chapter  4
18 Pages

Retracing French landscapes in North America

Of course, there never was a French landscape, least of all in the 16th and 17th centuries when French interest in North America began. France was a dense mosaic of local cultures marked off from each other by language or dialect, custom, and economy, as well as by landscape. The numerous pays of France each had their own character-differences from place to place that frequently emerged clearly within a day's walk. Superimposed on this sense of locality was a more official France expressed in the great estates, the towns, the provincial governments, the church, and, of course, the royal court. Merchant capital also transcended the local worlds of peasant culture. Literary culture and high style dominated official and, to a degree, merchant France, but hardly touched the great mass of rural France where oral cultures predominated and nine out of ten Frenchmen lived. Even the towns reflected their regional cultural settings. Modern techniques of surveillance had not yet created a unified nation-state. Variety characterized the myriad, diverse landscapes of a still profoundly rural and, in many ways, medieval France.