Story of a Soul in the making - 1897-1898

     in the détails



The team of Story of a Soul

Above left: Uncle Isidore, Therese sick above the Abbey of Mondaye, Mother Marie de Gonzague at right.
Bottom from left to right: Marie, Celine, Mother Agnes (Pauline) and cousin Marie Guerin.

The genesis of this book promised to an astonishing destiny begins in sadness, when it comes to the imminent death the young Sister Therese in the Carmel of Lisieux. When a Carmelite nun dies, her sisters usually write a short biography for other Carmels. We briefly recount her childhood there, her desire for the Carmel and her entrance, the different stages of her religious life, the services rendered to the community and finally, her illness and her death. In this milieu, they call this document a circular because it "circulates" so to speak in monasteries, although everyone receives her own copy.

Gonzague-contIn Lisieux towards the middle of 1897, relatives of Therese know that she will die soon. Her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes) was already concerned with the drafting of her circular. Indeed, how to write a circular for a Carmelite who is only 24 years old and has so few achievements to her credit? Mother Agnes pondered that especially since May 30th, 1897. Therese had shortly before asked the Prioress Marie de Gonzague (photo right) permission to entrust the well-kept secret of her first hemoptysis in April 1896 to her sister, and she does so on May 30th. Mother Agnes listened to her, concluding that the disease is very advanced, much more than she thought. The TB did not start just a few months ago, but is already very old. In general, people do not survive more than two years.

For the circular itself, Mother Agnes thought she’d use childhood memories told in 1895 by Therese in what would later become Manuscript A, but as there is in this text little about her religious life, she would like a follow up. She lets the family celebration of May 30th around the taking of the veil of cousin Marie Guerin go by and on the night of June 2nd, she will discuss her project with Marie de Gonzague. The latter finds the idea interesting and asks Therese to continue writing, this time about her religious life

The next day, from June 4th on, Therese ceased any activity to only write her "little assignment" (see The Yellow Notebook of June 25th 2). The young Carmelite writes with great difficulty in a black notebook what will become the  Manuscript C. The task is difficult but Therese is aware that her text will be published; it will be part of her circular. They spoke to her about integrating it with her first text. She will give some ideas for this edition? Maybe because she reads the text of the manuscript she wrote and was very moved by it (August 1st,1897). She trusts her sisters, especially Mother Agnes.

All this together is made into 12 chapters, and the book has a title in the making: A love song or passage of an angel. Marie de Gonzague prepares a Preface toward the end of 1897, where she explains that this precious manuscript –written by a "Flame", by a "diamond", a "star," a “flame”– must be given to the world.


The texts are reviewed and put together. We begin by imagining that they are addressed to the same person, the Prioress Marie de Gonzague - maneuver that will make Thérèse’s text more easily accepted by Carmels where it is primarily intended. Indeed, if the prioress has authorized, it does not seem strange that a religious wrote her memories. Some elements are added for easier reading. Then the manuscript is enhanced with letters, for example, those addressed to Bellière. Mother Marie de Gonzague assumes responsibility for the project and already speaks to Father Bellière in August 1897, then Father Roulland in November 1897. They think of inserting the manuscripts of letters of Therese to Marie of Sacred Heart, which will later be Manuscrit B. The sisters then add excerpts of Thérèse’s letters, fifty poems, four prayers composed by Therese, and poetic passages from her plays, Pious Recreations. Novices put in writing their memories of Thérèse as novice mistress. They add a selection of the last conversations and finally the story of the death of Therese.

All this together is made into 12 chapters, and the book has a title in the making: A love song or passage of an angel (photo left). Marie de Gonzague prepares a Preface toward the end of 1897, where she explains that this precious manuscript –written by a "diamond", a "star," a “flame”– must be given to the world. Read her Preface.

As it far exceeds the usual size of a circular - three pages - Marie de Gonzague thinks of seeking guidance. This circulaire has really become a book. The superior, Fr. Alexandre Maupas gave her permission in October, but to read and possibly correct the manuscript, the prioress turned to the Fathers of Mondaye who have all the confidence of the Carmelites. Godefroid Madeleine accepts, edified by the quality of the text. He began working on the manuscript at the beginning of 1898, and in March he finished, having made many observations. He suggests many omissions, especially in the intimate details, but years later, he asked forgiveness of the sisters for his blue pencil that “made you blow up! " His brother, Fr. Norbert Paysan meanwhile corrects the poems. In April, Father Madeleine wrote an introductory letter to be inserted at the beginning of the book.

There remains one step before publishing: to obtain permission from the local bishop. It was then Bishop Hugonin, the bishop of Therese, the one she had requested authorization from to enter Carmel at age 15. In 1898, he is 74 years old and very ill. Father Madeleine is going to meet him March 7th, shortly before his death in early May, and he gets an oral agreement for the permit to print (imprimatur). We’ve kept a written record of the meeting, via Father Madeleine. These are the several words in violet ink in the right side of the piece of paper, 20 cm. by 7 cm., authenticated in 1909 by Mother Marie-Ange in pencil in the left section (which, however, was not entered until 1902...)


In April 1898, the book has its definitive title, according to a letter from Godefroid Madeleine to Marie de Gonzague: Story of a soul written by herself. The success of all her actions will long delight Marie de Gonzague, who played an important part in the preparation of the text and wrote with pride in 1904 having obtained the publication of this manuscript [letter to Fr. Tessier].

Looking for a printer

It only remains to be printed. This step was then very complex since it was first necessary to typeset the text. They must find a printer-typographer who does not charge too much because the circulars are sent automatically to other Carmels, they are not sold! For the future book whose manuscript already contains several hundred pages, they turn to Uncle Guérin (photo below left). He is usually the one who helps out the Carmelites with his largesse. He agrees to print the book written by his niece and he got quotes right away from several printers-publishers.

Isidore guerin

Isidore began by writing to Librairie POUSSIELGUE, rue ​​Cassette in Paris, which replied March 17th, 1898. The price for 500 copies, calculating on 448 pages would be approximately 1750 francs in paperback, for 1,000 about 2100 francs. Mr. Poussielgue also discusses paper quality, photos to be added. He could distribute the book himself, and give a discount to priests and religious communities. This letter is interesting because it is the first that Mr. Guerin receives, and he will use it to evaluate the other estimates.

Two negative responses followed from La Croix, written on the 26th and 30th of March, suggesting other printers without suggesting a price. On April 7th, 1898, Marie Guerin asks her mother if her father will choose Poussielgue, specifying that it was Pauline who cares. Father's response or mother’s was probably given in the parlor, because we have no written text.  

But Isidore turned to other printers and already received responses. PAILLART, of Abbeville, wrote to him on April 20th, offering a print run of 1,000 copies for 1,400 fr., and 2000 copies for 2100 fr.

Then it was the turn of EMILE COLIN which for approximately 400 pages, provides in more detail the print and paper, plus the cover and binding for 1640.50 francs for 1,000 copies, including the composition. For 2000 copies the price would be 2451.00 francs. And he adds, "In this estimate does not include corrections that are paid separately at .75 cents an hour. "

Alfred MAME & FILS answers the same day, April 21st; 1000 copies of 450 pages would cost about 1550 fr, binding and cover included, and 2000 for 2100 francs. And the next day, April 22nd, the printer Notre Dame des Pres at Montreuil-s-mer, which cannot do the job, but suggests another printing press, whose prices are provided: 1, 000 bound copies of 450 pages with a cover in color for 1500 francs and 2000 for 2000 francs. It also offers a high quality paper, with prices of 1660 for 1000 copies fr, and 2342 for 2000.

Poussielgue-r-HA98 LT Paillart-devis-HA98 LT Colin-Lagny-devis-HA98 LT Mame-devis-HA98 LT ND-des-Pres-devis-HA98- LT
 Poussielgue Paillart  Colin Mame  N.D. des Prés

Between all of the above, Mr. Guerin also received a quote for the work from Saint Paul, not kept. With all these offers, he consults with someone who knows printing, Father Marie Augustinian of the Assumption, who he knew in Lourdes during a pilgrimage. The latter replies in pencil dated May 12th: You must think me very remiss. But my poor hand did not allow me all these days to hold a pen - so please do not blame me. The L’Oeuvre St Paul has become a serious firm - it starts to do well - you cannot compare it to Poussielgue and Retaux. It does as well as Paillart ...

We understand that St. Paul cannot do as well yet as Poussielgue and Retaux but competes well with Paillart. Or Paillart and Mame are the same price, 2000 copies for 2100 francs. It is possible to infer that St. Paul is cheaper and that is why Mr Guerin asked Father Marie. Guerin will follow the advice of this man, and it is the Work of St. Paul that will get the job. This firm, whose goal is to work for the defense and propagation of Catholic truth with cheap typography, was created in 1873. The quote from St. Paul has not been kept, but they sign for 2000 copies in two printings of 1000.

In May Guerin contacts yet another publisher and bookseller, considering a submission of the book in Paris. On May 18th, Victor Retaux, Bookseller-Publisher of Paris, writes a negative answer to the submission request stating that, "The new Constitution of the Index does not allow me to publish a book of the kind which you submit to me, if I haven’t previously obtained permission of the bishop. So please send me the complete proofs of the book. I will submit them to Cardinal Richard, and if, as I hope, he gives me the imprimatur, we will easily agree on the conditions of sale. "This implies that the imprimatur written by Fr. Godefroid Madeleine would not be sufficient for printing in Paris? But Victor Retaux corrects himself and wrote again May 25, 1898 declaring, while including his prices for a submission of the book: "I think Bishop Hugonin’s approval will suffice."

The manuscript is given to St Paul for composition. According to an oral tradition collected by a sister of Pommeraye in 1987, a typographer from Bar-le-Duc, who worked on Therese’s manuscript copied phrases from his day job and his family was praying with these excerpts after he returned home! This composition stage seemed long because in July, Marie Guerin complains to her parents: "Has dad received news from the Librarie St Paul? This is starting to be a little known." And she continues: "Finally, it is hoped that they will do their part there, at the Bookstore!" (before July 16th, 1898).


Why not a few photos

webTH-37 HAThey are thinking of putting several photos in the book! There will be notably as frontispiece photograph number 37 of Therese, opposite at right. It will be reversed during assembly. It is Mrs. Besnier, photographer in Lisieux, who prepares the heliogravures. And she does it very well, according to Marie Guerin. "Mrs. Besnier just sent her proofs. They are perfect, very successful, there was a flaw and so we asked her to come to Carmel to explain. She understood very well and could not be friendlier, and we as well. The print is very soft, there was one with an expression a little sad, but Mrs. Besnier guessed what caused that, it was because it was a little less dark than the other. Mother was in the parlor and found Mrs. Besnier fine, her granddaughter was there and also your Mother has given her a small lyre, you know, like I had one in my room. My Sister Genevieve received many explanations about photography. Mrs. Besnier will send all her processes, all formulas for toning and a glossy finish. She had shown her a picture as a photograph, she recognized perfectly Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus and asked for a photograph as a great favor. She told us that she had kept all our family pictures since childhood. Mrs. Besnier left, delighted with Carmel. So a big obstacle removed: the successful photograph" (letter of July 17th, 1898).  The imposed time limit is used to add text to the manuscript! And yes, Marie de Gonzague, in the same letter of July 1898, requests that Uncle Guerin add poems that the community especially loves. They speak of the book as The Life of Therese.

Finally on (September 1898) we received the first proofs in Carmel; it was time because news of the imminent publication begins to spread in town. Mr. Guerin will soon talk to the Pottiers, as mentioned by his daughter: "I'm glad Father has told you the little secret about the life of our dear little saint, I wanted to do that for a long time!" (September 1898).  The corrections are first made in community, then the proofs are sent to Isidore early September: sewn, for those that have been checked once, and detached for the others. And they discuss choice of paper with the family, too thick, too good ... while Mr. Guérin regularly sends pages to St. Paul with his validation for the printing (August 22nd, 1898).  Mother Agnes communicates directly, no one knows why, with the printer, which offends Guerin but they seem to reconcile quickly (letter by Marie - on the 26th).

HA-1898-1er-tirage le-premier-mille

And in September, we have only to wait for the book! "When Mother comes,” writes Marie Guérin in early  October “she should bring or send the first six sheets printed from the Life!" The long awaited book has probably been promised for the end of September.

Yet in all the written records of September 30th, 1898, the first anniversary of Therese’s death, there is no mention of the book’s arrival. Marie Guerin wrote to her parents at the beginning of October describing the day of the 30th, without a word about the book. Eventually it will come out on October 21st (according to a note by Celine on a separate sheet without date - prior to 1905). Let us add that the first reactions from readers are dated October 22th, 1898, confirming this choice. You can read these here.

The director of the Imprimerie Saint-Paul de Bar-le-Duc was at the bookstore rue Cassette the day of the release of Story of a Soul. She remembers selling the first copy to a priest, who was reluctant to take it to another person who was sick. After reading the book, she obtained her cure through the intercession of Sister Therese! Happy starting point for the first volume (see Annals November 1935).

They immediately made shipments to 121 Carmels of France and 18 foreign Carmels, with a note from Marie de Gonzague encouraging the distribution of this book. How it will be heeded! We will immediately print the second thousand, and in May 1899 the second edition will be ready.

The book is on sale for 4 francs.

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