reading (and writing about) the letters to Tissot

I first met Samuel Auguste Tissot in 2007. Well. Met is perhaps the wrong word given that he died over 200 years ago. But I made his acquaintance, shall we say, via the woman who was the subject of my doctoral thesis, Suzanne Curchod Necker. Madame Necker, inveterate sufferer, was one of his patients.

And as I was working with archival material related to her life at the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne at the time, and as that collection houses the incredibly rich Fonds Tissot, I decided to go poking around, at least at a superficial level.

What I found were fascinating letters written by people just like Madame Necker. People who lived complicated, messy lives and whose bodies told them complicated, messy stories.

I couldn’t spend much time with them, because Madame Necker was most insistent that I pay attention to her (my supervisory committee and my degree requirements were also most insistent on this point…), but I transcribed a few letters just to play with them when I had time.

Fast forward to 2010.

I’d finished my thesis. I’d just finished my first two whirlwind years as a faculty member in the Department of (what was then) Women’s Studies at Memorial University. My thesis was well on its way to becoming my first book.

I finally had time to play.

And so back to Lausanne I went. The collection was as rich as I remembered. The letters were as intriguing as I recalled. The library staff were just as friendly and helpful as they had been before. And the university, situated within spitting distance of Lake Geneva, was just as spectacular a place to work as it had been in the past.

The view from my window in the Salle des manuscripts, BCUL

The view from my window in the Salle des manuscrits, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne

100 metres away from the library. And yes, it does look like this almost every day during the month of June.....

100 metres away from the library. And yes, it does look like this almost every day during the month of June…..

I spent three glorious weeks reading and thinking and reading some more and thinking some more and then reading and thinking again. I started free writing. And reading and thinking and writing. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And that’s where my research project – and now book – came into being.

Did I mention how beautiful Switzerland is? This is the view from Gruyères, Switzerland. Cheese sampling is also a recognized scholarly method, in case you were wondering.

Did I mention how beautiful Switzerland is? This is the view from Gruyères, Switzerland. Cheese sampling is also a recognized scholarly method, in case you were wondering.

The 'gru' of Gruyères.

The ‘gru’ of Gruyères.

Thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which supported this research project through a Standard Research Grant between 2011 and 2015, I took another two trips to Lausanne. I read letters. I took photos of letters. More reading. More thinking. More writing.

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A window box in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland.

The Chateau and Protestant Church in Yverdon-les-Bains early on a Saturday morning. Yverdon-les-Bains, which boasts a proud intellectual heritage (and thermal hot springs!) was home to one of the stars of my book - a young man named Gauteron struggling between his sexual desires and his Protestant faith. His faith won out.

The Chateau and Protestant Church in Yverdon-les-Bains early on a Saturday morning. Yverdon-les-Bains, which boasts a proud intellectual heritage (and thermal hot springs!) was home to one of the stars of my book – a young man named Gauteron struggling between his sexual desires and his Protestant faith. His faith won out.

Along the way, I talked theory with my graduate students. I talked life writing with my undergrads. Grad students and I transcribed letters. I started a blog. I had conversations with Kyla Madden at MQUP. A group of scholars in Lausanne created a web-based archive of the Tissot letters. And everything percolated and simmered and brewed and bubbled.

I filled notebooks with primary source materials and research journaling.

Let's all say it together:

Let’s all say it together: “I love my moleskine notebooks!”

Yes, it's definitely important to check out the health of your husband-to-be.....

Yes, it’s definitely important to check out the health of your husband-to-be…..

I filled excel spreadsheets with quantifiable data.

No, the coloured dots aren't random.

No, the coloured dots aren’t random.

I filled computer files with freewriting.

IMG_3895

IMG_3896

I filled RefWorks with references. Well, a grad student did that.

And in 5.5 years – between May 2010 and September 2015 – I went from this:

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writing through my thinking…

to this.

Fresh from MQUP!

Fresh from MQUP!

To make a long story short: Telling the Flesh: Life Writing, Citizenship, and the Body is finally out! I’m so very delighted! And I’m so thrilled to share it with you!

You can find it at the MQUP website. Or on the Chapters/Indigo website. You can pre-order it on Amazon. You can even pre-order it via Powell’s, my favourite labyrinthine independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon.

To all of you who helped this project at various points along its journey – and you are many – thank you.

St. John’s folks: keep eyes and ears open for a book launch; hopefully once the September crazies have subsided a bit.

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