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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Misfortunes of Sophy (The)
by Comtesse de Segur
Age Range: 6-8
Four-year-old Sophy is always getting up to mischief, unlike her well-behaved six-year-old cousin Paul. Sophy is lazy, selfish, greedy, tells lies, has a quick-tempered and delights in disobeying her mother while engaging in all sorts of bad behaviour.
Sophy is constantly carrying out pranks whether it's melting her favourite wax doll, standing in the rain to try and make her hair curl, making her pet donkey run faster by putting a pin in her shoe or scratching her cousin’s face so hard that she draws blood, she attracts trouble whatever she goes.
The Misfortunes of Sophy is a cautionary tale with each episode of misbehaviour teaching a moral lesson. There are many references to food, often with detailed descriptions. Sophy cannot resist the temptation of freshly baked bread and warm cream from the dairy farm. The trouble is she eats so much that it makes her sick. On another occasion, she eats almost all a box of candied fruits and apricots truffles that were delivered to her mother blaming their disappearance on rats.
French author/illustrator Sophie Rostopchine, Countess of Ségur (1799-1874) was of Russian birth and origin. She set her novel in rural Normandy of the Second French Empire with the Sophy’s family belonging to the landed nobility.
The beautifully illustrated black and white line drawings and full-colour plates by Marie Madeleine Franc-Nohain help to enhance the story.
Over time the critical reception of Segur’s work has been divided. It a book of its time with prevailing attitudes to race and gender that were commonplace when the book was written. An example of which is Sophy’s promise to her friend to bring back a ‘baby savage’ from her trip to the Americas. Many of Sophy’s misdeeds also involve unwitting animal cruelty which would not sit well with an audience today. Despite this, Segur’s books have remained consistently popular over the last 150 years demonstrated by the various editions of Les Malheurs de Sophie in English ranging from 1901-1946 as well as cinema and Television adaptations in 1949, 1979 and 2016.
Les Malheurs de Sophie, written in 1858, was the first book in the Fleurville Trilogy followed by Les petites filles modèles (Good Little Girls) 1858 and Les vacances (The Holidays) 1859. The Fleurville Trilogy was published in one volume with a new translation by Australian translator Stephanie Smee in 2011.