The Part of the Ashes by Emmanuelle Favier: what we do with our collective history

Emmanuelle Favier's Part of the Ashes: what we do with our collective history


Highly noted novelist since the publication of her books Virginia and The Courage that rivers need, Emmanuelle Favier is offering this year The Ashes Share. This monumental fresco examines what we inherit and what was taken from us, throughout history. It also shows what we do with our family and collective history, and how we struggle with the wounds of the past. 

In 1812, the young Sophie Rostopchine fled Moscow, which her father, the governor, had just set on fire after the attack by the imperial army of Napoleon I. It is this same Sophie who will later become the Countess of Ségur and who will create the famous character of Sophie.

Henri Beyle, who is not yet Stendhal, hangs out in the city in flames. Napoleon, humiliated, locks himself up in the Kremlin. Nothing is right in this world anymore. Sophie, during her exile to Paris, hid her diary in a box. We lost the key, but this treasure will reappear over the decades, during two centuries of war and looting.

Emmanuelle Favier, a formidable writer, plunged head first into long research to write this very dense novel, rich in historical details, which gives great importance to art.

“The starting point , it is really my meeting with Muriel de Bastier, to whom I dedicate the book, who has been working for 20 years on spoliation, that is to say on the search for the provenance of works and their restitution, when it is possible”, she comments, in an interview from Paris. 

“What interested me was really how today we deal with this issue. Our legacy, finally, of this war and all these tragic episodes. How we try to repair, even today, the wounds of a past which is ultimately not really ours, since it is now the generations of our grandparents and our great-grandparents. /p>


Muriel de Bastier's experience, her desire to recount and testify to everything she had experienced joined Emmanuelle Favier's own obsessions on the question of inheritance, transmission, determinisms, she explains. -elle. 

“Our family history, our collective history, our world history and what we do with it all, how we struggle with it all: these are my own obsessions that I deal with in all my novels.”

Very quickly, it dawned on her that she needed to talk about writers and literature. “What I inherit the most is literature. This is my story, my family. My relationship to history is linked to the history of literature. My family, my models on which I rely, are the writers. And who is the first writer you read, at least when you are a little girl? She is the Comtesse de Ségur.”

The manuscript is the first object that we will follow, over the course of this two-century journey. “I wanted it to be an unpublished, unknown, perhaps imaginary manuscript by the Comtesse de Ségur, who is the first author we read.”