English Viscountess in Occupied France

During World War II, there were collaborators in all the countries the Germans occupied during the war. We know of French, Dutch, Greek or Italian men and women making common cause with the Nazi regimes of their country. This book, though, is about an English collaborator in France.



by +Lucas Dié on Books

This is the story about Priscilla, an English girl in Paris. She trained as a ballerina there and hooked a French aristocrat including family castle. That was a real aristocrat, not one with a trumped up title after the Revolution. With her marriage in 1938 she became Comtesse Doynel de la Sausserie (the book makes her a Vicomtesse, but for the life of me I couldn't find any branch of the family that were Viscounts; it could be that the old Comte was still alive, but the use of Vicomte for the oldest son was discontinued after the fall of the monarchy.). His home was the Manoir de la Sausserie; it took its name from its first owner who was the saucier of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine who gifted it to him and his family for services rendered. In the 15th century, it came to the Doynel family who still own it.



Like so many other English women in France, she could have returned to England when things turned ugly. She decided not to do that and staid. She got interned in Besançon in 1940 like about 4,000 other English women. The internment camp there was house in historical barracks; historical the French way means unkempt, dilapidated, and rat infested old buildings without heating. She spent the war in the beds of most well-known French collaborators and at least one German art dealer; or should that be art stealer?




Nicholas Shakespeare wrote Priscilla: The Hidden Life Of An Englishwoman In Wartime France. It was published by Harvill Secker. The author is first a novelist and only second a biographer. This becomes evident in this book; it reads like a mystery novel. This is not a bad thing as history should be presented in an interesting way. It definitely does that. The book is partly about Nicholas Shakespeare's quest to unravel the story Priscilla never told and partly Priscilla's story as far as he could unravel it, it works extremely well for the reader.



Unlike a novel, the reasons for doing something can not be explained by the character or the narrator. I could never make out, why she decided to stay in France as she obviously didn't do it for her husband. The book makes an excellent case for women who were constrained to collaborate, i.e. French women. In my opinion, it makes the case that more worse for her. At the end of the book I had learned a lot, and wasn't sure I had wanted to know it in the first place. The book takes you into an uncomfortable dimension of skeletons in the cupboard you think should have staid there.



Further reading