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A1 French Reading Challenge

Week Three: La Tulipe Noire (The Black Tulip)

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Week One: Introduction


Week Two: The Nutcracker / EFR 1

Week Three: The Black Tulip / EFR 2

Week Four: Fables / EFR 3

Week Five: Beauty and the Beast / EFR 4

Week Six: Lancelot / EFR Revision


Week Seven: A1 DELF Exam papers (for weird fun)

(EFR= Easy French Reader)


Week Two

Welcome to the third week of our French reading challenge! This week’s selection is The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (who wrote last week’s book, The Nutcracker)


In this post, like all others in the A1 French Reading Challenge series, I’ll summarise each chapter and provide a short glossary of words that I felt necessary to look up*. If I make a mistake, please be kind! I’m setting this French challenge up as a personal challenge to improve my own level. I’m no expert! 

(To learn more about why I believe readers are the best way to learn a foreign language, click here. To learn about how to choose a suitable text, click here)


Summary (SPOILERS!) and Vocabulary


Chapter One: Deux secrets


Corneille de Witt is a powerful politician in Holland. He goes to visit his godson, Cornelius Van Baerle, who likes nothing more than to spend his days growing flowers. Unfortunately, Corneille has some terrible news for the apolitical Cornelius; William of Orange is plotting against him because of his political affiliations with the King of France, Louis XIV. Cornelius doesn’t care as he just wants to grow flowers, but his godfather insists on giving him a secret packet. Cornelius tells his godfather that he is planning to grow a black tulip to win a prize, but is unaware that the sinister Isaac Boxtel is spying on him from afar…

  1. filleul: godson

  2. parrain: godfather

  3. les serres: greenhouse

  4. séchoir: drying room (place to dry plants)


Chapter Two: Le Malheurs de Cornélius


Cornelius is busy admiring his work when a servant enters the room to warn him that several guards are at the door and wish to speak to him. They come in and find the letter that his godfather, Corneille de Witt, gave him. They accuse Cornelius of plotting against Holland. Cornelius protests his innocence and explains that his godfather is the governor of Holland. The guards explain that his godfather is dead and arrest the innocent Cornelius. 

  1. malheurs: misfortune

  2. lisses: smooth

  3. feuille: paper

  4. poitrine: chest

  5. serre: hug tight

  6. réussi: succeeded

  7. trésor: treasure


Chapter Three: Cornélius devant sus juges


Cornelius is taken to jail where he meets a horrible jailor, Gryphus. Gryphus is looking forward to seeing Cornelius executed as a traitor. Suddenly, Cornelius sees a beautiful girl, Rosa, who is Gryphus’ daughter. Cornelius gives Rosa the three bulbs and asks her to look after them with instructions. Cornelius goes to court where the judges find him guilty but do not execute him. Instead, they give him life imprisonment. 

  1. devant: before

  2. guichet: window

  3. triste sort: sad fate

  4. pris: from prendre (took/taken)


Chapter Four: Le plan de Cornélius


Rosa goes to visit Cornelius in prison and brings him 3 black tulip bulbs all wrapped in paper. Cornelius decides to plant one of them in the garden, the second in his cell using the soil taken from the garden, and the third he instructs Rosa to hide. Meanwhile, Rosa has a new admirer; Jacob Gisels.


  1. pas léger: light step

  2. réfléchit: think, reflect


Chapter Five: La tulipe est noire


The first tulip is destroyed by Gryphus, and Rosa has no way of planting the second because she is constantly under surveillance by her admirer, Jacob. But the third manages to grow! Ecstatic, she visits Cornelius in prison to tell him the news that the tulip is black and growing. However, when she returns, she finds that someone has stolen it.


  1. est bien droite: is straight

  2. feuilles: leaves

  3. entrouverte: open

  4. foncée: dark

  5. prise: taken

  6. volée: snatched


Chapter Six: Qui est Monsieur Jacob?


Rosa goes in search of the black tulip and knocks on the door of the president of the Horticulture Society. Rosa explains that she had the black tulip but it was stolen from her. The president explains to Rosa that someone by the name of Isaac Boxtel has already grown one. Rosa learns that Isaac is actually her admirer, Jacob, and he had been spying on her all along. Just then, a crowd starts to chant the name of the leader of Holland, William of Orange. The president explains to him what has happened and William demands to see Rosa. 


  1. il s’agit de: it’s a question of

  2. maigre: thin

  3. marche le dos courbé: walk with a hunch back

  4. appris la nouvelle: heard the news

  5. réclame: claim

  6. prétend: claim

  7. la sienne: hers


Chapter Seven: Cornélius retrouve Rosa


William of Orange is furious to find out that Rosa claims that Cornelius has grown the black tulip as he suspects him to be a traitor. However, Rosa produces a letter that absolved him from any crime. Isaac is arrested, Cornelius gets his prize and marries Rosa. 


  1. déplie: unfold

  2. attire son attention: dray her attention

  3. brûle: burn

  4. sauve: save

  5. retirez-vous: step down; withdraw

  6. entourent: surround

  7. voleur: thief


Geek Corner:

The book, excluding exercises, has roughly 420 lines of text. By reading it ten times, we have read 4200 lines of French. This, plus the previous lines in the challenge, gives us a total count of:


7470 lines of French (2530 sentences shy of our first goal of 10,000 sentences (basic level))


Here are the books we are using for the challenge.

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Easy French Reader


Week One


Week Three


Week Four

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Week Five

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