Texte de Geraldine Brooks


The story is set in the nineteenth century, before the American Civil War.
« When she saw the books, the tall slave named Grace straightened and asked if I would like a ewer(1) of warm water for my toilet before she showed me to the master's room. I had shaved by the river that morning before I'd made my crossing, but I was pleased at the chance for a hot wash. When Grace returned, she said the master bade me to bring the books and leave the rest. She led the way through the narrow hall that joined the kitchen, warming room, and buttery to the cool expanse of the main house. The house was not especially large, nor by any means the grandest I had been in – some of the plantation homes along the James(2) were more like palaces – but it was perfect in proportion and exquisite in appointments. Grace gestured with her long-fingered hand – not hands that appeared much accustomed to heavy chores, I noted, indicating I should sit upon a marble bench. "That is the master's library. He will be with you presently," Grace said, and swept away to her duties. The home's massive entrance was to my right, the wide door surrounded by lights of beveled glass, and I sat there, watching the golden morning sunshine fracture into tiny rainbows. Because I had been staring into the bright light, I could not see him well when he at last opened the library door, for he stood in its shadow. There was an impression only, of great height, very erect bearing, and a mellow voice. "Good day to you, sir. Would you kindly come in ?" I entered and I stopped and twirled as if I were on a pivot. It was a double-height room, with a narrow gallery at the midpoint. Books lined every inch of it. A very large, plain, and beautiful rosewood desk stood in the center. "Augustus Clement", he said, holding out his hand. I shifted the weight of the books into the crook of my left arm and shook his hand absently, for I was transfixed by the magnitude of his collection. "I've always imagined paradise as something like a library. Now I know what it looks like." I barely realized I had spoken aloud, but Mr Clement laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. "We get a few of you men through here, or we used to, before my daughter married. I think she just liked to talk to young men, actually. But I've never come across one of you with an interest in books. Set them down there, would you ?" I placed them on the rosewood desk, and he worked briskly through the pile. Now that I had seen the magnitude of his library, I doubted he would find anything of interest to him. But the Lavater Physiognomy caught his eye. "This is a later edition than the one I have ; I am curious to see his revisions. Tell Grace what you require for it and she will see to your payment." "Sir, I don't sell the books for cash." "Oh ?" "I trade for them – barter(3) a book for a book, you know. That way I keep myself in something fresh to read along the journey." "Do you so ! Capital ideal" he said. "Though no way to make a profit." "I am interested in money, of course sir ; it is necessary for a young man in my circumstances to be so. But I trust you will not think me irresponsible if I tell you I am more interested in laying up the riches of the mind(4)" "Well said, young Mr March, was it ? Well, as it happens I have business elsewhere this day, so why don't you make yourself free of the library. Do us the honor of taking dinner here, and you can tell me then what volume you would consider in barter for the Lavater." "Sir, I could not impose upon you." "Mr March, you would be doing me a great kindness. My household is reduced, at present. My son is away with my manager on business. Solitude is no friend to science. You must know that we in the South suffer from a certain malnourishment of the mind : we value the art of conversation over literary pursuits, so that when we gather together it is all for gallantries and pleasure parties. There is much to be said for our agrarian way of life. But sometimes I envy your bustling(5) Northern cities, where men of genius are thrown together thick as bees, and the honey of intellectual accomplishment is produced. I would like to talk about books with you ; do be kind enough to spare me an evening." "Mr Clement, sir, it would be my very great pleasure." "Very good, then. I shall look forward." By afternoon, I could say I was ready to love Mr Clement. For to know a man's library is, in some measure, to know his mind. »
Abridged and adapted fromGeraldine Brooks, March, 2005

Grace, Mr March, Augustus Clement are characters in the story.
a) Which one is the narrator ?
b) How are the other two related ?
2. In whose house does the scene take place ?
3. In what part of the US is the scene set ?
Quote two elements from the text to justify your answer.
True or False ? Justify your answer each time with a quotation from the text.
The narrator :
a) is an elderly person.
b) feels welcomed.
c) gets a favourable impression of the house.
Questions 5 and 6. Focus on the passage from the start to "down there, would you ?"
a) Which room do the two men meet in ?
b) What effect does the room have on Mr March ? (20 words) Justify your answer with a quotation.
6. "Mr Clement laughed and clapped me on the shoulder."
Among the following adjectives, choose the one that best describes Mr Clement's feelings at that moment.
  • aggressive
  • disappointed
  • distrustful
  • enthusiastic
  • indifferent
  • puzzled
Explain why the character feels that way and find a quotation to support your view.
Questions 7 and 8. Focus on the passage from "I placed them" to "the journey."
7. What do the underlined pronouns refer to ?
  • "I placed them on the rosewood desk"
  • "Tell Grace what you require for it"
  • "I trade for them"
a) What does Mr Clement think Mr March has come for ?
b) Is he right in thinking so ? (20 words)
Questions 9, 10 and 11. Focus on the passage from "Do you so !" to the end.
9. Find the missing words to complete this summary.
Mr (1)… is asking Mr (2)… for dinner. As Mr (3)… has to go away on business, he suggests Mr (4)… should wait for him in the (5)… and take this opportunity to select a (6)…. Mr (7)… hesitates but finally (8)…
a) What do the two characters have in common ?
b) In what way are they different ? (20 words)
11. At the end of the passage, one of the characters presents two contrasting visions of the USA. What are they ? (30 words) Use elements from the text to justify your answer.
12. Translate into French from "I've always imagined…" to "shoulder."
Choose subject 1 or subject 2.
a) "But I've never come across one of you with an interest in books."
For some people, books are the only possible form of culture. Do you agree with them ? (150 words)
b) "To know a man's library is to know his mind." Discuss. (150 words)
2. Could bartering be chosen as an interesting alternative to commerce ? (300 words)
(1)Ewer : container for liquids.
(2)The James : a river.
(3)Barter : exchange merchandise for merchandise without using money.
(4)Laying up the riches of the mind : accumulating cultural knowledge.
(5)Bustling : noisy and busy.


a) The narrator is Mr March.
b) Grace is a slave who belongs to Mr Clement.
2.  The scene takes place in Mr Clement's house.
3. The scene is set in the South of the United States / in a Southern State of the U.S.A.
  • "… the tall slave named Grace."
  • "… some of the plantation homes."
  • "… we in the South…"
  • "I envy your bustling Northern cities…"
a) False:
  • "… one of you [young men]…"
  • "… a young man in my circumstance…"
  • "… young Mr March…"
b) True:
  • "… asked if I would like a ewer of warm water…"
  • "I was pleased at the chance for a hot wash…"
  • "… so why don't you make yourself free of the library / Do us the honor of taking dinner here."
  • "Mr Clement, sir, it would be my very great pleasure."
c) True:
  • "… it was perfect in proportion and exquisite in appointments."
a) The two men meet in the library / just outside the library.
b) He is impressed even flabbergasted and full of admiration because there are so many books. Moreover, the room itself is large and richly furnished.
  • "…It was a double-height room, with a narrow gallery at the midpoint. Books lined every inch of it. A very large, plain, and beautiful rosewood desk stood in the center."
  • "…I was transfixed…"
  • "I've always imagined paradise as something like a library."
  • "I placed them on the rosewood desk…"
6. Mr Clement feels enthusiastic to meet a kindred spirit, a fellow book lover.
  • "I've never come across one of you with an interest in books."
  • "I placed them on the rosewood desk…" = the books
  • "Tell Grace what you require for it …" = the Lavater Physiognomy
  • "I trade for them …" = the books
a) Mr Clement thinks Mr March has come to sell him books.
b) He isn't right in thinking so. Actually, Mr March swaps his books for other books instead of selling them for money / a profit.
9. Mr Clement is asking Mr March for dinner. As Mr Clement has to go away on business, he suggests Mr March should wait for him in the library and take this opportunity to select a book. Mr March hesitates but finally agrees / accepts.
a) The two characters love books/ They both love books.
b) Mr Clement, who is older than Mr March, is a rich southern plantation owner/ landlord whereas Mr March is a poor young traveller from the north.
11. The South is depicted as very rural ("…our agrarian way of life") unlike the North which appears more urban ("…your bustling Northern cities"). Mr Clement describes Southerners as being more interested in having fun ( "…pleasure parties") than in cultural pursuits ("malnourishment of the mind") whereas he thinks Northerners are more intellectual ("…literary pursuits", "…men of genius", "…honey of intellectual accomplishment").
12. « Je me suis toujours imaginé le paradis comme une sorte de bibliothèque. Je sais à présent/ maintenant à quoi il ressemble. » Je m'étais à peine rendu compte que j'avais parlé à voix haute mais M. Clement rit et me donna une tape amicale sur l'épaule.
a) Obviously, books have for a long time been almost the only possible form of culture in the past not to mention Antiquity with the library in Alexandria or the middle Ages when monks spent hours on hand writing books before printing was invented. Nevertheless, we might consider that mural paintings done by our far prehistoric ancestors were also a form of culture. At the same time, throughout the world, there were people, mainly tribes in Africa or both North and South America who had no other form of culture than oral tradition and nowadays there are still tribes who only have that form of culture.
For a long time now, other forms of culture have appeared like music, painting, architecture, the cinema and even the Internet. Of course books are one of the most ancient and almost universal form of culture. Although it is a highly interesting and rich form, in the twenty-first century, we can't say that it is the only form.
b) Knowing somebody is very difficult and complicated and even though you may have known a person for a very long time you can never assert that you completely know him or her. Needless to say that concerning a person's mind it is even more difficult not to say almost impossible.
It is true that to know a person's (man or woman) library may help to know his/ her mind but since everyone's mind is so full of feelings, sensibility, opinions, knowledge and thoughts, nobody can say that someone else's mind has no secret for them.
Somebody's library may give you hints at the person's interests, hobbies, passions. You may discover what the person is fond of because you will see numerous books on a particular kind of subject.
Moreover, in a person's library you may find books which reveal something about the person's personality but you can't be sure it is still true since a person changes throughout his/ her life and something which was interesting in the past may have lost this interest for him/ her although the book is still in the library.
A simple glance at someone's library will certainly not enable to say that you know the person's mind for it is far too complex.
2. In the past, before money was invented, bartering was a usual and common form of trade. People used to swap one thing for another. This was done more than often on a small scale and in fairly small groups of people.
Even today in some remote places where people live a very simple life, bartering is still used but it is not any longer the only form of commerce and it has been so for quite a long time now, mainly in developed countries.
Formerly, commerce was not what it is today. Nowadays goods travel round the world since commerce is more and more globalized and trade represents huge amounts of money. It seems impossible to resort to bartering to pay millions and even sometimes billions of dollars or euros for very important contracts between countries.
Children still use bartering when they want to exchange things because they have no money and it is an easy way for them to get what they want. What's more, there are places where people barter in order to help each other as some of them don't have enough money and can't afford such or such thing. But this is only done locally. Moreover, it is not always easy to find out what to give or offer in exchange of a service or goods.
Because trade has developed so much and since most of us live in a consumer society and buy in shops or supermarkets but not directly from producers we can't say that bartering is an interesting alternative to commerce.
Bartering only represents one possibility to swap goods or services between people who know each other and who have only small goods to exchange, but you can't go to a shop and buy a refrigerator or a TV set without paying with money.