A LA Recherche Des Vhlages Perdus : French Book Towns as Lieux De Mémoire


Over the past several decades, France has witnessed firsthand the explosion of a new cultural phenomenon: the villages du livre. A handful of once moribund rural communities have borrowed this title from the original book town, Hay-on-Wye, in Wales. Founded in 1961, Hay-oh-Wye has served as a model for other towns to establish a used book trade, organize literary festivals, and promote the practice of traditional book arts that include calligraphy, binding, paper-making, and printing. In the French villages du livre of Bécherel (Bretagne), Montolieu (Languedoc), Fontenoy-la-Joûte (Lorraine), Montmorillon (Poitou-Charentes), and La Charité-sur-Loire (Bourgogne), ancillary enterprises such as museums, bookstores, cafés, and small hotels now occupy buildings that had stood vacant for years. As governments invest in these towns, local economies improve and residents remain in the area instead of relocating to larger cities. As a result of these changes, these villages’ identifties are evolving, as they become magnets for a new form of cultural tourism and de facto sites for preserving the memory of traditional print culture in France in an era of new technologies, such as the e-book. Indeed, they have become lieux de mémoire for books, for book arts, and for local heritage.

This article explores some key issues associated with the transformations of these villages perdus. The study is based on fieldwork conducted in the aforementioned villages du livre, in Salins-les-Bains (Franche-Comté), which hopes to achieve book town status soon, and in Redu, Belgium.


Arts, Languages, and Philosophy

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