THE HISTORY OF PEDLARS—CELESTINE. Mary Jane is reading CELESTINE, a favorite book of mine, which I posted about here. CELESTINE is a reconstruction by Gillian Tindall of French rural life in the 19th century. Tindall came into possession of letters of proposal saved by Celestine, a young woman in rural France in the nineteenth century, and tried to trace the history behind the letters. Tindall points out that Celestine was noteworthy because she was the daughter of an innkeeper, and therefore encountered many more men (and more letters of proposal) than the typical village girl. That was one of the things that struck me most me in the book—the fact that a young person in a small village might have very few opportunities to marry.
Mary Jane loves the book. She read to me some passages about pedlars (or “peddlers”), which I had also liked. Tindall says (at page 61): “The progression from itinerant pack man to shopkeeper typifies what was then happening for the first time all over rural France”. Pedlars went back hundreds of years—men following foot paths through the woods, with packs on their backs containing items like thread, needles, pins, scissors, knives, soap and pencils.
One of the big changes in transportation during this period was that footpaths were widened into tracks for carts, creating competition for pedlars. Shops multiplied in towns, and wholesalers came into existence selling to the shops.