Nevil Shute Norway Foundation


Nicole Rougeron

By: Babette Hills

Nicole Rougeron is the young French woman who helps septuagenarian John Sidney Howard and his multinational group of foster children escape to England in "Pied Piper", published in 1941. Like many of Nevil Shute's female characters, with the notable exception of Jean Paget in "A Town Like Alice", Nicole has a supporting role, but an important one.

Mr. Howard and his RAF son John meet Nicole and her parents on a skiing holiday in the French Jura in early 1939. Unknown to their parents, Nicole and John write to each other and meet in Paris for a week in June 1939. They fall in love but are unable to marry due to the start of WWII.

John dies in action in March 1940. Mr. Howard, in his grief, feels a need to return to the Jura, to enjoy the sunny spring weather and fishing. In May 1940 the Germans invade France and Mr. Howard makes plans to travel back to his own country, England. Along the way he collects five small children and seeks the Rougerons' help in Chartres. Nicole's father, a French Colonel, is away, probably a prisoner, so Nicole and her mother plan an escape over the Channel with a fisherman friend of the family. Nicole accompanies Mr. Howard and his charges to the coast but they are caught by the Germans. The commanding officer arranges a deal to help his part Jewish niece travel to America, to Mr. Howard's married daughter, with the rest of the children. Despite Mr. Howard's efforts to have Nicole live with him in England she returns to her mother.

Nicole is wearing a black scarf and appears much older when Mr. Howard rings her doorbell. All he can remember is that she was a carefully turned out French girl with short, curly fair hair, trimmed eyebrows and manicured hands at odds with the way she flew down the slopes with John. Mr. Howard soon learns that she is grieving for John as much as he is. Mr. Howard and Nicole come to care deeply for each other. She realizes that John was very like his father. She reminisces about John with his father and they are both able to begin healing.

Mr. Howard recognizes Nicole as his daughter-in-law although no wedding or formal engagement was able to take place. Nicole believes the week she spent with John was morally wrong but that through them "these children should escape Europe to grow up in peace. In thirty years the world may need one of these little ones." They believe they are doing something worthwhile and that some goodness remains in the world.

Nevil Shute wrote and published this novel before the end of WWII. He appears as the Naval officer narrator. Mr. Howard tells him his story at their London club later in 1940. Shute obviously meant this story to be a study of the effect of war on parents, women, children and individuals of various nationalities. It is a hopeful book that dwells on the future and the goodness in everyone. Even in this war novel there are no bad guys. Americans are glowingly portrayed and the serialization of Pied Piper in the US in Colliers Magazine prior to Pearl Harbor was no doubt helpful in gaining American support.

"In an age that seemed unable to prevent war Shute provided models of conduct." (Julian Smith, "Nevil Shute", Twayne, 1976, p46) Nicole is caring, valiant and able to look to the future exemplifying Shute's values and beliefs. She is a blend of femininity, courage and capability that is common to many of his woman characters. As usual, Shute allows his ordinary people's actions to reveal their morals.