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(Translated by Alexandra L. Lesk Blomerus and Paul M. Blomerus)
JANE DIEULAFOY WAS BORN at the dawn of the Second Empire and died in May 1916, just as the battle of Verdun was raging. A contemporary of George Sand, Marie d'Agoult, and Colette, she was among those who heralded the arrival of the modern woman. While these women were accomplished as writers, artists, or philosophers, Jane Dieulafoy gained notoriety by venturing into a domain where no French woman before her had ever dared to tread: archaeological exploration. In Persia, she became an explorer and field archaeologist at a time when archaeology was a nascent science still in the process of being defined. She opened to French women a career in which they had not previously been represented at all. She remained loyal to her chosen vocation until the end of her life, devoting her last efforts to excavating the Hassan Mosque.
Like all nineteenth-century women who wanted equality with men, Jane Dieulafoy provoked sarcasm and scandal. But she did not have to endure the terrible loneliness that was so often the price for claiming this recognition. Instead she was "the beloved companion" of Marcel Dieulafoy, the husband with whom she had a partnership founded on mutual understanding, respect, and reciprocal admiration. We, like her contemporaries, cannot separate those "who were as one." Whether in Paris or on the tells of Susa, they shared the same experiences and were united by the same passion for archaeology, art, and the Orient.
* * *
Childhood in Paris and Toulouse
Jane Magre Dieulafoy was born in Toulouse on June 29, 1851, at 8 rue Jouxtaigues, in the old quarter of the Dalbade, in the heart of the old city, on the bank of the Garonne River. Her father died very soon after Jane's birth. She was the youngest of six children. The eldest, a brother, had been accidentally killed as a young man during a trip to Spain. Jane, her mother, and her four sisters developed a strong family cohesion that lasted throughout their lives.
Jane had a happy childhood, shared between Toulouse and the family's properties Terride and Langlade, where she lost herself in the pleasures of country life, already demonstrating the great vitality that impelled her on the battlefield and in the discovery of a far distant country. But after 1862 her mother chose to entrust her education to the Sisters of the Convent of the Assumption in Auteuil. This decision, which forced the little girl to live in Paris, far from her mother and beloved sisters, may seem surprising but no doubt can be explained by the exceptional intellectual qualities that Jane showed very early. Her mother, whose love for her youngest daughter never faltered, must have wanted for Jane more than the traditional education that she could give her. Indeed, at the Convent of the Assumption Jane was able to develop her talent for drawing and painting. Her mother's wish for an education that would nurture Jane's gifts seems to have been fulfilled by the sisters of the Auteuil convent. There, Jane learned several modern languages and acquired a good knowledge of Greek and Latin texts. She does not seem to have suffered greatly under the convent routine and harbored no grudge against those who imposed the cloister and its strict rules on her. She was very fond of her teachers. After the success of the first expedition in Persia, she sent them a copy of her first book, inscribed to her "old teachers" and to Marie-Eugénie de Jésus, the mother superior of the convent. The letter she sent them upon her return on August 9, 1889, makes it clear that, in Persia, Jane behaved no differently from the adolescent who had stood up to their iron rule. She showed the same courage, determination, and enterprising spirit. In any case, far from thwarting the young girl's strong personality, the pedagogy of the Sisters of the Assumption contributed to her balanced and harmonious development.
To judge the girl by the woman she became, Jane never felt irresistibly drawn to household chores or home management. Nothing repelled her more than the gloomy toils of a housewife and the thought of devoting her whole life to a boring routine. She little resembled other middle-class provincial girls. Small, slender, and blond, Jane lacked neither grace nor charm. But, with a face always crinkled in a smile, she clearly indicated that she did not care a great deal about her physical attractiveness. She adopted toward herself, others, and life in general, an attitude at once affectionate and mocking. Yet she was not at all bitter or withdrawn; on the contrary, she always wanted to get to the bottom of things before others did. She had a tremendously vibrant intelligence, devoid of affectation yet full of humor, simplicity, and generosity. From their first conversation, Marcel no doubt succumbed to her charm, which everyone acquainted with Jane recognized.
When the Dieulafoys met in late 1869 or early 1870, Marcel had just returned from Algeria. Also born in Toulouse, in 1844, he belonged to the same bourgeois merchant class as Jane, and their families were certainly acquainted. In 1863, Marcel had been admitted to the École Polytechnique and two years later attended the École des Ponts et Chaussées, where he became a brilliant engineer specializing in railways. He was then sent to Aumale in Algeria to help develop that country by building roads and railways. During his youth and early professional life, as in his later discovery of Persia or assignment in Morocco, he maintained his faith in European civilization and in the progress he thought it could bring. But his interests were divided between study and meditation, on the one hand, and adventure and the unknown, on the other. Marcel was a man of action who wanted to change the world, but in Algeria the Orient began to exert its lifelong power over him.
From their first meeting Jane was impressed by this tall, elegant young man with good manners and a face still tanned by the hot Algerian sun, a man who exuded at once a firm determination and a deep gentleness. She was only nineteen years old and had just left the convent. Despite her misgivings about the kind of marriage she saw around her and her determination not to submit to the authority of a spouse, Jane quickly accepted his marriage proposal, and May 11, 1870, marks the beginning of their forty-six-year companionship. When they were united "for better or worse," they agreed on a way of life. Their relationship was founded on their acknowledgment of equality in difference. Jane gave up neither her identity nor her independence, while Marcel respected and admired her precisely for what distinguished her from other women. In 1870 he was employed by the Midi Railways and was determined in his free time to nurture his passionate curiosity about art and archaeology. To their cultural itinerary he added the discovery of the great countries of Europe-their opulence, monuments, and museums. He was most interested in the origin of religious architecture and the Western military, which he thought he had found in Muslim countries.
Jane enthusiastically supported his projects, which promised the life of which she had always dreamed. Yet her desire for adventure, her fondness for risk and action were soon to be satisfied in a most unexpected way: only three months after their marriage, war was declared against Prussia, and the Dieulafoys entered the struggle.
Married Life and the War
Marcel was not drafted, as his professional responsibilities exempted him from military service. But on September 2, 1870, news arrived at Toulouse of the catastrophic events near Sedan: the flagging French forces were at the mercy of the Prussians. The Republic had organized as a "government of national defense" under Léon Gambetta and Jules Favre. But the Prussian armies had reached the very walls of Paris, where the siege continued until the end of January 1871. The government was forced to retreat to the provinces, and in early October Gambetta left the capital for Tours. There he organized the Army of the Loire, which he placed under the command of General Chanzy. Marcel was eager to play his part for his country, and in October he requested assignment to the engineering corps. Enlisted as a captain, he was given command of the troops based at Nevers.
Jane did not hesitate for an instant: she could not imagine staying in Toulouse when the man with whom she was determined to share every experience was going to risk his life. She donned a soldier's overcoat and joined Marcel on the Loire, but because the army would not accept women except as canteen workers or in disguise, she finally chose to wear the gray shirt and trousers of a franc-tireur (sharpshooter) and to participate in every mission.
Her love for Marcel propelled her, as well as her concern to defend her country at all costs. Whatever she did, Jane's determination must have been strong enough to convince Marcel to allow her to take such great risks. Did he surrender to Jane's sense, despite her youth, of patriotic duty? No doubt, she could not resist the vocation of "woman warrior," as her companions liked to call her. Certainly, Jane never condoned the war whose horrors she came to know. But perhaps her participation allowed her to fulfill some of her aspirations. In experiencing the same hardships as the men, did she not demonstrate that women could have the qualities usually attributed to men? Additionally, war allowed her to put on the masculine clothing that she would eventually wear exclusively as a symbol of equality with men.
During the terrible winter of 1870-71, Jane fully assumed her chosen responsibilities. With Marcel and his men she spent nights in the snow and cold as well as sharing their interminable journeys on horseback. In these dramatic circumstances, the soldiers rose to the occasion, and acts of heroism became a daily occurrence. Jane, however, was especially remarkable for her audacity and composure, which were acclaimed by General Barrail during the course of an inspection visit at the Nevers encampment. The cross of the Legion of Honor, which Jane would receive upon her return from the expedition in Persia, recognized as much the soldier of 1870 as the intrepid explorer and archaeologist she became.
Nonetheless, despite the soldiers' determination, the provincial armies proved to be powerless to break through the Prussian lines and liberate Paris. Crushed by the siege and the terrible winter, the capital was forced to surrender on January 28, 1871. At the end of their strength and hope, with an enduring bitterness in their hearts, the Dieulafoys made their way back to Toulouse, where daily life gradually resumed its normal rhythm.
Actually, the young couple did not embark on a normal conjugal life until the end of the winter of 1871. Upon his return to Toulouse, Marcel was assigned to the municipal maintenance service. In this capacity he had charge of municipal buildings and historic monuments and conceived some very large projects for his city. The Dieulafoys moved into a large apartment at number 63, rue d'Alsace-Lorraine (in the early 1970s the apartment still preserved the Dieulafoys' decor; and the collection of Persian faience that they assembled could still be admired there). Like Marcel, Jane again put on civilian clothes and probably gave up her masculine clothing during this period in Toulouse. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that she would dare to wear a coat and trousers when Marcel had to tend to important municipal matters. Such a practice would have shocked the sensibilities of the citizens of the city.
Starting in 1874, Marcel, who retained his burning interest in architecture and archaeology, became architect of historic monuments under Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Napoleon III's architect. He thus had many occasions to discuss with Viollet-le-Duc his ideas about the origins of Western architecture. These exchanges inspired him to go to the Orient and verify the intuitions he had in Algeria. Having returned from the ordeal of war, the Dieulafoys now sought to realize the dreams they had forged at the beginning of their marriage. They set out on the path to the Orient together.
They left France each year, for many years, on journeys of discovery to Egypt and Morocco. In the 1870s the archaeological riches of Egypt were being brought out of the desert by Auguste Mariette, who was well known in Paris for the Egyptian temple he reconstructed for the 1867 World Exposition. 5 The Dieulafoys probably sought him out to guide them through Saqqarah. But the Dieulafoys also visited the countries of northern and southern Europe: England, Belgium, Austria, Italy, and Spain. If Jane kept a journal on these first travels, no trace of it remains. She apparently did not feel the need to record her experiences for posterity.
Meanwhile, Marcel maintained his deepening conviction that the Orient held the secret to medieval Western architecture. He began to think that he should dedicate himself entirely to resolving this question. In 1879, with Jane's concurrence, he decided to take a leave from his post at the Midi Railways and to move decisively, along with his wife, into an archaeological career.
The Exploration of Persia
During the 1880s the Dieulafoys discovered Persia, traveling from Tabriz to Tehran, Esfahan, and Shiraz. They also undertook to excavate the ruins of Susa. For Jane Persia would be a place of self-fulfillment, for in the Orient she became a writer and archaeologist. The notes she took on places they passed through-whether on horseback or in camps, caravansaries, or mud huts-gave rise to the travelogues published in the review Le Tour du Monde followed by the report of the excavations at Susa. In the 1890s she began publishing historical novels in which the heroes conjured up by Jane's vivid imagination walked in the ruined palaces where Darius, Artaxerxes Mnemon, and Parysatis had lived and breathed.
As for Marcel, he was preoccupied by the question of the beginnings of Gothic art in twelfth-century Europe. He discussed this subject intensely with Viollet-le-Duc, who suggested in his Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle that the Crusades and Eastern architecture were the origin of the "Gothic revolution." In defense of this thesis, Marcel Dieulafoy supplied his observations from his time in Morocco, Egypt, and Spain. Marcel's experience and his passionate interest in the origins of European Gothic art gave his "patron" the idea of sending him to Persia to examine oriental monuments of the Sasanid period and verify their hypothesis.
Before he could depart on this expedition, Marcel had to go to Paris to gather the necessary supplies and organize the expedition. While he was there, Viollet-le-Duc introduced him to Louis de Ronchaud, the secretary general of the Ministry of Fine Arts. De Ronchaud obtained leave for Marcel from the Midi Railways and, once he became director of the National Museums, put all his influence and energy behind Dieulafoy's endeavors.
For many decades, the Orient had fascinated Europeans. Orientalism became the mode that Byron, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, and George Sand fostered in their writing. In politics the Orient, and in particular Persia, was the stake in European rivalries. France and Great Britain fought for preeminence in the countries of the Levant. The British and the Russians each tried to subjugate Persia, which remained independent. The French thought they could play an intermediary role and in so doing opened up an enormous market for their products. After a fruitless attempt by Napoleon I to curb the progress of Britain in Asia, France had no presence in Persia for thirty years. Then, in 1840, Louis-Philippe sent a diplomatic delegation headed by M. de Sercey to obtain the same commercial advantages enjoyed by the Russians and the British.
Excerpted from BREAKING GROUND by Getzel M. Cohen Martha Sharp Joukowsky Copyright © 2004 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
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