Aix-en-Provence The Inside Story
Two years ago, I published ‘Aix-en-Provence The Inside Story’. I embarked on it because there is so little in English on the history of this fascinating town. Guide books are very big on facades and columns but don’t say much about the people who lived in the buildings. I wanted to find out more, especially about the lives of women who rarely figure in the history books. I had lots of questions too about the working classes, equally ignored.
Once the protective power of its Roman founders had dissipated, medieval Aix endured centuries of physical attacks, political upheavals and devastation from disease. What were the social conditions during these times? How did the townspeople earn money and feed their families? In trying to find out, I uncovered some fascinating detail, but also ran into dead-ends.
During the so-called Golden Age, aristocratic Parliamentarians and rich lawyers built Baroque-influenced town-houses and brought in Italian artists to decorate them. The book looks where possible behind the doors at the families and also some of the artists working in the town. Such a life-style of course depended on an impoverished working and agricultural class who were about to be unleashed….
The French Revolution had a dramatic effect on Aix. I had little idea of its impact until I started to research it. What with aristocrats running for the borders and the unlucky few swinging from the trees in the Cours Mirabeau, plus revolutionaries pillaging the churches and the Hotel de Ville, it must have been traumatic for families trying to survive during these years.
Devastated Aix lost its status as capital to Marseille and spent the 19th century recovering and rebuilding. But local bright spirits like Mignet and Thiers were in Paris helping their native city, and Cézanne and Zola explored the Provencal countryside and dreamed of fame. We probably know plenty about them – but the book also introduces Mesdames Cézanne and Zola, long-suffering ladies both, but interesting in their different ways.
Twentieth century Aix was hit brutally by two world wars which, in the way of most conflict, was not of its making. And then, as it had done through the centuries, the town had to pick itself up and rebuild its population, its economy, its morale. What a story!
I found it fascinating to research and write, and hope readers will find it fascinating too.
From a practical point of view, no French publishers were interested in printing anything in English (I assume – emails ignored). So I went down the print-on-demand route and kept to black and white to keep the price down. One day perhaps it will find a publisher and we can get a glorious colour version. That would be wonderful!
Until then, ‘Aix-en-Provence The Inside Story’ is available here at Lulu.com and is priced at £9.99 or just under 13€, +p&p. (Once in the website, hit Buy or Acheter and put ‘Aix’ in the search box).