Posted on 6 September 2018
Translated from French for the first time by Dr Wendy Michallat, 320 rue St Jacques: the Diary of Madeleine Blaess reveals the compelling testimony of a young, female Sheffield academic who found herself trapped in Paris during the Occupation.
French-born, but raised in York, Madeleine Blaess studied at the University of Leeds. In November 1939 she went to Paris to study for her doctorate at the Sorbonne. In June 1940, the German invasion cut off her escape route and prevented her return to Britain. She was forced to remain in France and began to write a diary. Barely missing an entry for almost four years, Madeleine provides an unprecedented day-by-day account of the struggle to manage material deprivation, physical hardship and mental exhaustion during the Occupation.
The reader shares the detail of Madeleine’s experiences, where the loss of friends and acquaintances - either through death or imprisonment - becomes commonplace, and where the battle to stay warm and find enough food is in stark contrast to the drive of a young woman in Paris to further her academic career.
Madeleine survived the war and went on to lecture at the University of Sheffield for forty years. After her death, she donated her archive to the University of Sheffield, where it remains in the care of the University Library’s Special Collections Department. The diaries were almost lost, however, and were found under Madeleine’s bed rather than with the bulk of her papers.
Dr Michallat, Head of French Studies at the University of Sheffield, has been working on this translation since 2014. She said:
“I am thrilled to see Madeleine’s diaries published and made public at long last. Not only is this an important record of civilian life in Paris during the Second World War but it’s also a testament to Madeleine’s personal resilience and determination. She achieved her ambition of becoming a university academic at a time when there was little encouragement for women to prioritise education and career over marriage and motherhood - her diaries tell the story of a remarkable woman.”
“When Wendy first approached us about publishing this translation,” said Kate Petherbridge, the Press Manager, “we knew immediately that this was a very exciting project. Madeleine lived in York, went to Leeds University and eventually became a lecturer at the University of Sheffield. She was an extraordinary woman, with a strong connection to Yorkshire that lasted throughout her life, and White Rose University Press is proud to publish her diary”.
Read and download the diary for free through White Rose University Press.
Print copies are also available to buy online.