The only girl in the world: a memoir by Maude Julien

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Text, 2017. ISBN 9781925498110
(Age: Mature senior secondary) Recommended for mature readers who should be given opportunities to discuss the content. Maude Julien's memoir details a horrific childhood of deprivation and suffering inflicted by parents determined to create an exceptional being who would not suffer from any intellectual or physical weakness. Maude's father was a wealthy French company director who had a Nietschzean belief in his own power and consequently despised human emotional fragility. He raised a poor miner's daughter, Jeannine, from infancy and in time she became the mother of Maude, the author. The couple isolated themselves from the world and raised their child to master all skills and eliminate all weakness. Part of her training taught her to regard other people with suspicion and fear. She is set constant endurance tests and never shown any affection. Maude's teacher is her mother, who is a victim of Louis almost as much as Maude is. Maude is woken in the night and made to sit in darkness in the cellar to overcome her fear of rats. She is forced to traverse the grounds of their mansion again at night without a light. She must sit for hours without moving. Bells are sewn onto her jacket to ensure that she does not move. Louis wants a guard dog so Linda, an Alsatian, is purchased. Linda loves Maude but her father forces Maude to shut Linda in a tiny cage during the day. Maude must not allow herself to be ruled by sentiment. She must excel academically, despite being taught by her mother who does not understand what she is teaching. She must be a gymnast, despite having no trainer, and she must learn a range of musical instruments. Oddly, despite their suspicion of the world at large, Maude's parents allow frequent contact with a vicious gardener who sexually abuses the child, and her accordion teacher is a sadist who stubs out his cigarettes on her knees. Louis has a philosophy that is a mixture of Masonism and Nazism, but the essence is that he must be recognised as godlike. He tries to force Maude to promise to watch over his grave for the rest of her life. He fails in this but he does force her to toilet and bath him, and share in his copious consumption of alcohol. He eventually organizes her marriage which he does not intend to be consummated. However Maude seizes her chance and escapes. Psychologically Maude is saved by the love her few animals, Linda the dog, Arthur, a pony, and a duck, give her, and ultimately by a fine and wily music teacher who manages to extricate the seventeen year old girl from her isolation. She begins to recognize her talents as a writer and musician, and to understand that it is possible to enjoy being with others. She has many disabilities, a damaged liver, nightmares, and chronic distrust among them, and it takes many years of different therapies before she functions as a happy and successful person. The message finally is that psychological damage can be repaired, but at a great cost over a long time. The importance of simple loving kindness in raising a child is critical. The memoir is engrossing but an emotionally difficult read. The cruelty inflicted on the child and the animals is almost unbelievable and is certainly disturbing. It can be recommended for mature readers who should be given opportunities to discuss the content.
Jenny Hamilton