The issue of ethnicity in France, and how ethnicities are represented there visually, remains one of the most important and polemical aspects of French post-colonial politics and society. This is the first book to analyse how a range of different ethnicities have been represented across contemporary French visual culture. Via a wide series of case studies – from the worldwide hit film Amélie to France’s popular TV series Plus belle la vie – it probes how ethnicities have been represented across different media, including film, photography, television and the visual arts. Four chapters examine distinct areas of particular importance: national identity, people of Algerian heritage, Jewishness and France’s second city Marseille.
“A base of military operations … a commercial dépôt, a fortress … the last city England would abandon.” 1 Is this post Brexit Calais today, acting as security guard for the British? 2 Or post 2018, when the Sandhurst treaty fixed the French-British border there, on the European continent? (Guérin, 2018)
This is, in fact, Calais in 1396: a portrait of the port city after a brutal siege, drawn by writers. They speak of Calais at a time when an early treaty in the long line of Franco-English agreements was negotiated, when it first became a part of England. These chroniclers signal the quandary facing inhabitants blocked in the city and environs.
This premodern Calais epitomizes the situation many recognize in 2021: a town walled up and heavily defended, with several groups locked in a struggle for autonomy and freedom of movement. Over the centuries, the technology of defense has developed in sophisticated ways. The struggle has grown larger in scale, and the people are migrating from a wider world; Kurds, Eritreans, Sudanese in Calais today, en route to Britain, make up a greater mix than the Flemish, Genoese, and Turks who converged on the premodern city. 3 Yet Calais’ quandary looks stubbornly consistent through time: the town exists as an enclave – a site enclosed and transformed legally into a singular state.
Calais is constructed again and again as such a place locking people in, and keeping others out. With the influx of women with children and men identified as migrants over the last decade, the enclave is being configured once more. This is the latest chapter in a lengthy, tumultuous history, one much longer than the present-day and twentieth-century account that anthropologists are pursuing (Agier, 2018: 8). It is one that began during the so-called Hundred Years’ War of premodern times, when Calais was trapped between forces allied with the French kingdom and those with the English – to devastating effect for thousands of people, known and unknown. 4 Through this first siege, as numerous images such as Figure 7.1 depicts it, the city became an enclave.
Figure 7.1 Jean de Wavrin, Anciennes Chroniques d’Angleterre, fifteenth-century manuscript. Paris, BNF f.fr. 76, 168v, detail. Courtesy of gallica.bnf.fr.
This chapter investigates Calais-enclave in its geographical, politico-legal and – above all – cultural sense. The idea of enclave is crucial for our subject of migration, and its history around Europe, because it responds to people's fundamental search for a place of their own. It came out of those exceptional, protracted situations when people were surrounded by dominant political forces controlling their movements. Developed to address their need to defend their place under threat, it was also put to the test by others forced to flee, in search of a safe haven. Calais is a paradigmatic enclave: at many times recurring in the city's life, it held numerous people within its walls, and kept countless others outside. The first major episode of such a lockdown, in the 1340s, will be the focus of this chapter. Examining this premodern Calais-enclave will establish deeper ground for understanding the predicament of all those stuck in repressive circumstances around Calais today. Furthermore, it will introduce another conception and evidence of so-called migrants in the city. The figures of men, women, and children in premodern Calais are not called migrants, yet its enclave, with its drama of forced enclosure and expulsion makes clear how their situation corresponds to that of the thousands of people trapped in the city today. I join historians Claudine Billot and Sharon Farmer in viewing the thousands expulsed and enmired in fourteenth-century Calais as migrants. 5
Fiction represents a major way into Calais. Take the example of Maylis de Kerangal, in 2015, when migrants were falsely identified as a crisis for a world-wide public. Her remarkable essay, At this Stage of the Night, triggered by news of the deaths of thousands of migrants, suggests how writers felt called to action (de Kerangal, 2015). This proved as true when the fortified city was first besieged in 1346, as in 2015. Premodern writers were among the first responders to the enclave under siege. Their writing offers immediate witness to the peoples of Calais. It represents them in literal detail, and with symbolic force. This chapter looks to the chroniclers and poets who configure and narrate Calais. These writers are of particular interest because of the ways they recount its peoples and invent new expressive languages for them. Both types of writer realize fiction's promise to make something true. What does chronicler Froissart bring into focus through his day-to-day observations of fourteenth-century Calais under siege? What does poet Eustache Deschamps make audible through personal expressions of distress and outrage in the enclave? These are also questions that engage contemporary writers responding to Calais today.
Emmanuel Carrère chronicles what happens to those caught within the high security walls, as those outside whom photographer Eric Leleu has been documenting since 2017 (Figure 7.2). Patrick Chamoiseau creates a poetic voice of protest with them. The work of all four writers together, I argue, reveals fiction's power to recognize the migrants of Calais-enclave. Bringing Froissart and Deschamps together with Carrère and Chamoiseau begins to compose their full cultural history. Furthermore, it shows how their writing creates an alternative space for Calais’ migrants. The premodern poets, as much as the contemporary, exploit the resources of fiction, not only to represent migrants, but to mark out an imaginary realm for them that is a provocation to others.
Figure 7.2 Great Wall securing road to British customs in the port, Calais, October 2017. Photo: Eric Leleu.
Geography, law, culture
First, the geography of enclave: at ground level, the site encloses land within another larger and dominant territory. Early cases are found in Europe where mountain ranges or the sea shapes an enclosure of sorts (Farran, 1955: 296–8; Catudal, 1979: 4–5). Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco are examples, Spanish enclaves implanted on the southern Mediterranean coast during the first Crusades. In Laia Soto Bermant's current-day ethnography, they are places still riven by uneasy lines that mean Muslim and Christian inhabitants living “together” are kept apart (Soto Bermant, 2015, 2017). In Raquel Salvatella de Prada's installation, Cornered, these two enclaves are also passageways; migrants from West Africa converging there, over recent years, attempting to cross over into Spain. Calais is another such enclave. Located at the narrowest stretch of the Channel, it faces England, twenty miles across the water, as we find in one of the earliest, geographically accurate maps (Figure 7.3). Now, even on a cloudy night, it's easy to see how one domain can extend over into the other; Sandgate, the small port on one side of the Channel, facing Sangatte, with its own history of refugees, on the other.
Figure 7.3 Abraham Cresques, Atlas Catalan, c. 1375. Paris, BNF, f.esp. 30, fol. 3, detail. Courtesy of gallica.bnf.fr.
It was people acting, of course, who transformed Calais’ geographic site into a political enclave. When the English monarch Edward III's soldiers invaded the continent, the townspeople had to secure the area around them. The term, enclave, begins to appear during this time of dynastic land-grab. It is forged in conquest and colonization that played out during the first year-long English siege of Calais. The term occurs increasingly in a cluster of expressions in royal letters and customary law from the region. “At the far end of France”; “at the limits of Picardy and Flanders” are phrases referring to enclaves as frontiers, what we call “borders.” 6 These first occurrences of the term in French confirm its political sense. Through such language of a feudal system, a sovereign lord lays claim to the land delineated. The enclave is invested with his authority, and this in relation to claims of rival lords controlling the larger adjacent properties. This process of carving out an autonomous enclave engages the municipality as well. As another political group in search of its own independent ground, the town also emerged as a crucial force supporting its people.
It will take violent upheavals over two centuries to solidify Calais-enclave. Many early modern maps such as Braun & Hogenburg's trace the enclosure that French forces wrested from the English, for what would seem like one last time, in 1558 (Figure 7.4). The ongoing social struggle would reinforce it again on multiple occasions right up to our own day. The highly contested terrain and coastline that is the North of France, Flanders, and the Low Countries, would prove the crucial locale for this political process.
Figure 7.4 Georg Braun et al., Civitates Orbis Terrarvm, Cologne, 1612–18. Washington, DC, Library of Congress. www.loc.gov/item/2008627031/ (accessed February 16, 2022).
The second, legal sense of the enclave developed in this region as well. It was here that Hugo Grotius, a Dutch jurist, conceived of the related notion in international law. 7 Extraterritoriality designates a legal right to exercise authority in a limited space, within territory belonging to the dominant political power. It establishes a zone, no matter how small, in which an alternate jurisdiction operates, one intended to balance power relations between vying political states. Grotius's own experience is telling. He fled his homeland of Holland because of religious oppression, and crossed over into France. His flight suggests the link between the necessary, special legal status of such an extraterritorial zone and the refuge it offers. Grotius is a migrant avant la lettre, and he draws on what he went through to devise an idea crucial to all forced to flee. According to his notion of extraterritoriality, a place that represents an enclave gains legal sovereignty. This closed-off space becomes a safe, autonomous one for people in need. Against all the odds – restricted room and invasive political power – Grotius' enclave creates an extra territory that offers to a protected minority space along a border, or within a larger domain.
Today this idea in international law prevails; and it characterizes even those circumscribed zones lodged at the heart of dominant nation-states. These “pockets,” or “territorial enclaves,” as legal scholars analyze them, provide the testing ground for the legal rights of stateless migrants (Aumond, 2015). At the moment, Calais presents such an enclave, one in double jeopardy. It is a place where the rights of those who are held up there can be acknowledged legally, as local associations in Calais support. It is also a place where such rights of migrants are far from being defended consistently by the municipality, or respected by the police, as an inquiry commissioned by the French government under pressure makes clear (Nadot and Krimi, 2021; Aumond, 2015: 1816).
This legal and geographical understanding of the enclave feeds its culture. In premodern northern France, Flanders, and the Low Countries, it is enriched by fictions that represent people being locked in, and others that open up an imaginative space for them. The word establishes this. Enclave: to “key in.” Its meaning confirms a sense of enclosure and secured containment. The term emerged in both French and English, when the lock and key mechanism was an important technology of defense.
Figure 7.5 shows the lock on the gate securing the capital of the French-speaking Walloon region, and seat of the wife of the first English king to besiege Calais. The lock's function of closing and opening the city is duplicated in the artistic metalwork, in a scene of a woman on guard, controlling the movement of all who approach.
Figure 7.5 Copy of fifteenth-century lock on City Hall Front Gate, Mons, Hainaut county, Belgium. Wikimedia Commons image. Photo: Ad Meskens.
Writers were quick to invent with the image of the lock and key, and the idea of enclave. They personify the device, and give it a voice (Figure 7.6). In a fable well known in premodern Europe, they use it to promote the value of social cohesion: the lock and key, fitting well with one other, “teach us how to live with our neighbor in peace and accord (“qui nous enseigne que paysiblement et d’ung accord debvons vivre avec nostre prochain”). 8 Writers also transpose the image into a powerful metaphor for intimate, precious human feelings about ourselves and belonging (Ainsworth, 1990: 103). The heart becomes the most personal enclave, as the Romance of the Rose famously depicts it; the lover's heart holding all emotion in a place not to be divided. 9 According to legend, Mary, Queen of Scots, spoke of her passionate attachment to Calais in this way several centuries later. After her kingdom lost the city to France in another struggle over the enclave, she is imagined saying: “When I am dead and cut open, they will find Calais inscribed on my heart.” 10
Figure 7.6 Colard Mansion, De la Clef et de la serrure, 1482, Paris, BNF Rés. Gr-Yc-32, p. 23, detail. Courtesy of gallica.bnf.fr.
Insiders/outsiders, a city in suspense/in motion
The enclave in all these senses brings us to considering several defining ways writers represent Calais. They use two dialectical relations to characterize the place and its people. When the space of an enclave is enclosed, it hinges on an “inside” and an “outside.” The human tension intensifies between those held within and those without: between defenders holding tight, and those on the move; between city people within, and those seeking new ground from without. Outsiders are often given a name in the multilingual writing typical of premodern territories in France and England. They are called in the administrative language of the day, in Alain Chartier's Latin, the “Have-nothing,” the nihil habentes. 11 “Insiders,” we can call, by contrast, the “Have-plenty.” Premodern fictions such as the chronicle, build this dialectical relation between these two groups into the enclave. It has an architecture, a fortified one with crenelated walls, turrets, and elaborately built gates. In Calais, which endured decades of war during the fourteenth century, the “insiders” were the city's burghers, merchants and laborers, none of whom were called to war by the ordained system of social role in premodern Europe (Jehel, 1994: 59–69). The urban poor were caught within the stronghold as well. So were sea-faring Calaisians, disparaged routinely as pirates. Outside were the adventurers, not only the international mercenaries supporting French and English royalty, but the poor as well. Rural workers and vagabonds were also trapped, in as precarious a position as city-dwellers.
When we look at this dialectical relation between those people “inside” and “out” in its contemporary rendition, we find that it does not correspond neatly with what premodern writers represent. Dynastic wars had turned this northern area into a further field for exploiting newly occupied lands and peoples. So did the early modern Habsburgs in the Spanish Netherlands, the Países Bajos Españoles. The struggles over free-er human relations during modern times have changed the body politics. Yet the inequalities dividing groups remain plain: those recognized as belonging locally, and those not; those declared citizens, and those not. The dialectic between “insiders” and “outsiders” is tenaciously consistent. Today in Calais, the roughly 72,000 insiders also cut across social class and origin; and the outsiders, the “Siberians,” in the local lingo for migrants around town and the area, the roughly 1000 counted this year, are internationally diverse. 12 The line separating those “inside” and “out” is more than a boundary, more than a political fault-line between native and foreign. It is a socio-economic barricade dividing those French and European residents having plenty from those on the move seeking a better life. In Spain's borderlands, as Anna Tybinko analyzes them, in the Italian archipelago that public artists shape, as Tenley Bick shows, this inside/out division is also starkly in evidence.
In a series of maps over the last decade, geographer Philippe Rekacewicz outlines this fortress Europe, with Calais on its ramparts, bracing against the pressures of young Maghrebi, sub-Saharan Africans and those from the Levant outside its doors. 13
When this “inside”/“outside” tension polarizes the main groups of people, a second dialectics appears: one of stasis and movement. Calais-enclave and its peoples under siege typifies this. During the first of numerous early modern sieges, Calais was subjected to a full year's conflict with antagonists inside and outside the city wall, hunkered down. Froissart, among several writers recounting the stand-off in 1346, accentuates the distress of the immobilized. 14 Despite hundreds of inhabitants released to move out safely, chroniclers represent a grim picture: famine forces the besieged to eat the remaining rats; heat exhaustion slays hundreds of those making war against Calais. In the grip of siege, the city appears static – time held in suspense. The only choice seems to be to break the inside/outside stand-off and open the vulnerable town up for negotiation. We have the celebrated scenario of six burghers sacrificing themselves to save the famished city. 15 All accounts of the siege culminate in these men exiting the city, stripped of their city clothes, relinquishing the city keys to Edward III. Calais’ stasis is broken by tragic surrender (Figure 7.7).
Figure 7.7 Jean Froissart, Chroniques, c. 1415, Paris, BNF f.fr. 2663, fol. 164v. Courtesy of gallica.bnf.fr.
Writers representing this premodern enclave at a breaking point reveal a paradox. No matter how effective the military operation of besieging, the stasis that resulted was never absolute. Despite the fortifications bolstering the frontier of Calais, the lines drawn were never impenetrable. Froissart's chronicles of Calais under siege teem with episodes of men, women, and children in motion. 16 The right to safe passage authorized frail city dwellers to quit the city, as well as the noble cohort negotiating with the English. Military men also came and went throughout the year, including Calais’ French allies on the seas, who could sail in with supplies, or disrupt passage of the English back across the Channel.
Another kind of movement picks up when burghers and merchants mobilized: an economic one. The enclave is energized by their trading, and with the so-called “Have-nothing” as well. Those in Calais attempt to keep something of a livelihood going; outside, the English camp set up weekly markets. At the height of the siege, basic commercial activity continues. This bartering is such a signature trait of Calais that Froissart devotes an entire, lesser-known episode to it:
Comment le capitaine de Calais vendit Calais au capitaine de Saint Omer et comment le roy d’Angleterre le seust avant qil la peust delivrer.
(Toulouse, Bibliothèque municipale mss. 511, fol. 157–159)
(How the Captain of Calais sold Calais to the Captain of Saint Omer, and how the king of England found out about it before he could deliver on it.)
After the English take possession of Calais and, in turn, are locked in by their adversaries, one of their men barters with the French. The Lombard Aymeri de Pavia purchases the beloved port city the French could not regain in battle at that stage. This treacherous “selling out” is the flipside of the burghers’ sacrifice for Calais. Commodifying the city breaks its stasis a second time. Instead of people standing still on principle, in this alternate plot, they move money around. Economic activity saves the situation; Italian bank loans make it possible. This pragmatic plot is never configured in heroic terms, yet it proves just as integral a part of the besieged enclave as the tragic, sacrificial one.
Chronicle and ballad
From the earliest years when writers witnessed Calais-enclave emerging, they focused their work on its people. In both French and English-speaking circuits, they acted on their behalf, representing those both “inside” and “outside,” their need to move unimpeded, their search for their own safe place. Chronicle writers stand out first because their reports on the chain of events narrate people's experience in lucid prose (Spiegel, 1997: 193). Their “literature of fact,” as the form is defined, can continue indefinitely to give an overview of the actions of men, women, and children. Poets are equally telling in other ways. Their work relays individual voices speaking out. Ballads, in particular, are outbursts, expressing emotions made clear and memorable through rhymed refrains (Roubaud, 1997: 16). Writers practicing both these genres contribute decisively to building Calais-enclave.
First, Froissart and his renowned Chronicles. This writer was not personally implicated in the conflict over Calais. Neither a spokesman on the French nor English side, he was more allied with the French-speaking Queen of England, Philippa, a compatriot from Hainaut. His narration of the day-to-day events of the 1346 siege navigates between the opposing royal camps.
Figure 7.8, depicting the four different sovereigns he addressed, includes the French Philip VI, the English Edward III, but also Alfonso III, king of Leon and Castile, and William III of Flanders. 17 This double diptych identifies them all as peers in warfare, just as Froissart does at the outset of his Chronicles, adding the kingdoms of Scotland and Brittany as well. It also shows how misleading it is to nationalize the premodern conflict, to make it a French affair. Not only does such a configuration diminish the many parties involved, it also makes slight of the ongoing communication between them (an “English” letter delivered to the French king in upper left image).
Figure 7.8 Jean Froissart, Chroniques, c. 1400, the Hague, KB, ms. 72. A 25, fol. 1. Courtesy of Koninklijke Bibliotheek.
Froissart's first Chronicle entries about preparations for the siege detail this political picture too.
Car le roy de France avoit establi si bonnes gens d’armes par les forteresces qui estoient en cest temps autour de Calais, et tant de Genevois et de Normens mariniers sur mer, que les Anglois qui vouloient aler fourrer ou aventurer ne l’avoient pas davantage, mais trouvoient souvent des rancontres durs et fors.
(Besançon, Bibliothèque municipale, mss. 864, fol. 147v)
(The king of France had brought in such good military men to the fortresses that were all around Calais, and so many Genoese and Norman sailors on the sea that if the English attempted any engagement or ventured anything, they were often met with tough, strong resistance.)
A French Calais introduces diverse groups. Far from a homogeneous community, it is made up not only of those from the region, but from a maritime network that connected seamen of the Channel and the Atlantic with Mediterranean ones. Some four hundred years before the political regime of nation-states took hold, we discover the enclave creating a body politic that is neither national nor international – in a political sense. We can call it, more accurately, multi-cultural – the character of Calais, in fact, before the siege began.
This is the profile, too, of every large premodern military force of seigneurial lords operating in this northern region; akin to the foreign mercenaries of modern times depicted so precisely by Jacques Callot in his engravings, Miseries of War (Grandes misères de la guerre) (1633). 18 Froissart's Chronicles records their decisive involvement. It signals the wide range of relations between various groups across Europe. It reminds us that the claims of a French people besieged by an English one rests on the backs of a heterogeneous, polyglot multitude. This is fundamentally at odds with any national construction of the enclave, then, and again, now. Its general social make-up during the fourteenth century corresponds in a significant degree to contemporary Calais, whose residents today include a notable percentage of Maghrebi, Levantine, and eastern European background. The city around 2020 also appears a socio-cultural mosaic.
When Froissart takes us into Calais, how does he represent those populating the besieged city and environs? He does not focus on the noble, military class alone, nor on the burghers who exemplify the city's independence. He narrates the besieged city's struggle with the English across social groups. Two scenes exemplify a style that presents the widespread suffering of people on equal terms. 19 A laborer's boy is seen enduring just as much as everyone else. So are a priest and two guardians of the laws and customs of the city, all left behind during the final stages of the siege. The chronicler zeroes in, then, on the last survivors. This trio embodies a final lifeline of communication, transmitting what Calais is, and what it can signify to the next generations.
Froissart witnesses a range of people in the besieged enclave whose political allegiances are finally less significant than their socio-economic ranks. By highlighting their common efforts for the civic good, he fosters solidarity. He is first and foremost a social chronicler. His narrative makes this clear: no single individual is developed fully into a character. Froissart depicts instead the collective life of Calais-enclave that is richer than its well-known bourgeois one.
Why does this writer commit to chronicling a diverse society across its ranks? Froissart is pursuing what is dubbed today, shuttle diplomacy. Not only does he introduce the multiple parties, he is working to represent as many of the vying vantage points on this conflicted society as possible. The writing creates this multiple outlook. In subsequent chapters, narrating the ongoing tension between English Calais and the surrounding sovereign states, Froissart underscores all the rival parties involved (1991: 207). When the English king descends on Calais in 1359: “Germans, Flemish, Burgundians, Habsburg, Brabant: an entire assembly all together” (“Allemants, Flamens, Bourguignons, Hasbegnons, Braibenchons et tous ensemble”). Froissart characterizes Calais-enclave, on the contested frontline of struggles, as engaging far more people and extending beyond the French–English face-off. Calais, in his view, is the frontier, marking the border for the first time in French. To acknowledge the many parties involved means, for this writer, assuming the pivotal role of mediating between them all.
Today, a fellow chronicler of Calais, Emmanuel Carrère, takes a leaf from Froissart's book. His reporting, combined with reflection, investigate a spectrum of people. His Letter to a Calaisian Woman came out in 2016, at the height of the so-called migrant crisis (Carrère, 2016a). 20 It appeared almost simultaneously in the British press, quickly followed by Spanish and Italian versions. What Carrère represents brings us into the city, intra muros. In his style of creative writing devoted to subjects rarely in the limelight, and other unsavory ones, he directs his narrative to city residents responding to the migrants who began squatting downtown in abandoned warehouses.
La dentelle qui avant la guerre employait quelque vingt mille personnes, et encore cinq mille il y a vingt ans, n’en emploie plus que quatre cents. De la centaine d’usines, il ne reste que quatre. Les bâtiments des autres ne sont plus que d’énormes carcasses de brick desossées et noircies, aux cours envahies de rouille et de mauvaises herbes, idéales pour des squats: c’est là que s’abritaient les migrants jusqu’à ce que la mairie les en expulse, l’an dernier, pour les entasser dans la jungle où ils dérangeraient moins, penseait-on, les Calaisiens. Pour qu’ils ne soient pas tentés de revenir, on a muré toutes les portes et fenêtres.
(Carrère, 2016a: 36)
(The lace industry used to employ some 20,000 before the war; and even 20 years ago, 5,000. Today, they employ no more than 400. Of the hundred factories, only 4 remain. The other buildings are nothing more than huge brick carcasses, dirty and decaying, their courtyards rusty and taken over by weeds. A perfect squat. That's where migrants took refuge up until the Town Hall expelled them, last year, to throw them all together in the Jungle, where they cause less of a problem, so they thought. To prevent them from coming back, all the doors and windows were walled up.)
This cityscape is a field of combat, turned now into an ironic double of the besieged stronghold it once was. In it, Carrère portrays individuals, some named, some not: Kader Haddouche, high school teacher, first generation Calaisien of Algerian background; Ghizlane Mahtab, housewife whose wifi coverage attracts migrants to her street; the parish priest in Fort Nieulay, a working-class neighborhood and site of an early modern siege; a militant member of the neo-nazi association enraged over lack of security; and the anonymous letter writer of the title who warns him about selling Calais out again.
Carrère's character studies place the city's “insiders” and “outsiders” on a par, facing a comparable dilemma. They are all caught between sovereign English territory in city center port, and the Wall built around the Tunnel connecting France and Britain; between unresponsive governments on both sides of the Channel, and the so-called Jungle. They are all enmired in tough living and working conditions; squalid for some, alienating for others. Carrère juxtaposes these people to humanize the enclave's full, conflicted social life. The men and women in the city, as in the Jungle, may share more in their everyday than the nationalist discourses dividing them. His portraits, much like Froissart's narrations, represent them trapped together in a painful situation, in “this landscape now transformed into a giant moat” (Carrère, 2016a: 35).
“There's always a new language to come”
Now to the poets. The premodern balladeers, who practiced a form beloved for its rounds of personal expression, gathered around Calais. In the first person, they give witness; their poetry construct the place anew. Deschamps, for one, composed ballads that declare who he is, and voice his visceral involvement in the conflict:
Je suis né de la terre autrefois vertueuse Mais Dieux merci, toute plaine de blé Ont les Anglais le feu bouté dedans. Deux mille frans m’aleur guerre couté. Je serai desormais Brulé Deschamps.
(I was born of land that once was fortunate. But God help us, the English torched the plains of wheat everywhere. War has cost me two thousand francs in revenue. From now on, I'll be Burnt in his fields.)
The poet takes a name that places him and identifies him with wanton destruction. He is writing from terrain far less recognized than the city-enclave but no less under siege. The ballad's refrain declares his identification with farmland devastated by the scorched earth warfare that English forces inflicted on territory surrounding Calais and other towns.
Las! Ma terre est destruite et ruyneuse, Je suis desert, destruit et desolé; Fuir m’en fault, ma demeure est doubteuse, Se je ne sui d’aucun reconforté; Ainsi seray de mon lieu rebouté, Comme essilliez, dolereux et meschans, Se mes seigneurs n’ont de mon fait pitié: J’aray desors a nom Brûlé des Champs. (Deschamps, 2014: Ballade 120) 22
(Woe, my land is destroyed, ruinous, I am deserted, destroyed, desolate; I have to flee, my residence doubtful, I am comforted by no one. So it is that I am kicked out of my own place, an exile, sad, and bad-spirited. My lords do not have pity for my situation. From here on out I'll have the name Burnt in his fields.)
Deschamps’ lamenting voice creates a persona forced to watch his homeland's destruction. He speaks of his suffering in the countryside, just as devastating as that of inhabitants starving inside the city. The poet's rural persona is reduced to having nothing.
Through his grief, he gives voice to the thousands of “Have-nothing” in and around Calais. His ballads are often dialogues. A debate builds between rural people and city merchants, between women and men; in other words, between those less often recognized by court writers who know the pastoral genre.
These poetic debates are remarkable as well because they take place in that extra zone created by the besieged enclave.
Entre Guynes, Sangates et Callays
Soubz une saulz, assez pres du marcage
De pastoureaulx estoit la en grant plays … (Dauphant, 2015: 299, Ballade 60)
(Between Guînes, Sangatte and Calais
Under a willow tree, close to the marsh
Shepherds were deep in discussion … )
In such a place, Deschamps captures individual reactions to the terrible effects of siege and scorched earth warfare.
Dont l’un disoit que c’estoit grant dommaige
Qu’il convenoit laissier le pasturer
Pour les treves qui devoiënt cesser …
Encore me dist cilz pastoureauls aprés
Que trop envix lairoiënt ce passaige,
Et qu’en traittant [ils] pourchacent adés
Vivres et gens, et autre cariage…
Que se le roy veult faire bon visaige
Et mettre sus gens contre les Anglés
Et assieger Calais et le riviage … (Dauphant, 2015: 299, Ballade 60)
(One of them was saying it was a great pity
That we have to abandon the pasture
Because the truce should be coming to an end …
The same shepherd said more to me;
They won't give up this passage easily;
And even during negotiations they continue to seize
Livelihoods, people, other merchandise …
If the king wishes to resist,
And raises an army against the English
To lay siege to Calais and the coast …)
This ballad constructs a pastoral network of talk relaying what needs to be heard and expressed. Through a refrain, it links rural opinions to a no-win, anti-war position in the enclave: “this year we'll have no peace with the English” (“Nous n’arons paix aux Anglois de l’annee”) (Dauphant, 2015: 299).
Deschamps’ ballads widen the network. The rounds of debate among different inhabitants of the enclave speak of other countries. In ballad 337, for example, two women on the coastal road along the Channel, exchange their views:
Nous sommes bien trompé
Aux Anglais n’avons paix n’alongne …
Car, en Guyenne et en Gascongne …
En Espagne et en Castalongne
Et en France ou ilz on grapé
Escoce et Galles le tesmoigne … (Deschamps, 1893: I, 478)
(We're tricked again
With the English we have neither peace nor pause in fighting …
As in Guyenne, Gascony …
And in France where they've pillaged,
Scotland and Wales are witnesses to it … )
Deschamps’ people see their predicament in a context larger than a French–English stand-off. They compare what they are enduring to the plight of many others; in the North, in Scotland, as in the South, in Mediterranean kingdoms. They are worldly wise. The exchange signals their participating in extensive dialogue. 23 It also associates Calais’ risks under siege with others elsewhere that they cannot see but have heard about.
Out of the experience of grueling war on the home front, Deschamps’ poetry creates a chorus of sorts. 24 Calais is transformed in the process, from an isolated struggling enclave into a place open to many others and connected far and wide. The forecast is still grim: “You'll not get peace, if they do not hand over Calais” (“Paix n’arez ia s’ilz ne rendent Calays (Deschamps, 1893: I, 63)). The refrain of ballad 344 issues an ultimate warning to the enclave. Little does it matter who is inside, and who is out: all parties are bound together in the same battle for rights to their own livelihood in their place, and freedom of movement.
Deschamps, like Froissart the chronicler, also brings us into besieged Calais. Ballad 89 expresses panic: the double bind of being betrayed by his companion, fellow-poet Grandson, and held for ransom.
J’entray dedenz comme corniz
Sans congié lors vint .ii. Anglois
Granson devant et moy apres,
Qui me prendent parmi la bride:
L’un me dist: “dogue,” l’autre: “ride”
Lors me devint la couleur bleu:
“Goday” fait l’un, l’autre “commidre”
Lors dis: Oil, je voy vo queue (Deschamps, 1893: Ballad 89, V, 79, l. 3–10)
(I entered, went inside like a fool
Without authorization. Two English men approached.
Grandson in front, and I behind,
They seized me by the [horse's] bridle.
One said to me, “dog”; the other, “ride.”
Then I turned blue.
“Godday,” said one; “come hither,” the other.
Then I said, “Yea, I see your tail.”)
The poet's persona still gets the last word: an ironic retort from a dog-eat-dog world. He neither surrenders, nor cuts a deal, as Froissart represents the choice. Instead he talks his way out of a dead end. Deschamps outlasts the opposing forces, moving out – as well as – into the enclave. At a time when the English take possession of the city, his ballad transmits the experience of the poet as forced migrant.
Language proves one formidable tool for his survival – the several languages around Calais that writers deploy. 25 In this ballad, the poet plays bilingually to identify himself with some authority. In another, he uses the naming strategy:
Je ne sais qui aura le nom
D’aller par les champs desormais
Un temps vi qu’engles et gascon
Parloient tuit et clers et lais (Deschamps, 1893: I, pp. 217–18)
(I don't know how to call
Those who'll cross the fields from now on.
I've seen a time when everyone, clerks and laypeople,
Spoke English and Gascon.)
Calais’ peoples have learned many tongues. The refrain makes clear: “There's always a new language to come” (“Tousdis vient un nouvel langaige”). Not only is there English and Gascon, but Breton and Burgundian too. With no break in the impasse, the ballad poses the ultimate question:
Demande qui sont plus parfais
A bien raenconner un mesnaige
De ces .IIII. dont je me tays. (Deschamps, 1893: I, pp. 217–18, l. 21–4)
(So I ask
Which of these four
Are the best for ransoming a household,
I'll not say.)
If French is no longer a reliable medium for negotiating, then Deschamps’ writing will keep up the talk across languages. In Calais-enclave that is the borderland, this multilingual poetry provides vital material and a creative alternative to its repressive limits. It insures needed personal expression, offering support for dispossessed people holding on.
Today, Deschamps’ fellow writer, Patrick Chamoiseau, is alert to this poetic value. His Brother migrants, published in spring 2017, expresses his strong feeling of being called to the task of imagining migrants in their desperate situation. 26 Galvanized by thousands of them, known and unknown, who died en route in the years around 2015, Chamoiseau gives witness, and mobilizes support. While he does not share their experience, he adopts poetry's voices to advocate for those forced to abandon their homelands or choosing to leave. His imagining migrants reaches beyond what Deschamps could express: Chamoiseau ranges over “trans-country, trans-nation, trans-world” (Chamoiseau, 2017: 91). The men and some few women he envisages are on the move from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, attempting to cross the Mediterranean, headed for destinations farther north, including Calais’ crossing point. Chamoiseau cultivates a type of poetic cohabitation with them.
Akin to Deschamps, he composes dialogues. His work orchestrates the reactions of a film-maker and a humanitarian volunteer with his own. The multi-vocal essay creates a remarkable network of dialogue:
Oui … mes chères, déclenche dans les geographies du vent, en étincelles de sel, en étincelles de ciel, une étrange conférence de poètes et de grands êtres humains. (7/127)
(Yes … [what you say] my dears, brings about a strange colloquium of poets and great human beings in the geographies of wind, in sparks of salt and sky.)
Chamoiseau's network spans land and sea, and shapes an imaginative realm stretching far and wide. It gives people a type of safe place that is still in touch with the outside. De-territorialized, it “spreads across what once were territories, nations, homelands” (Chamoiseau, 2017: 92). In an earlier essay, Writing in a Dominant Land, Chamoiseau imagines how such a place is the opposite of a territory; open yet not defined by closed borders, where people express themselves in every possible language. 27
In just such an imagined place, Chamoiseau calls on poetry to speak on behalf of today's migrants. In one of the most significant declarations:
Les poètes déclarent qu’aller-venir et dévirer de par les rives du monde sont un Droit poétique, c’est-à-dire: une décence qui s’élève de tous les Droits connus visant à protéger le plus précieux de nos humanités: qu’aller-venir et dévier sont un hommage offert à ceux vers qui l’on va, à ceux chez qui l’on passe, et que c’est une célébration de l’histoire humaine que d’honorer la terre entière de ses élans et de ses rêves.
(Chamoiseau, 2017: 132, Déclaration #5)
(The poets declare: Coming and going, taking another route along the banks of the world is a poetic Right; that is, a decency that surpasses all the Rights we know that aim to protect what is most precious about our humanity. Coming and going, taking another route is a form of homage offered to those towards whom you're travelling, those whose homes you pass through. It's a celebration of human history that honors the entire earth in its drives and its dreams.)
Chamoiseau makes freedom of movement a poetic matter. When politics fails, and social action offers a first step, it is poetry that articulates the migrants’ human right to move unencumbered. And it does so from the enclave of the imagination that Chamoiseau's notion of poetry creates. The creative energy of this declaration is stunning to sense. It is as sustaining as any statement from the United Nations.
Chamoiseau's sixteen declarations invoke a collective, that “strange colloquium of poets” he spoke about with the film-maker and humanitarian volunteer. These are poets across many times and places. They include François Villon, Deschamps’ contemporary whose ballad, “Brother Humans,” echoes in Chamoiseau's title, Brother Migrants. And it is in this premodern voice that Chamoiseau makes his final poetic declaration:
Frères migrants qui le monde vivez, qui le vivez bien avant nous, frères de nulle part, ô frères déchus, déshabillés, retenus et détenus partout …
(Chamoiseau, 2017: 136)
(Brother migrants who live in the world, who have lived in it long before us, brothers from nowhere, fallen, stripped, held and detained everywhere … )
With all his poetic voices, Chamoiseau solicits a common sense of humanity and launches a call to action to safeguard migrants that is as potent as any political campaign.
* * *
Chamoiseau with Deschamps, Froissart with Carrère: these writers, and their inventive work, are a lifeline for thousands of displaced people in search of their place. For all of them and their publics, their fiction is a creative process of coming into awareness. It opens up the sense of being entrapped, held in place, or forced to move. It creates a place of critical reflection. Their writing fosters individual experiments in expressing something freely of the experiences of migrating. The result: a vital enclave of sorts for the hearts and minds of people. While this “imaginative territory” takes various shapes in such premodern and contemporary writing, its truth-claims changing at different times, it demonstrates how fiction is a necessary and invaluable part of composing the centuries-long history of Calais’ migrants.
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