Henriette d’Angeville au Mont-Blanc, by Émile Gaillard. 159 pp., numerous illustrations, Chambéry, 1947: Collection le Roc et l’Eau, Éditions Lire.
When Henriette d’Angeville gained the summit of Mont Blanc in 1838, little more than 40 years had passed since the first ascent by Dr. Paccard, and the adventure was regarded as a hazardous one, not to be confused with sport. It was a sensational thing to do. Marie Paradis, a peasant girl of Chamonix, had preceded Henriette, who was of a distinguished French family; but the attitudes of the two women clearly differed. For Marie, the ascent established a notoriety useful with tourists; for Henriette, ever afterwards known as the “Bride of Mont Blanc,” it was the climax of a love of mountains for their own sake. That the love did not die was made evident by her ascent of the Signal de Retord on snowshoes in February 1852 and of the Oldenhorn, her 21st and last summit, in August 1863, when she was 69 years old. In the following year she made excursions to points from which Mont Blanc, the joy of her life, was visible. She died on 13 January 1871, in her 77th year.
Commandant Gaillard, in an entertaining book based on her diary and album, has allowed Mlle. d’Angeville to tell her own story. She sketched the principal events of the ascent and, on her return, commissioned the best Genevan artists of the time to render finished pictures. These delightful illustrations, here reproduced, surpass in graphic quality all earlier drawings of climbers and their equipment. There are vividness and honest reality in the faces of guides and porters, who are armed with halberd axes and chamois- horn alpenstocks and laden with such odd things as bellows and a cage of pigeons. One can but admire the intrepid woman’s marvellous costume, complete with bloomers, bell-skirt and boa. Yet one sees that she leaped crevasses lightly, walked erect on crests of ice, and deserved the tribute of her guides, who lifted her above the summit that she might be higher than Mont Blanc.
J. M. Thorington