Clara Beaudoux – The Madeleine Project


Clara Beaudoux is a French journalist. In 2013 she moved into a renovated apartment in Paris. The previous tenant had lived there for twenty years and had died a year before Clara moved in.  The only part of the apartment left in its original state was the cellar storage room which had a padlock on its door So what does Clara do?

She saws through the padlock and opens the door, to find the records of her predecessor’s life. Suitcases and cardboard boxes full to overflowing with the records of a woman’s life. Clara begins to explore and sees letters, photographs and objects of all kinds neatly stowed away. It is her next move that has met with great approval in France, but which I find a bit odd. She decides to make an inventory of the storage room over Twitter. Here is the response she received

Over two “seasons,” thousands of Twitter followers were drawn to my reporting as I recorded, in missives of 140 characters or less, the material that has now been drawn together in this book.

Madeleine’s recipes became popular, followers sent photos of places she might have had holidays, Beaudoux got a Madeleine Facebook page. The woman who was born before the First World War, who was a Primary School teacher, and old woman with few friends and who died alone in hospital at the age of ninety, has become a media star.

Beaudoux does question herself about this

And suddenly I was assailed by self-doubt: did I have the right? To show other people your things like this? Your life? Would you be angry with me? Do you “see me”? Does coincidence exist? Does magic exist? Why did I wait two whole years? Why did I start doing this?

And that I think is a key question. Why did she start, ‘doing this’? Because it is more about the journalist’s desire to creative a narrative out of the remains of a life, than to find an essential truth.

Later she interviews the very few people who knew Madeleine when she was alive. Many of them had a similar response. “I wish I had paid more attention to her when she was alive” which then lead to “I wish I had paid more attention to my parent’s stories when they were alive.”

I was amused to read a comment from her godson

“She had a foul temper,” he added, “she couldn’t stand being contradicted, but the worst of it she was often right.”

I don’t DO Twitter or Facebook and would be most displeased if the rags and tatters of my life were strung together on social media when I was no longer around. One would have to think the tendency of the writer or journalist organising the scraps must have a great part to play in the way the person is presented.

But lots of people loved this book Anne Sabba, an excellent writer describes it thus,

 “This magical book tells history in a brilliant, original way for the 21st century and is a deeply moving reconstruction of an ordinary life…I loved this book and shall read it again and again.”

I preferred Patrick Modiano’s search for Dora Bruder, and it’s not all in 140 word grabs.

But then on the other hand I wonder if the protagonist of A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip would have preferred to be remembered this way? (See our blog 2-5-2017)

13 thoughts on “Clara Beaudoux – The Madeleine Project

  1. This may be part of the popularity of memoir now — the wish to pre-empt anyone else telling your story. If Madeline’s records and photos were all so carefully organized, however, there’s a hint that she hoped someone would tell her story for her. How does the reader know what she destroyed? For that matter, how does the reader know that Clara is actually sharing everything? The editing done by each of these women (because they both did/are editing) and all other memoirists/biographers makes memoir/biography far trickier to assess than fiction. We are thankful to have Gert to give us some perspectvie!

    1. If you use Twitter (and I think you do ) you can see what else she has posted from this cache of memories. It will be in French but that won’t bother you. She says she is going to do another two seasons. But as you say we will never really know how much editing has been done.

      1. Thanks Gert! I will check out the Twitter account. I almost never post anything, but I do follow a few people. I still find it a bit puzzling and often meaningless . . .

        1. There is one man’s I like, Caustic Cover Critic. He manages to say odd and interesting things in the required minimum words. I sneak a look sometimes. But I wouldn’t want to use it myself.

  2. Fascinating about Masters’s discovery of diaries. This and the current review, do suggest that leaving a lot of diaries to be discovered might not get one’s story across nearly as well as writing the memoir. I will have to think about that, when I get some time to think . . .

    1. I have a huge collection of journals. Problem is I find it very difficult to decipher my own handwriting these days, let alone anyone else being able to do it. Maybe we have to strike first.

  3. For those desperate for more there’s a website and for Twitter users who like constant uodates there’s @clarabdx. I have enough to do with my own life (including writing the memoir I promised our kids) without checking out the cataloguing of somebody else’s hoard. 😁

  4. Fascinating – although, like you, I find the idea of posting the inventory on Twitter rather odd. It reminds me a little of the story behind the discovery of Vivian Maier’s photography (although the latter feels less exploitative or troublesome somehow).

      1. Yes, the documentary’s great. There’s also a novel, Vivian by Christina Hesselholdt, a sort of fictional meditation on the artist’s life from multiple perspectives. I haven’t read it, but it does sound intriguing.

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