"And so it goes, from rape and sodomy to incest and cannibalism. Far from veiling their message with symbols, the storytellers of eighteenth-century France portrayed a world of raw and naked brutality." (p. 38)
"For most peasants village life was a struggle for survival, and survival meant keeping above the line that divided the poor from the indigent. The poverty line varied from place to place, according to the amount of land necessary to pay taxes, tithes, and seigneurial dues; to put aside enough grain for planting next year; and to feed the family. In times of scarcity, poor families had to buy their food." (p. 62)
"Except for the happy few on an artisanal tour de France and the occasional troupes of actors and mountebanks, life on the road meant ceaseless scavenging for food. The drifters raided chicken coops, milked untended cows, stole laundry drying on hedges, snipped off horsesâ tails (good for selling to upholsterers), and lacerated and disguised their bodies in order to pass as invalids wherever alms were being given out. They joined and deserted regiment after regiment and served as false recruits. They became smugglers, highwaymen, pickpockets, prostitutes. And in the end they surrendered in hôpitaux, pestilential poor houses, or else crawled under a bush or a hay loft and died (croquants who had croaked)" (p.65)
"The peasants of early modern France inhabited a world of stepmothers and orphans, of inexorable, unending toil, and of brutal emotions, both raw and repressed. The human condition has changed so much since then that we can hardly imagine the way it appeared to people whose lives really were nasty, brutish, and short." (p. 71)
A meio de um ensaio sobre a tradição literária dos contos de fadas Robert Darnton dá-nos uma visão impressionante sobre a vida da esmagadora maioria da população na Europa do século XVIII. É um mundo brutal, de fome, trabalho incessante, insegurança, exploração e perigos continuamente à espreita. Lemos hoje contos de fadas como histórias ingénuas de final feliz, mas o que lemos são versões limpas e diluídas de narrativas de cautela e irreverência cujas versões originais espelhavam a dureza extrema da condição humana no passado.
Nos tempos que hoje vivemos não é possível ler o texto de Darnton sem sentir que se trata de um aviso.
Robert Darnton (1984). The Great Cat Massacre and other episodes in French cultural history. Nova Iorque: Basic Books.