The writing cases of Thérèse



In 19th century Carmels there weren’t any desks or tables in the cells. How did they write then? In an original way; by placing a little wooden board on their lap. If the little board could also contain the writing material, that would be practical, whence the idea of making a small case with the little board for writing being the top. The box could contain paper, ink, pens and pen holder, scraper and pencil.

The laptops of the past

Present for centuries in France, the writing desk was used until the beginning of the 20th century to finally fall into disuse with the modernization of writing instruments. Outside of Carmels, these objects not only had a utilitarian use, they were decorative. An internet search using the words “ecritoires anciennes” allows us to see this by looking the pictures that are found. The Carmelite writing desk has the characteristic of being a drawer containing paper and writing materials in a case with an open side.

 premier ecritoire TH
When entering Carmel in April 1888, Thérèse found in her cell the writing desk opposite on the left. Light, in pine, with a handle in white wood, it had undoubtedly been prepared for Mademoiselle Fleuriot. Indeed, Thérèse inherited furniture that had been stained white in the cell prepared at the end of 1887 for the little neighbor of Carmel, Jeanne Fleuriot, who, in the end, didn’t enter.
Sitting on her little bench, the Carmelite had to place it on her knees and take ink while writing. Not easy according to Céline who soon after her entrance spilled an entire inkwell on the white wall of the cell and on the floor. The writing desk had slipped!
   Read here our old ink recipe
Céline indeed entered on September 14th, 1894. While helping with the preparation of the cell for her dear sister, Thérèse had the idea of giving her the light writing desk. She herself went to look for another one in the attic where out of date items were kept. She found this one, heavier and very damaged.
Please note the damage of the writing desk in the photos below, item from the attic dating no doubt from the foundation (1838):
The wood is cracked on the top of the case which is really troublesome for writing.
The back of the drawer is warped as well as the little section for placing the ink and the pens.
SECOND ecritoire TH
 details ecritoire 1  details ecritoire 2


Writing the Story of a Soul

As we can imagine with three illustrations of Sr Marie du Saint Esprit, on this writing desk Thérèse wrote her major works: the three manuscripts, 7 out of 8 of her theater plays, 53 of her 62 poems, 16 prayers of the 21 she composed and 95 letters including those to her brother priests.

ecritoire fac-simile
To learn more on writing cases, there is - in French - a master's degree paper in art history by Emmanuel SARMEO: Les écritoires néoclassiques françaises

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