The Glass-Blowers Paperback
Part of the Virago Modern Classics series
Perhaps we shall not see each other again. I will write to you, though, and tell you, as best I can, the story of your family.
A glass-blower, remember, breathes life into a vessel, giving it shape and form and sometimes beauty; but he can with that same breath, shatter and destroy it' Faithful to her word, Sophie Duval reveals to her long-lost nephew the tragic story of a family of master craftsmen in eighteenth-century France.
The world of the glass-blowers has its own traditions, it's own language - and its own rules. 'If you marry into glass' Pierre Labbe warns his daughter, 'you will say goodbye to everything familiar, and enter a closed world'.
But crashing into this world comes the violence and terror of the French Revolution against which, the family struggles to survive.
The Glass Blowers is a remarkable achievement - an imaginative and exciting reworking of du Maurier's own family history.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 384 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
- Publication Date: 03/06/2004
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9781844080656
Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.
Review by Misfit
"Somehow, we no longer seemed to preach the brotherhood of man".In this book du Maurier recounts the tale of her forebears, the Busson family of master glass-blowers leading up to and through the French Revolution. Told through the POV of Sophie as she looks back on her life, daughter of master glass-blower Mathurin Busson and his formidable (in a good way) wife Magdaleine and her siblings Robert, Pierre, Michel and Edmé. For Robert, the eldest working his craft in the countryside is not enough and he dreams of greatness in Paris - but unable to manage his spending he always ends up in financial disaster and bankruptcy and he depends on his family to bail him out time and again. The countryside where the Busson family lives is not greatly affected by the first stirrings of the revolution in the cities, but that soon changes when Michel and Sophie's husband Francois become National Guardsman and find themselves slowly being caught up in the nationalist fervor sweeping the country. At first Sophie is horrified at the behavior of her brother and husband as they join others in sacking the manor houses and churches - "The people were mad. They had to have a victim. No single one of them was to blame, it was like a fever sweeping them." Eventually she too finds herself buying into the revolutionary ideals as the madness continues to grow and suspicion and rumor grip the countryside. In the end a new and "stable" government takes control but it is never enough. Eventually Sophie and her family are swept up in the War in the Vendée, a little known but horrific footnote in history (do go to Wik and read up on it). Once The Terror is over the Busson siblings rebuild their lives and eventually things come full circle with the return of Robert - who fled to England as an émigré to avoid the debts of his last business debacle. While this novel is a bit slower paced at times (although the scenes from the Vendée were downright unputdownable) and might not appeal to all readers, I enjoyed it a great deal. A refreshing change seeing the Revolution from the countryside - major events such as the taking of the Bastille, the Women's March on Versailles and the executions of Louis and Marie were events that happened far away. As maddening as he was in his doomed financial efforts, Robert was great fun and I loved the way the author worked in the "birth" of the family name in England - du Maurier. Definitely recommended for du Maurier fans or those interested in the history of the Revolution.
Review by Kasthu
The Glass-Blowers is the story of the Bussons, a family of glassblowers in the late 18th century (and ancestors to Daphne Du Murier). The story is told through the eyes of their sister, Sophie Duval, married to a master glassblower. The novel takes the family. Daphne Du Maurier wrote frequently about various members of her ancestors and family members, and this is a fantastic fictional account of the French Revolution and the effects it had on one family.Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favorite authors, but sadly, this to me wasn’t one of her better books. There’s not much about the glassblowing trade in this novel, and the details the reader gets on the events of the period are sketchy. Granted, Sophie Duval spends most of her time out in the countryside, but maybe the story could have been told from the point of view of a different member of the family? There were stretches in this novel where not much happens, which was a bit of a disappointment. But when there was action, such as the scene when the Vendeans come into their village, that are truly harrowing. I’m continually amazed, through reading fiction and nonfiction about the French Revolution, by how brutal people were.The author’s strengths, however, lie in characterization. Robert Busson, with his pretensions to grandeur, has the most heartbreaking story of them all—but in a way, he brings all of what happens to him on himself. I also enjoyed reading about how the Du Maurier family got their name—a bit of self-invention at its finest! I’m a little bit partial towards Daphne Du Maurier’s books, and so I’m rating this higher than I normally would, but I don’t think it’s one of her best.
Review by AdonisGuilfoyle
I'm always surprised by just how prolific Daphne Du Maurier really was; she is known for writing gothic novels like 'Rebecca' and 'Jamaica Inn', but also wrote short stories (such as 'The Birds', later made into a film) and non-fiction about herself and her family. 'The Glass Blowers' is a fictionalisation of the lives of her French ancestors, glass blowers from the Loir-et-Cher region of northern France, set during the Revolution. In fact, I first started this book a few years back, when I was obsessed with anything to with eighteenth century France because of my love for the Pimpernel novels by Orczy, but abandoned it midway through. This was my chance to rectify my hasty neglect of one of Du Maurier's subtler works, and to read the book on its own merits, not for a tenuous link with history, and I enjoyed the story.Told in retrospect, through a manuscript of letters from Sophie Duval to her long-lost nephew, Du Maurier constructs a historic yet private account of her ancestor, 'Robert Busson' and his brothers and sisters, the children of a master glass-maker. Robert is an 'incorrigible farceur', an opportunist and a gambler, always seeking to better himself, whether with words or risks. His money-making schemes and delusions of grandeur lead him into the thick of the action in Paris, when the Revolution comes, but also bring personal and financial ruin. Although Sophie is the storyteller, Robert captures the reader's attention and sympathy, because unlike Sophie's bloodless recounting of political violence and personal tragedy, Robert makes his own history. He is impulsive, selfish and never satisfied, but engaging and personable. Robert and Sophie's brothers, Michel and Pierre, embody the forceful reality and the idealistic theory of the Revolution respectively, and sister Edme is the standard Du Maurier feminist ('I always said she should have been born a man. Her brains and tenacity were wasted in a woman'). Their mother, the widowed matriarch of the Busson family, provides silent strength and support, unmoved by revolution and governed by good sense ('St Christophe might become Rabriant, Madame Busson a 'citoyenne', kings, queens and princes go to their death and the whole country change; but my mother had held fast to her own timeless world'). I admired both her and Robert, for entirely different reasons!The story is split between Chesne-Bidault, the glass foundry, and Paris; the domestic and public versions of the Revolution. In her introduction, Michelle de Kretser calls the Paris chapters, or Du Maurier's attempt to deal with the unwieldy dates and legends of history, 'stiffly self-conscious', and I would have to agree. Sophie reports rumours and visits Robert in the capital city, but the descriptions are loaded with clunky explanations and biographies that might have been clipped straight from a textbook: 'Like many others of my generation, I had never heard of the States-General, and it was Pierre who had to explain to me that they were deputies representing the entire nation, divided into three separate bodies ...' Also, Robespierre is name-dropped rather comically - 'Depend upon it, we shall hear more of this fellow' - and Sophie, recalling Bastille Day, can't remember if it was the thirteenth or the fourteenth of July ... I know that recounting certain names, dates and events is imperative when covering such an important chapter of history, but rather than adding tension and building the action, this part of the book feels disconnected from the story of the Busson family. Stronger and more gripping are the personal tragedies, such as the loss of babies and the divisions between brothers and sisters, and the effect of the Revolution on those at home. The Vendean uprising experienced by Sophie and Pierre's family brings to life the terror and poverty of war far more than trying to convey in one line the republican and royalist sentiments of Paris during 1789. Learning about the closed communities of glass blowers and sharing the secrets of Sophie and Robert's family are what make this book both an education and a delight to read, not a potted history of the French Revolution.Michelle de Kretser also compares this book to Orczy's Pimpernel series, and although Du Maurier takes the more acceptable republican perspective, and is perhaps less sensationalist, what unites both is the strength of the characters. I don't know how much is fact and how much is fiction, but Sophie and Robert, and Mme Busson and the children, were a joy to read about.
Review by nordie
Using her own family history as inspiration, Du Maurier gives us the aging Sophie Duval, who has promised her nephew that she will tell the story of their family, starting with her mother marrying into the local community of glass blowers.The story starts with Sophie's mother getting married in the 1770s in rural France, where the glass blowers are situated beside the forests that provide the fuel for the furnaces.Sophie herself gets married in 1788 in a joint wedding with her younger sister. It's not long before the issues building up in Paris spills out into the countryside. The storming of the Bastille and other important events is told via gossip and second hand scare mongering as panic spreads across the land, and thieves and brigands are seen in every shadow, ready to burn crops and steal wood.Over the next few years, we see how the revolution happening in the bigger towns and cities filters down into the countryside, where neighbour can turn against neighbour and family fortunes can be made and lost by a word in the wrong place.Sophie's family is directly affected where one brother, who gambles with his money and reputation, emigrates to England having been declared bankrupt too many times, and stakes his living (badly) with the other french emigres.Pierre becomes a notary, Edme works first with Pierre and then Michel as local leaders in the revolution. Both men die in their old age, tired and worn out, and Edme is left to continue her fight for a revolution that has long lost it's spark. Sophie lives into her old age where her nephew (Michel's son) has become the mayor of the local town and we're back to where the story started.The book is sub-400 pages long in this edition, so this is not an in depth detailed look at the French Revolution. du Maurier has chosen some set pieces to highlight on and there is much that is told briefly (or not at all). Therefore this is not a book for someone looking for a non-fictionalised account of the Revolution, should be seen more as a lead-in story. This is another example of du Maurier's skill is telling historical fiction, and should be much better known than it is.