THE MADELEINE PROJECT
Uncovering a Parisian Life
A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age,
A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.
- New Vessel Press
- September 2017
- 285 Pages
“In a time when platforms like Twitter seem more dangerous than hopeful, Clara Beaudoux’s magnificent The Madeleine Project offers a respite … a sweet, respectful ode to an ordinary life. It stands as an antidote to pessimism around the social media age—which does not, as it turns out, prevent us from forming bonds, but in fact may enable us to build them across time and space.”—Foreword Reviews (Starred Review)
“Beaudoux’s exploration of Madeleine grows poignant as she moves from casual speculation to focused investigation and interviewing her neighbors, ultimately elevating the woman’s humble life into something inexplicably familiar.”—Shelf Awareness
“This magical book tells history in a brilliant, original way for the 21st century and is a deeply moving reconstruction of an ordinary life. Thanks to Clara Beaudoux, Madeleine becomes an unforgettable heroine. I loved this book and shall read it again and again.”—Anne Sebba, author of Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation
1. Though The Madeleine Project is a true story, in many ways it’s also a triumph of imagination—author Clara Beaudoux was curious enough to sort through all of the “stuff” left behind by a woman she’d never met, and to ask the questions that ultimately led to the book. Have you ever had a similar experience? Have you ever looked through a stranger’s letters, their photo albums, knickknacks and antiques and wondered, What were their lives like?
2. Cleaning out our attics, clearing our basements of stuff that’s piled up through the years‚—it’s something we all do. Does this book make you think differently about keeping some of the things from your past that you’d usually relegate to the wastebasket?
3. If one hundred years from now a complete stranger were to go through your things the way Clara went through Madeleine’s, what story do you think they’d be able to tell about you? What would you want them to know/find?
4. The Madeleine Project may make you uncomfortable. Don’t we all have a right to our privacy? you might ask. Did this question occur to you while reading the book? How would you answer it? Do you think the author herself addresses it sufficiently?
5. How did the unique format of the book—hundreds of Tweets, including pictures and feedback from fellow Twitter users—influence the way you read it? How does the format of The Madeleine Project change the way you experienced the story?
6. What would you have done if you had been the one to discover Madeleine’s storage room? Would you have tossed it out? Or would you have sorted through it, and kept certain objects while discarding the rest?
7. How do you feel about the people in Madeleine’s life such as her neighbors and godson who didn’t initially care to keep Madeleine’s possessions? Her rich life story would have been lost had it not been for Clara’s burning curiosity. Do you fault the others for not taking the initiative to save Madeleine’s possessions?
8. The book’s subtitle is “Uncovering a Parisian Life.” What do find particularly French about Madeleine’s life (and Clara’s)? How might her existence in a U.S. city have been different?
9. What are some of the things you wish Clara had been able to find out more about? What do you still want to know about Madeleine? And how do you feel about this ninety-some year old Frenchwoman who experienced the joys and terrors of the twentieth century? Do you admire her? Pity her? Do you wish to have known her?
10. Is there one person in your life, past or present, alive or dead, whose stuff you wish you could sort through, and find answers to certain questions?
Her name was Madeleine, and she would have been one hundred years old in 2015. My name is Clara, and I’m thirty-one.
We never knew one another, and yet we are sharing the same apartment, or at any rate have shared it, although at different times. Madeleine lived there for twenty years. She died one year before I moved in, and in the meantime the apartment had been completely renovated.
The cellar storage room that came with the apartment had been left in its original state, an interstice preserved from oblivion. Once I’d sawn through the padlock I could see it had been left very tidy, with everything packed away in cardboard boxes—Madeleine’s life, objects, photographs, letters.
For several days last November I immersed myself in it all, and I decided to make an inventory of storage room No. 16 over Twitter, to lose myself in this fascinating puzzle of memories, to migrate from little boxes to suitcases full of documents, to allow her life and mine to mingle for a brief period. Over two “seasons,” thousands of Twitter followers were drawn to my reporting as I recorded, in missives of 140 characters or less, the material that has now been drawn together in this book.
I was in search not of lost time but of a time that had been lived, of fragments of memory marked by History. Was the purpose to combat forgetting? And furthermore, why insist on printing all these tweets, committing the immaterial to paper?
Was it to preserve the memory of your memory, Madeleine? To keep a trace? But what will remain of the two of us? For over two years I’ve been wanting to tell this story. So now I will try to do it, here.