Petite Anglaise

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Overview

“When Tadpole was born, I spent a sleepless night on the maternity ward gazing intently into her inky, newborn eyes, grappling to come to terms with the indisputable fact that this was an actual person looking back at me, not just a version of Mr. Frog, or me, or both, in miniature. From the outset she seemed to know what she wanted, and I realized I could have no inkling of the paths she would choose to follow. But if I watch her life unfold carefully enough, perhaps I will see clear signposts pointing to who or what she will become. Because ...
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Petite Anglaise: In Paris. In Love. In Trouble: A True Story

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Overview

“When Tadpole was born, I spent a sleepless night on the maternity ward gazing intently into her inky, newborn eyes, grappling to come to terms with the indisputable fact that this was an actual person looking back at me, not just a version of Mr. Frog, or me, or both, in miniature. From the outset she seemed to know what she wanted, and I realized I could have no inkling of the paths she would choose to follow. But if I watch her life unfold carefully enough, perhaps I will see clear signposts pointing to who or what she will become. Because when I look backward, ransacking my own past for clues with the clarity that only hindsight can bring, a series of defining moments do stand out. Moments charged with significance; snapshots of myself which, if I join the dots together, lead me unswervingly to where I stand today: from French, to France, to Paris, and to Petite Anglaise.” [ed. note - excerpted from Petite Anglaise, p.4]

Catherine Sanderson has a beautiful bilingual daughter, an authentic French boyfriend, and a Paris apartment with bohemian charm. She has what she has always wanted — a life in France.

Growing up in Yorkshire amidst a traditional family, Catherine had set her sights on a different life — a life that would immerse her in an exotic language and culture. From grammar school French lessons to teaching English in Normandy and finally to a permanent job in Paris, she was determined that France would be the place she would call home.

But now that she does, things are not so idyllic. Catherine wonders just when her life in Paris turned from wine to vinegar: She’s stuck in a dead-end administrative job, her relationship with her boyfriend has settled into a dreary routine, and the birth of their daughter has not helped to reignite the dying fire of her relationship.

The remedy to her dissatisfaction arrives in the morning headlines. While scanning the news of the day, Catherine becomes intrigued by a story profiling an internet diarist. After exploring one blog after another, and in one exhilarating moment, Catherine decides to create her own online persona, her jardin secret. At that moment, she is transformed from Catherine to Petite Anglaise, her boyfriend to Mr. Frog, her daughter to Tadpole, and her life to something she could never have predicted.

What begins as a lighthearted diversion, a place to discuss the fish-out-of water challenges of ex-pat life in Paris, soon gives way to a raw forum for her to bare her most intimate secrets and impulsive desires. Thousands of readers log-on to the blog and are witness to the ever-widening gulf between Petite Anglaise and Mr. Frog. Those public revelations of her growing frustrations, which play out in each successive post, begin to surreptitiously yet irrevocably erode their relationship.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

From the moment she started French lessons at her Yorkshire grammar school, Sanderson was hooked on all things French. Soon she found herself a pen pal in Lyons whom she just had to visit, and then an exchange job or two in France after graduation. Before long, she was living full-time in Paris with the French boyfriend (aka "Mr. Frog") who'd fathered her daughter. The office job that made her French dream possible wasn't exactly riveting, but one day, when she was roaming the Internet, she discovered the world of bloggers. She created her own, christening herself "Petite Anglaise," and gave birth to her very own "alter ego." At first, being Petite Anglaise gave Sanderson a vehicle for commenting on the lifestyles of the French; gradually, it became a sounding board for her domestic discontents. Not only was her blog an enormous hit, she also began to enjoy the attentions of one of Petite Anglaise's online fans. Naturally—as any romance reader could predict—she ditched Mr. Frog in favor of the online lover. Sanderson's memoir is compulsively readable, especially since she's jazzed up the basic romance formula with all the issues around blogging, like the problem of Petite Anglaise being "wittier and sexier" than she is. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In 2004, a British secretary living in Paris turned on her PC, and the blog Petite Anglaise (www.petiteanglaise.com) was born. (The author was nicknamed Petite Anglaise by a boyfriend's father.) Four years later, that blog has become this book, which details many aspects of Sanderson's Parisian existence. A decade living in France gave the author a lot to write about, including a long-term relationship that produced a child but ended when she met someone else through her blog. Sanderson takes readers on a fascinating tour of her life that spotlights some lovely Parisian sights along the way. In some of her earlier blog posts, many of which appear here, Sanderson frequently mentioned her struggle to reconcile the two parts of her persona-her blogging self and her "real-life" self. With this book, she succeeds in filling the blog's gaps. A well-written account by a Francophile; recommended for public and larger academic llibraries.
—Erica Swenson Danowitz

Kirkus Reviews
Expat in Paris creates a blog that ends up dramatically altering her humdrum life. Debut memoirist Sanderson hadn't even heard of blogs until the Guardian ran a feature on the popular Belle de Jour, a blogger who wrote about her life as a high-class call girl. Fascinated, the author decided that starting her own Internet diary could be the perfect distraction from her frustrations with a dead-end job, a lusterless relationship and a dwindling social life as the mother of a toddler. Using the nom-de-Web "Petite Anglaise," she began writing anecdotes about her adopted city with a fish-out-of-water slant. Soon she moved on to the emotional terrain of work, boyfriend-referred to as "Mr. Frog"-and their daughter, "Tadpole"; her emotional candor and unflinching honesty quickly gained her an active following. Sanderson began to meet some of her fellow bloggers and readers, setting a precedent for blurring the line between Internet existence and reality. After one date and one tryst in a hotel with "Jim in Rennes," she fell in love and overturned her life for him, breaking up with Mr. Frog and pursuing a relationship with a man who knew her primarily through her blog persona. That persona was a braver, more self-assured version of her actual self, Sanderson notes, and it was decidedly unnerving when her blog readers' postings speculated about her life in terms that suggested it was a story whose plot lines could be changed. The author's intense honesty is a double-edged sword here. Placing her insecurities in the foreground and highlighting selfish concerns in extreme emotional detail, she often comes across as narcissistic and impulsive. But her seamless, dramatically paced narration readsbeautifully, and her ear for dialogue is excellent. Evocative descriptions of Paris are an added plus. Soap-operatic navel-gazing in engaging prose. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta/PFD New York
From the Publisher
“A digital-age fairy tale set in Paris. . . . Petite Anglaise is light, frank and tremendous fun.”
Guardian (UK)

“Back-story unseen in the blog, and novelistic fluency. . . . Wry and often wise insights into worlds real and virtual.”
Independent (UK)

“Written with breathtaking candour, it will appeal to existing fans and new readers alike.”
Daily Express (UK)

“Magnificent for the most traditional of reasons. Sanderson has a novelist’s gift for capturing certain eternal situations. This book could have been called ‘Madame Bovary on the Metro to the Childmonder’s.’”
Financial Times

“[Sanderson’s] simple, but evocative descriptions of Paris bring the city to life. . . . Though Sanderson writes about her personal experience, she touches on larger issues. Readers will relate to her struggle to find her city, her true love and her calling.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385522816
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/9/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine Sanderson worked for a British accounting firm in Paris when she began her blog Petite Anglaise. When her employer discovered the blog, she was fired. She lives in Paris with her daughter.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue
I snap awake after three, maybe four hours of alcohol-saturated sleep. The events of the previous night swim into stark, shameful focus and I find myself unable to move; paralysed by guilt.
Tadpole, our daughter, is chanting. A low, plaintive murmur of "mummy, mummy, mummy..." travels along the corridor from her bedroom to ours. Left unanswered, her sounds will grow louder and more insistent, the volume rising in a hairpin crescendo. Someone will have to go to her and lift her warm, sleep-scented body from her bed into ours. A task I would relish on any other day.
My groan — and the protesting arm I heave across my face to blot out the daylight which infiltrates our room through slatted shutters — has the desired effect. The bed creaks as Mr Frog hoists himself upright and stumbles wordlessly in the direction of Tadpole's room. His silence conveys many layers of disapproval. That I'd stayed out into the small hours. That I'd returned so obviously tipsy, key fumbling ineptly in the lock. That I would doubtless not be in any fit state to drag myself to work.
I hear returning footfalls and moments later anxious fingers prise my arm from my face; a pair of grey-blue eyes gaze questioningly into mine.
"Maman?"
A wave of visceral love engulfs me, but I fight the urge to clutch my daughter to me, to bury my face in the back of her neck and inhale her milky, innocent scent.
"Mummy's got a bad, bad headache," I mumble feebly, turning onto my side and burying my feverish face into the cool pillow instead.
But there is no pain, at least not in a physical sense. I am, quite simply, stricken with horror; aghast at the thought of the upheaval I am poised to inflict on our little family. Terrified that what I am contemplating can somehow be read in my face: a scarlet letter freshly branded on my forehead.
And yet, at the same time, every cell in my body vibrates at a higher frequency. I feel the blood thundering through my veins; the hair on my arms standing on end. My fear — fear of hurling myself headlong into the unknown — is shot through with giddy exhilaration. Never have I felt so guilty, nor so intoxicatingly alive.
I lie immobile while Mr Frog moves resentfully around the apartment, making no move to help as I hear him dress first Tadpole, then himself; pour breakfast cereal into her bowl.
Even before the front door slams accusingly closed behind them, I am itching to power up the computer. Spinning a web of words in my mind, I'm impatient to commit them to my blog while they are fresh and raw and new.
Snapshots
The day I created my anonymous internet diary, the nom de plume "petite anglaise" instinctively sprang to mind, and felt so very right, so very natural, that I considered no other.
Ask any English girl who has ever lived in France, and I'm sure she'll tell you she has been called a petite anglaise at some time or another. It is a name loaded with meaning: an affectionate tone implies that the anglaise in question is not just English, but cute and English; a hint of lasciviousness makes her sound sexy, but also taps into a commonly held view that English girls are rather easy.
But there is another layer of meaning I've always found appealing: those two words summed up neatly everything I ever wanted my life to be. Petite anglaise: an English girl who has been translated into French; her English life transposed into a French key.
For my pen name, or perhaps that should read mouse name, I took a liberty, dropping the "la" which should, by rights, precede it: Petite became my first name, Anglaise my surname. In a few whimsical clicks, an alter ego was born.
It's simple enough to identify what made these words such a perfect, obvious pseudonym. But I struggle to divine the source of my deep-seated desire to become a petite anglaise in the first place. What on earth could compel a girl to uproot her whole existence when she had never so much as tasted a genuine croissant? When her childhood holidays seldom took her beyond British shores, and her family tree was firmly rooted in Yorkshire? What was it that caused me to fall in love with the idea of immersing myself in a language and culture which were not my own? And why set my sights on France, in particular?
My recurring daydream, as a child, had long been one of escape. As our Vauxhall Cavalier tore along the motorway, my legs wedged at an uncomfortable angle in the narrow space behind my father's seat, my stomach lurching with motion sickness, an image played across my shuttered eyelids. Closing my ears to the sound of my younger sisters bickering beside me on the back seat, I saw myself running. I parted fronds of wheat as I cut through fields, I sliced across people's gardens, leapt over dry-stone walls and streams.
It was as if there was somewhere else I wanted to go, but I didn't know, then, where this somewhere was. In the daydream, my course ran parallel to our car. My running self had no inkling of her destination.
A few days shy of my twelfth birthday, dressed in the navy uniform of Mill Mount Grammar School for Girls, my nylon, knee-length skirt crackling with static, I took my seat expectantly in an attic classroom. The wooden desk, scarred with many generations of graffiti, was at an unfamiliar gradient and I had to place my pen with care, just so, to prevent it rolling to the floor. Mrs Barker arrived and wrote her name on the blackboard, her resolutely English surname momentarily dampening my enthusiasm. "Bonjour tout le monde!" she said brightly, and with that, my very first French lesson began. I opened the well-thumbed Tricolore textbook which was to be my guide for many years to come, pushed my wayward glasses back up to the bridge of my nose, and bent my head studiously over page one.
France. Here was a destination to bend my running steps towards; a hook to hang my daydreams on; so alluring, so exotic, so tantalising close. No matter that school French lessons consisted of little more than endlessly rehearsed role-plays and verb conjugations. No matter that my first extended stay on French soil would not take place for another six agonising years. As I sat in a numbered booth in the school language lab, cumbersome headphones blocking out the English sounds of the world around me, I closed my eyes and pretended I was actually there. I yearned to taste the two hundred grams of pâté I was instructed to buy in the grocer's shop; to visit the church or the town hall after quizzing a passer-by — invariably an elderly man wearing a beret — for directions.
"Ecoutez, puis repetez!" said the voice on the crackling tape at the start of every exercise. "Listen, then dream" would have been more apt. I'd fallen hopelessly, irrationally in love with the French language, and by extension, with France.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. At one point Sanderson writes, “Only the other day I’d lamented on my blog how thoroughly her [Tadpole’s] father tongue had gained the upper hand since her most recent stay with Mr. Frog’s parents so every syllable of English I could coax from her lips right now represented a small victory, music to my Anglo-Saxon ears.” At the same time, she’s pleased with her daughter’s increasingly effortless bilingualism. Why is Tadpole’s acquisition of English so important to Sanderson? What competing forces are at play that would account for her fluctuating reactions to Tadpole’s use of French and English?

2. In the book Sanderson describes her blog as a “window onto my soul.” She also admits that many of her entries were cries for help, pleas for attention, or thinly veiled warnings…” What do you believe are the motivations behind her decision to use blog posts as unconscious ways of communicating with the men in her life? What do you think Sanderson’s answer would be to the same question?

3. At one point in the book Sanderson relishes the fact that a recently purchased powder blue spring coat has an apple green lining that only she can see. Why does she take such pleasure in keeping something like the lining of her coat for her private enjoyment but at the same time lays her life bare to anyone who has an internet connection?

4. When Sanderson first meets one of her fellow bloggers she reveals, “I do write personal things, but I hold plenty back too. I make the final cut. I decide what to show and what not to show. All people really get are brief glimpses of our lives.” Do you wonder at what Sanderson might have held back? Are there questions that are raised in the book that still linger for you? If you were to have an opportunity to ask Sanderson any question, what would it be?

5. Being given access to the intimate details of a person’s life can create a sense of entitlement to offer advice on the actions of that person. Were there times when you wanted to offer Petite Anglaise advice? What advice would you have given her on her relationship with James, her decisions regarding Mr. Frog, or the challenges of motherhood?

6. Through much of the book Sanderson draws a distinction between herself and her nom de plume as if one were different from the other. Do you think this is a valid differentiation? Why or why not?

7. As the number of commentators increases on her blog, Sanderson notes that the more she divulges of her own life, the more other people seem compelled to do the same. What do you believe accounts for this phenomenon? Describe a situation where you have revealed more about yourself than you would have liked to and why.

8. When Sanderson goes to meet “Jim in Rennes” for the first time a friend suggests that Mr. Frog might learn better how to appreciate Sanderson if he had some competition. Do you believe this was her reason for initially meeting James? What were James’s reasons for pursuing her? What is it about e-mail that builds such intense intimacy before even a first meeting, like it did in the case of Petite Anglaise and “Jim in Rennes”?

9. After her first meeting with “Jim in Rennes,” Petite Anglaise writes that she feels she is now faced with a choice between two possible versions of the future. In the end, do you believe she made the right decision about which version to choose?

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