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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2011

3 - For Better and For Worse


In Christiane Rochefort's 1961 novel, Les petits enfants du siècle, Josyane, the young heroine, endures a troubled adolescence as the oldest of eleven children in a working-class family in one of the grands ensembles, the huge new housing complexes on the edges of Paris and other French cities. The story begins with Josyane's parents arriving at the hospital two weeks before her birth, hoping to register her arrival early in order to qualify for the prime de naissance, a grant for couples who had their first child within a short period after being married. Josyane grows up taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, each of whom arrives with a new government allowance, and usually, a new home appliance. Josyane fantasizes about the neighbor woman who has borne enough children to form at least a firing squad for the nation, and imagines them being killed on the battlefield and buried under tombstones labeled, “Television Mauvin, Car Mauvin, Frigidaire Mauvin, Mixer Mauvin, Washing Machine Mauvin, Carpet Mauvin, Pressure Cooker Mauvin” – and leaving a government pension sizable enough to buy a vacuum cleaner.

Rochefort's satirical meditations on postwar family life were shaped by two phenomena of 1950s France: the baby boom and the beginnings of mass consumer society. Much had changed between the end of the war and the novel's publication in 1961.

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