic elements. Then, two illuminating epistles—first to the parish priest (Monsieur le curé). She writes that she is fifteen and soon to complete her exams, but will then have nowhere to go. She says that she was brought to the monastery as an orphan and now wishes to stay and become a primary education teacher, then petitions him with a hearty dose of ingratiation to use his influence to find her a suitable posting—preferably, right where she is. The second letter is to “Mademoiselle,” presumably a young patroness, expressing happiness to be able to stay within the parish and asking if Mademoiselle would provide her 400 francs to live on.
The calligraphy is fine in quality and scale, though the coloration and naive quality of the motifs, particularly the title page, betray the young woman’s disposition—more refined than a child's work, but lacking the sophistication of a mature hand. She identifies with Enfants de Marie (Children of Immaculate Mary), a group of young women under the care of Filles de la charité (Daughters of Charity) who received rigorous educational and religious instruction, intended to shape an elite class who could bolster Catholic influence in France's changing social climate. Secularism in France would soon come to a head with the 1905 law separating Church and State and records suggest that the monastery’s land was sold shortly thereafter. However the nuances of the letters' language (that have been lost on this inexpert translator) bear out, the manuscript is a very particular piece made at a time of transition for the young woman as well as the institutions she was part of.