‘Normandy by Nico Jungman’ says the title of this 1905 book, and his paintings decorate its pages generously. However the text is by Geraldine Edith Mitton, who doesn’t get a mention until you open its pages. Does this explain some of her rather sour views on Normandy within? Geraldine does not seem altogether convinced by Normandy in her first chapter saying:
“It has often been said that Normandy is a beautiful country, or as it is less happily expressed, “So pretty,” and this is not altogether true; no doubt there are parts of Normandy which are beautiful, such as the banks of the Seine, and the country about Mortain and Domfront, but there are also parts as dully monotonous as the worst of Holland or Picardy.”
But she stuck with it and the book is a charming mix of history and honest observation.
The illustrations by Nico Jungman reflect his Dutch artistic training; simple, calm studies of Normandy, Nico sees beauty in ordinary things. Here are just a few of his Normandy illustrations with snippets of Geraldine’s text.
Caudebec is one of the most charming of the small Norman towns, and is beloved of artists; unfortunately, as it advances in fame it loses that unsophisticated innocence which was one of it’s delights. The church is so magnificent that it merits the designation cathedral, and the quaintness of the ancient timber houses leaning over the narrow street, down which, as in all mediæval cities, a stream runs to carry off the refuse and drainage, is part of the delight of this little place – Geraldine Mitton 1905
Smaller towns by the Seine
A great river always exercises an attraction upon a certain class of people, and when that river is lined by historic towns and flows through beautiful country, it cannot fail to be attractive to everyone. As we have said, the Seine belongs to France rather than Normandy; very French are the views of its olive green flood, with the blue-green fringe of poplars, and the cliff-like scarred banks to be seen so continually in its course; but yet in some of the towns we shall pass, especially the smaller ones, there still lingers the breath of things Norman – Geraldine Mitton
The women do a great deal of the work. Far out on a country road one overtakes an old, wrinkled, shrivelled woman, whose right place is surely not far from her hearthstone, trudging along with a great scythe over her shoulder.
The market carts one meets on the roads are driven by women more often than men; women tend the cows as they feed quietly by the wayside; women do the work in the fields; they do the milking, frequently also in the fields; where the great glittering copper jugs may be seen, standing on the grass, shining in the sun; the women make the butter; and when one thinks that to all this are added the multifarious duties of maternity and housekeeping, there is little wonder that Norman women have small time to think of their personal appearance, and are usually far from beautiful, though their brown shining faces generally have that comeliness which the content of a well-filled useful life gives – G.E.Mitton
In Lisieux, prettily situated amid its broken green hills, we have a fine cathedral, which shares to the full in that irregularity so often found in Norman churches. One tall spire springs from a platform base, and its companion ends in a conical stumpy gable. The manufacturing part of the town lies mostly south of the railway, and the wonderful carved wooden houses which attract visitors from all parts reproduce the best features of those already noted elsewhere – G.E.Mitton
Mont Saint-Michel – a cage
Such are a few of the glories of the Mount when first approached; but the reverse side of the medal quickly shows itself. It is impossible to be there for a couple of hours without feeling oneself in a cage. To begin with, the mountain, like the moon, shows only one face, and try as one will, it is but unsatisfactory glimpses one can get of the other.
Full of the ardour of discovery the visitor starts out. The little, crooked, narrow main street, if street it can be called, is full of picturesque bits, of visions of blue sky of an intense and dazzling brightness, framed in towering irregular walls. But no time is allowed for enjoyment of these peeps, for in the tiny shops full of penknives, trinkets, paperweights, and every atrocity that has ever been perpetrated under the name of souvenir, the women are waiting to pounce like spiders on any visitor, and pester him to buy their wares. There is no escape. One may pass on quickly, only within a very short time to be brought up by a high blank wall, baffled and annoyed, as visions of sitting on a rocky promontory, and enjoying the quiet evening light grow more remote – G.E.Mitton
In the midlands
The route from Dieppe to Paris is well known to many a traveller, and the feeling of anyone who sees it for the first time will probably be surprise at its likeness to England. If the journey be in the spring-time, he will see cowslips and cuckoo flowers in the lush green grass, amid which stand cows of English breed. The woods will be spangled with starry-eyed primrose and anemones, while long bramble creepers trail over the sprouting hedges. Even the cottages, red-tiled or thatched, are quite familiar specimens; and it is only when some rigid chateau, in the hideous style most affected by modern France, built of glaring brick, and with an utter absence of all attempt at architectural grace, is seen up a vista of formal trees, that he will realise he is not in the Midlands – G.E.Mitton
The washing shed
A sound of voices and splashing of water will bring us to a strange place, the town washing-shed, where, with the dim light from the roof gleaming on the soapy green water, and the time-worn posts, we shall find a score of women, perhaps some of them actual descendants of Harletta’s, slapping and splashing the soiled linen with as much heartiness as ever did the girl who was to become the mother of a line of kings – Geraldine Mitton 1905
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And there we leave Geraldine Mitton and Nico Jungman on their Normandy journey. We will be sharing more of Nico’s illustrations and Geraldine’s observations, later in the year.