Sweet Briar Book Club: A French translation of C.S. Lewis

To be or not to be: Christianity – is it easy or difficult?

I recently rediscovered this book; picked up some years ago at a second hand book store and lost again among the masses. I didn’t buy it because I’m fluent in French, and while I’m interested in theology, spirituality and all faiths, that was not a contributing factor either.

I bought it because on the inside, in heartfelt cursive, is a note to ‘Des,’ penned in 1968; the year the book was published. Des. Who are you? How did you come to meet the writer of this note and what was the Christmas kindness that they so appreciated?

The stamped address on the page. I looked it up and found it.

Ste De La Vierge Fidélé
Domaine de Pigeon
Près Mortagne

Et voilà, ici

So, who was this person who, in 1968 gifted a brand new copy of this French translation to Des? A sister at the convent? A traveler who rested tired legs and enjoyed the convent’s hospitality? Where were they from? The fact that it’s written in English suggests, perhaps, that the writer was from an English speaking country and Des, possibly, from France?

Flicking through the pages of the book, a tidal wave of French jumping out from the paper, yellowed with age; another surprise is revealed.

A magazine cutting of Mary and a very young Jesus. The back has English print on it. Did the gift giver cut it out? Is it bookmarking a favourite page? Perhaps just an extra surprise for the reader; like glitter in an envelope or a favourite sweet, just because.

Or maybe it was put in there for safe keeping and forgotten about. What if Des always wondered where it went? The prayer in difficult times, by St Francois de Sales, all in French, indicates that one of them was trying to navigate some stormy seas, that Christmas of 1968. Did the gift giver put the prayer in for Des? Or did Des help the giver through a dark place, to be repaid with books and poetry? (Is there any better way?)

St Francois de Sales was known for his writings on the journey of faith and spiritual direction. He is acknowledged for his wisdom and empathy, as well as his strong devotion. Have we solved the puzzle of the nature of the struggle? Could one or perhaps both have been on their own spiritual journeys; crossing paths along the way?

We’ll never know. But as I touch those pages, those cut outs, the beautiful prayer for difficult times, I feel the wealth of history touch my fingers. Most of the works of C.S. Lewis are not published in French anymore, meaning I really am holding a treasure in my hands.


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