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Visiting the Furet du Nord Building, Place du Général-de-Gaulle, Lille, France: Bookworms, and memories of Watteau

Updated on January 30, 2015
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
'Le Furet du Nord', Lille
'Le Furet du Nord', Lille | Source
Scene from 'Place de la Vielle Bourse' (as formerly known)
Scene from 'Place de la Vielle Bourse' (as formerly known) | Source
"La procession de Lille of 1789', by  François Watteau, 1801.
"La procession de Lille of 1789', by François Watteau, 1801. | Source
A ferret, 'Mustela putorius furo'.
A ferret, 'Mustela putorius furo'. | Source

Books galore

I have spent some happy times in this building. As somewhat of a bookworm, I discovered this bookstore in Lille, in France's Nord deparment, and this led led to some interesting and absorbing browsing among its huge stock of books.

When the bookstore occupied its current building, it retained its 19th century frontage facing Place du Général-de-Gaulle. This, however has since been restored to its original 18th century appearance. The refurbishment of the frontage was carried out in 1969. The building, along with adjoining properties, appears in a painting by the celebrated 18th century painter François Watteau (1758-1823)(1); in 1801 Watteau painted La Procession de Lille en 1789 (see right). Today the building visibly approximates once more the way it looked when Watteau achieved his work.

The bookstore Le Furet du Nord was founded in 1936 by Georges Poulard. In 1950, Poulard was bought out by an employee Paul Callens, who subsequently built up the business enormously. The bookstore is now among the largest in Europe.

The bookstore began at other premises. One day its owner, Georges Callens, who had never been to Paris, went to the Paris headquarters of the Galeries Barbès and offered to buy the prime property at 15, Place du Général-de-Gaulle, then occupied by one of its shopping outlets. His offer was accepted, and today Le Furet du Nord claims to be the largest bookstore in Europe.

For many years Le Furet du Nord and its bookstore outlets was confined to the French Nord/Pas de Calais region. But in 2011 it expanded its presence to the Paris area. Its Online service dates from 2009. For a number of years Le Furet du Nord was linked with Virgin Megastore, but this linkage was discontinued

The bookstore regularly arranges for authors to give promotional talks about their work.

The word 'le Furet' in the bookstore's name means 'the ferret', in reference to the fact that the original business owner sold furs. However, metaphorically, a book reader may be said to be 'ferreting' things out. A definition of the noun 'feret' includes the sense the notion of the ferret as a restless and assiduous searcher (which came into English from French). Thus also, the multitudes of browsers at Le Furet du Nord may be said to be engaging in this activity!

For good measure, I have supplied a picture of a ferret. Come to think of it, the image of a ferret, with its pointed snout, sniffing around for food, does capture the idea of bookworms browsing their way around establishments such as Le Furet du Nord.

January 30, 2015


(1) Another of François Watteau's paintings was La bataille des pyramides. François Watteau was a great nephew of Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), who specialized in Rococo paintings. François Watteau's father Louis Joseph Watteau (1731-1798) was also a well-known painter.

(2) Source: The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.; Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Map location of Lille, France
Map location of Lille, France | Source

Also worth seeing

In Lille itself, other noted buildings include: the 17th century, former Stock Exchange; the Birthplace Museum of General Charles de Gaulle; the former Rihour Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy (now a tourist information centre); the belfry of the Chamber of Commerce; the tall belfry of the City Hall; and many others.

Armentières (distance: 18 kilometres) has a striking Flemish Renaissance Town Hall and belfry.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Lille (distance: 129 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada


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