All Our Worldly Goods by Irène Némirovsky

This is the second novel I picked up from the library, the first being ‘Fire in the Blood’ a tale of the consequence of indulging forbidden love. ‘All Our Worldly Goods’ has a similar theme but with different circumstances and this is more a story of what happened in the early 1990′s to those who preferred to make their own decisions regarding matrimony rather than follow the sage advice of their parents or in this case Grandfather. It is also a prelude to Némirovsky’s masterpiece ‘Suite Francaise’.

This is an era where marrying for love can be serious enough an outrage to find oneself disinherited. When there is only one son and heir and the family fortunes are dwindling, it is necessary that said son marries a woman with a significant and esteemed dowry. Pierre Hardelot follows his heart rather than his head and becomes estranged from his family just before being conscripted into the army to fight in the First World War.

Returning to the ruins of home © IWM (B7688)

With the onset of war, their families are forced to abandon the village, some fleeing by car, others on foot, only to eventually return to ruins, which they set about rebuilding in the hope that something as horrific and terrible as this war they have experienced can never be repeated.

However history has a habit of repeating itself, and so it does in both love and war. Another generation and an heiress banished by her family due to long standing interfamily resentments, and another son called up to war.  Fortunately death, destruction and shared traumatic experiences can provide the necessary ingredients for forgiveness, especially when strong, capable, male resources become a scarce commodity.

It is an interesting story depicting the lead up to the forced evacuations by families from the cities and provinces to find safety from the advancing invading armies, though it is dealt with lightly and there is nothing of the terror that one assumes must have consumed Némirovsky herself, knowing what her own family went through. In this story we are never confronted with the invaders and neither do we have a very real feeling for how war must have changed Pierre.

First published in 1947, five years after her death at Auschwitz, this book can now seen in context with the more recently published collection of Némirovsky’s works, unearthed by her biographers.

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15 thoughts on “All Our Worldly Goods by Irène Némirovsky

  1. This book will mean more to me now that I’ve read The Mirador by Nemirovsky’s daughter Elisabeth Gille. That fictionalized biography by Gille was heart-breaking in the sections where Nemirovsky realized that no matter what important people admired her writing, she wasn’t safe. Thanks for writing about All Our Worldly Goods; I’m looking forward to reading it.

  2. I just saw her daughter’s book mentioned on Goodread’s and thought I must add that to my list. Thank you for mentioning it, it is wonderful to make these kind of connections. That fear you refer to didn’t really come across in this book, which did make me wonder whether it was written before she experienced that emotion or whether she was avoiding it.

  3. Thanks for the intro to All Our Wordly Goods. Will add that to reading list. Have you read The Language of Flowers? Would love to read your perspective…..

  4. Wow – other one for my list! This sounds fascinating, especially because I have a strong interest in the WWI era. Funny – I just now posted a book review too – also on the theme of marrying for money or for love. Love your reviews – keep them coming!

    • Thanks Carol, yes the early 1900′s was an interesting era in terms of scoietal attitudes towards love, money and family inheritance – and there is a renewed interest in it with the ‘Downton Abbey’ series, set in that era also.

      Edith Wharton is another interesting author of that time, I am looking forward to reading more from her, not only her fiction, I believe she was something of a matchmaker in her time as well.

  5. This is a subject I always find interesting – marrying for love.. marrying for money, either, neither, or both, can yield intriguing outcomes. What if I had married for money (I certainly would not have traveled to Paris on bus :-) ) but would I have been any happier or sadder or more miserable. Being truthful, I am a romantic at heart and thus ruled by by those passions.

  6. I was perusing your blog, and something kept nagging at me seeing Irène Némirovsky’s name everywhere. Only when I read this post did I remember Suite Française (which I began reading a couple years ago, but have not finished).

    Interesting that you write about the WWI era since I am also currently taking a French Film course in which we have just recently discussed the impacts of WWI on French cinema (most notably with the rise of the surrealist movement, and now moving on to the poetic realism movement).

    I want to go back and reread Suite Française now, and I’ll likely be adding All Our Worldly Goods to the list, too.

    • Sounds interesting, finding alignment between significant world events and how they imapct art and culture. This is a good book to precede Suite Française which I would like to reread also, now that I have read some of her earlier works.

  7. I’ve been reading a lot of Nemirovsky the last couple of years, and this was a recent find. I love that she’s understanding of people without sentimentalizing them. Fire in the Blood, Dimanche, and Suite Francaise were just as good.

    • I agree, she is a wonderful discovery and I am enjoying getting to know her work and style and noting the cultural nuances between her and other writers of the time.

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