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Ten Reading group questions for Les Parisiennes

  1. The big wartime histories of France have, until now, been about military battles and defeat focusing on men such as de Gaulle, Hitler and Petain. Yet these names feature only incidentally in my book and the battles are mentioned just in the context of what resulted. To what extent do you think this makes Les Parisiennes ‘Women’s History’ and therefore less important or is it (as I believe) just as important to understand these lives on the home front #warwithoutthebattles.
  1. Why has it taken so long for the women’s version of events to become known? (self-effacement, need to erase memories, desire to get married and have a family, lack of recognition for women because they didn’t carry weapons or may not have been part of a registered group of resisters)
  1. How different was it for mothers? Did mothers have a responsibility to stay with their children (eg Odette Fabius abandoned her ten year old daughter in the cinema, other mothers gave away their children to a passeur without knowing where they were being taken, should a mother compromise her child by using her to carry documents if this was for the greater good?
  1. Pick one character who you think behaved especially badly and one who you feel you identified with or was especially courageous.
  1. Do you feel women were exploited by SOE F section, who desperately wanted agents in the field to shore up the French resistance but knew that men would be too easily arrested but that average life expectancy for an agent was 6 weeks.
  1. What do you understand by the word collaboration? Is it collaborating to perform on stage, is it collaborating to sell fruit and vegetables to a German, is it collaborating to buy food on the black market or to sell jewellery and high fashion to Germans when French women at home had nothing?
  1. Why do you think fashion continued to matter to Parisian women even at a time of war? And to what extent is that concern vanity or can it be justified as an important aspect of self-respect and pride by not giving in to an occupying force?
  1. To what extent did all women have a choice both during the Occupation and Post war? Do you think Parisienne women behaved in a particularly sisterly way after 1945 or do you think the political resisters (largely non-Jewish) should have been more supportive of the Jewish resisters, many of whom were sent to Auschwitz and, seen as victims, did not therefore receive the same recognition?
  1. After the Liberation, why did so many men punish women accusing them of ‘collaboration horizontale’ – often without trial – whereas several of the male, economic collaborators were never punished. Is head shaving ever justified since after all hair grows back or women can wear a turban (as Andrée Doucet commented).
  1. Having read the book, how would you define a Parisienne? And is that different from how you would have defined a Parisienne before reading the book?
  1. What aspect of the book did you find the most surprising…eg that prostitutes were helpful to resisters and have barely had their role recognised, that women did not have the vote in France until 1946, that a woman was guillotined in France in the 1940s for organising an abortion?  Or that Paris was a largely feminised city throughout the war as millions of men were absent, as prisoners, in hiding or dead?

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