A young American artist, Marjorie “Midge” Price, abandons the comfort of her Chicago suburb and travels alone to France to paint. Once in Paris and dazzled by everything French, Midge falls in love and marries Yves, a handsome and exciting French painter. But her romantic adventure takes on a deeper meaning when Yves buys half of a remote hamlet in the Breton countryside. There, Midge finds herself in a world where lives have changed little since the Middle Ages. When Midge’s seemingly idyllic marriage begins to unravel, she turns to an elderly peasant woman, Jeanne Montrelay, who lives in the nearest farmhouse across the road. Jeanne has three cows to her name, doesn't know how to read or write and has never left the village. Outwardly Midge and Jeanne have nothing in common. Yet they forge a friendship that transforms each other's lives. “A Gift from Brittany” is about two relationships; one that tests strength and the other that restores it. It celebrates the power of friendship and takes the reader into a world that was once the heart of rural France—a world that has disappeared—and brings it to life again.
Marjorie gives an overview of the book:
One of the few times I ever saw Jeanne frightened was when we arrived at the sea. She hesitated getting out of the car, so we sat there for a whle, watching the waves sweep over the beach and rhythmically withdraw.
"You're going into that water?" she asked incredulously.
I nodded. "Whenever you're ready, we can go on the beach."
Uneasy when her feet sank into the sand, she clutched my arm as we made our way to the shore. The water was still high for me to swim; the tide wouldn't be going out for another hour. I had worn a bikini under my shorts, I slipped off the shorts and dropped them onto the sand.
"Mitch! What are you doing taking off your clothes? You'll catch your death!" Her face was pale and tense.
"It's all right," I said, laughing. "I have my bathing suit on."
Since Jeanne had never seen a bathing suit, my scant bikini wasn't much reassurance. "You look naked to me," she said with a look of concern.
"This is what people wear to go swimming. Honestly. Wait here. I'm going in. I won't be long."
I threw myself into the water. Not only had Jeanne never seen the sea, she had never seen anyone in it. I began swimming, then treaded water and looked back at her. She was standing rigidly at the water's edge, holding on to her coif, her black dress flapping in the wind. I waved. She waved back, and then I turned toward the horizon. On the crest of a wave I swam out to sea. I felt I could swim forever, but a wave crashed over me as if to remind me that no matter how far out to sea I might swim, I still had to go back and face the storm swirling around Yves and me like a whirlpool sucking us under, each day becoming more and more ominous, threatening to engulf us. I tasted the saltiness of the waves. My arms seemed to be self-propelling, as if they didn't belong to me. Leaving floodgates of tears behind me, I let myself be carried along by the peaks and valleys of the waves and swam and swam until I could barely see the shore. I lost track of time. Then, suddenly, Jeanne's image flashed across my mind. She was standing on the beach, anxiously looking out over the waves, searching for me. I turned to swim back to shore. When I pulled myself out, exhilarated and dripping, she was standing at the edge of the water, her face ashen with fear.
"Mitch!" she managed to say.
"You didn't need to worry, you know," I said. "I'm a good swimmer."
"I never saw anything like it in my whole life," she said, catching her breath and wrapping a towel around me. "You went out so far. I couldn't see you. The water must be over your head!"
I described to her what it was like being in deep water and the feeling of the sea closing around me, how it released all the tension churning inside of me; how lying on my back and letting myself be rocked and tossed by the waves made me feel limp, light-headed, like a grain of sand cast about in a huge ocean.
"Mitch," she sighed. "I didn't understand a single word."
Some day I’ll take you for a swim in deep water, and you’ll see for yourself,” I said, sliding my arm through hers.
We sat on a rock to watch the waves. The tide was slowly and gently easing its way out. I persuaded her to take off her shoes and stockings, and we walked to the water's edge. She held up her skirt and ventured in to where the water was at our ankles; we stood there for a while, feeling the insistent pull of the tide underneath our feet. Her fear seemed to evaporate as she splashed her feet in the shallow pools of water and watched the sand seep through her toes. Walking along the shore, we were an odd pair, she in her lace coif and long, black skirt and me, in my bikini.
From A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price, p. 118-121.
Marjorie Price was born in Chicago, Illinois. She received a B.A. in Speech and Drama from Stanford University in 1951. After graduation, she returned to Chicago where she studied painting and design at the Chicago Art Institute. In 1960, Marjorie left for Europe where she...
"[A Gift from Brittany"] is a wonderful, loving tribute to a special woman who was the product of a dying way of life. Even during the years she lived at La Salle, Midge saw beautiful old stone farms being...