25 March 2017

Mary Arnold Ward (Mrs Humphrey Ward) in Oxford (UK)

1851 – 1920
Social Reformer
lived here
1872 – 1881'

17 Bradmore Road.

Walter Pater and Clara Pater in Oxford (UK)

1839 –1894
Author and Scholar

1841 – 1910
Pioneer of Women's Education

Lived here
1869 – 1885'

2 Bradmore Road.

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford #6 Louise Imogen Guiney

Finally in Wolvercote Cemetery, the most difficult grave to find (at least for us.) Difficult not because of the relatively distinctive grave itself, but due to the erosion of the inscription. As far as I know this is the only photo of the grave of Louise Imogen Guiney (1861–1920) that is on the internet, which is perhaps hardly surprising because I couldn't make out a single word at the base of the grave, although I'm very grateful to Dr Edwina Edlin-White for taking a rubbing and discovering this inscription:

DELASSATA                  (this is her aunt who lived with her)



Rowena also said that Guiney and her friend Alice Brown did a walking tour of England, which was detailed in Brown's By Oak and Thorn (1896), and that Guiney eventually returned to England. She also found and had restored the grave of Henry Vaughan in St Bride's churchyard, Llansantiffraed, Powys.

A former home of Guiney's in Beacon Hill, Boston, MA.

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford #5: Albert Habib Hourani

1915 – 1993
Scholar and Historian
Of the Middle East
Teacher at the
University of Oxford
Much loved
And greatly missed
By all who knew him'

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford #4: James Legge

BORN 20 TH DEC. 1815, DIED 19 TH NOVEMBER 1897.'

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford #3: James Murray

1878 – 1915
DIED 26. JULY 1915.'

78 Banbury Road, Oxford, where James Murray lived from 1885 to 1915.

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford #2: Nina Steane

1932  – 1990
1963 – 1990'

Nina Steane wrote for a small poetry magazines, published some of her own books (from Kettering, where her husband was a head teacher), wrote a poetry wallsticker in 1968, made several recordings such as 'Driving to Work', 'Sunday outing' and 'Material Moods', and edited Alderney: A Book of Poems with Felicity Crump in 1981. This last also contains illustrations by Nina Carroll, which appears to be Steane's artistic name.

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford #1: J. R. R. Tolkien

1889 – 1971
1882 – 1973'

Obviously no introduction needed here, and of course Tolkien's grave is the most searched for one in the cemetery, several signs pointing the way to it. Tolkien's book Beren and Lúthien is to be published by their son Christopher in 2017.

The plaque on Tolkien's former home at 20 Northmoor Road, north Oxford, states that he lived here from 1930 to 1947.

22 March 2017

Émile Gaboriau: L'Affaire Lerouge (1866)

When I visited Saujon in Charente-Maritime (17) seven years ago and saw this street named after its famous son Émile Gaboriau (1835–73). I thought it sounded a little snobbish to describe Gaboriau as a 'popular novelist', although at the time I hadn't read any of his detective stories.

L'Affaire Lerouge, then, is my first Gaboriau, and is available online free of charge at a few sites. And I can now understand the 'popular' tag: although this is nearly 600 pages, it zips along at a fair pace, the subject matter – including pre- and extra-marital relationships, an 'illegitimate' birth and a 'kept' woman – clearly aimed at an adult readership while at the same time keeping the language simple throughout, paragraphs short and a great deal of easy-on-the-brain dialogue. Evidently, the reader is not expected to be a demanding one.

Not that I'm suggesting Gaboriau is 'writing down': he was influenced mainly by Poe, in turn initially influenced Conan Doyle, and there are a great of twists in the plot. Detective (or mystery murder) story is certainly is, although it's also a novel about a femme fatale. The main theme is the lust for money, and of course everything ties up neatly in the end, and the murderer dies in a dramatic finale.

L'Affaire Lerouge was first published in serial form in Le Pays in 1863, and this is perhaps easy to detect: there are twenty chapters of roughly equal length, and there's strong evidence of things being spun out to fit the format. And although I probably wouldn't go out of my way to seek out another Gaboriau novel, if I had a few hours to wait in an ambiance unsuited to more serious reading, I might well give another of his works a view.

17 March 2017

Patrick Varetz: Sous vide (2017)

Patrick Varetz's Sous vide (lit. 'In a Vacuum') is the third novel, after Bas monde (2012) and Petite vie (2015), to include the psychologically wounded narrator Pascal, although there is a major difference here: whereas Bas monde concerned Pascal as a baby and Petite vie concerned Pascal as a ten-year-old child, Sous vide sees him in his early thirties at the beginning of the 1990s, thus skipping him during adolescence.

And Pascal's parents Daniel and Violette exist here as memories, although their influence on the narrator is great, frequently intruding on his perception of the world: he is incapable of preventing them from colonizing, or cannibalizing, his thoughts.

Not that this perception is a mature one: the narrator has no personality, indeed is unable to construct himself. The principal positive aspect is that he rejects the violence of his father, although his counteraction is to opt for self-derision, cynicism and disillusionment, to take nothing seriously, including life and death and love. He is in a kind of interstitial life.

Varetz refers to an occasion in which, in a bus shelter in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, he found an abandoned bag of books, which as a bibliophile he had to search, and discovered Stefan Zweig's Ungeduld des Herzens (1939) translated into French as La Pitié dangereuse (and incidentally into English as Beware of Pity). This novel involves a relationship between a soldier and a handicapped young woman.

Both the narrator of Sous vide and his partner Claire are handicapped in different ways, although Claire is much more disadvantaged than the narrator. The narrator is employed by Blanc (an interesting name) as a freelance writer, and is invited to join social functions with him, in spite of the narrator being well aware of the emptiness of people getting together and drinking to hide their emptiness. Claire has a more profound psychiatric problem, clearly revealed in the final sentence of the novel, when – the couple being evicted after the narrator hasn't opened his mail for some time – she grabs a tube of benzodiazepines and succeeds in taking some capsules into her mouth, and putting others between her legs.

Patrick Varetz writes with power, and is a hugely compelling and original writer.

My other posts on Patrick Varetz:

Patrick Varetz: Petite vie

The Toast Rack, Fallowfield, Greater Manchester

What was the Hollings campus of Manchester Metropolitan University, better known as the Toast Rack. It was designed by Leonard Cecil Howitt, building was completed in the 1960s, and Pevsner described it as 'a perfect piece of pop architecture'. It is a Grade II listed building. The building at the side, with its hallmark circular structure barely visible here, is popularly known as the 'Fried Egg'.

11 March 2017

Patrick Varetz: Petite vie (2015)

Petite vie has the same principal characters as the first part of this trilogy, Bas monde: the narrator Pascal, the violent husband Daniel, the half-mad mother Violette, the sinister doctor Caudron, and the dominant nurse grandmother. Violence is still a part of everyday life, although ten years have passed.

Pascal is now ten years old and witnesses his mother nearly overdosing on prescription medicine, and his father sent to hospital. The family now live in a much bigger house provided by the grandmother, the radio (a symbol of consumer society) has been replaced by the television, which displays images of the events of May 1968, one effect of which means that Pascal doesn't have to go to school.

This is also a story of education, with Pascal's barely literate father pushing his son to high achievement at school; his mother giving him a (slightly) transgressive sexual education; and Pascal and his peers beginning their first (sometimes reluctant) sexual discoveries of their own.

Part of Varetz's inspiration came from Nicholas Ray's movie Bigger than Life (1950), starring James Mason as a schoolteacher with arterial problems who is experimented on by a doctor who gives him cortisone, resulting in his abuse of it, which makes him violent.

Not enough readers are aware of Varetz's unusual work, although the current literary review Le Matricule des anges prominently features his now heavily bearded face on the front page with a sizeable article on him inside.

My other posts on Patrick Varetz:

Patrick Varetz: Bas monde

5 March 2017

Patrick Varetz: Bas monde (2012)

Patrick Varetz was born in 1958 in Marles-les-Mines, Pas-de-Calais. His Bas monde is set at the same time as Varetz was born, and concerns the birth of a baby, although he says it's not an autobiography, although it contains anecdotal autobiographical elements, such as his working-class background and his being initially placed in a shoe box (in the book, cushioned by cotton wool and partly clothed in tissue paper). Rather, this is a hyperbole, as is perhaps indicated by the constant repetition of almost anti-heroic expressions such as 'Ma mère, la folle' ('My mother, the mad woman') and 'Mon père, ce salaud' ('My father, that bastard').

The voice in Bas monde speaks as if from that of a thinking, highly articulate embryo and young baby, and is a foil to the limited vocabularies of his mother Violette and his father Daniel: indeed, Varetz sees this as a voice that seeks vengeance; it is cathartic. A quotation from François Augiéras's Le Voyage des morts (1959) is the epigraph: 'Je n'étais qu'une voix hantée par l'avenir, bien décidée à vaincre.' ('I was just a voice haunted by the future, determined to win.)'

And he has a great deal to win in order to transcend his existing conditions: his 'bastard' father Daniel is a manual worker in the petro-chemical industry, chain-smokes and frequently gets drunk in the Bar Royal, where he spends a great deal of time with the manager's two prick-teasing daughters and has a regular habit of beating up on his wife: violence comes naturally in this environment. The baby breathes in a mixture of chemicals, alcohol, nicotine, and perfume smells (from the bar's 'pouffiasses' (slags)) when his father looks into his shoe box: this is not autobiographical, ok, but it still seems difficult to agree with Varetz when in a video clip he says that it is paradoxical not to love the people who have created you and brought you up. Why? I don't understand the logic.

Bas monde is set during what Varetz describes as the beginning of the consumer society, in which we are all 'condamnés au bonheur' ('condemned to be happy'). It is the first of a trilogy, the later novels being Petite vie (2015) and Sous vide (2017), both of which I shall be reading and most probably appreciating as much as this one. Patrick Varetz is a fascinating, original and very powerful writer.

My other Patrick Varetz posts:

Patrick Varetz: Sous vide
Patrick Varetz: Petite vie

2 March 2017

Maurice Genevoix: Raboliot (1925)

On one level Maurice Genevoix's Raboliot, which won the Goncourt in 1925, is a cops-and-robbers tale, on another it's a regional novel based entirely within a small area of Sologne in the heart of the Loire valley, and on yet another it's a kind of thriller depicting flawed characters.

The word 'Raboliot' is the title character Pierre Fouques's nickname and several characters here have two names. He's called Raboliot because he's like a wild rabbit: he's a traditional poacher, and the rich, strongly evocative language is awash with descriptions of the wooded Sologne area, the various animals, flowers and vegetation in general to be found there, the different traps used to catch animals, and there are a number of footnotes translating regional words used into conventional French. Genevoix modelled Raboliot on a well-known poacher in the area called Depardieu, or Carré, a man Genevoix never met in spite of a number of attempts to do so.

Raboliot's tireless adversary is not a game warden but the gendarme Bourrel, a man so consumed by hatred in his pursuit to imprison Raboliot that he appears all over the place, and he is so deranged that he shoots dead Raboliot's beloved dog Aïcha for no reason at all. The sensitive, vegetarian reader might wish that Raboliot shared the same consideration for other animals as he does for his dog, but then this is 1925 and the story would have no existence in a vegetarian world – nevertheless, the normality of the descriptions of breaking rabbits spines to kill them (and perhaps above all one of Raboliot's poacher friends biting through a hen's skull to kill it) left this particular vegetarian reader far less sympathetic to Raboliot's plight.

But then Raboliot is in some respects far less than a hero anyway, and his three-month flight from his family, away from the psychotic grips of Bourrel – but certainly not away from the grips Flora, the outcast whose legs are seemingly forever willing to be open to male visitors – has nothing of the heroic about it.

Will Raboliot ever be able to live in peace with the family he has neglected? Not while Bourrel is alive, but then not when he's dead either, as the final paragraphs detail Raboliot smashing the life out of Bourrel and holding out his hands for his police colleagues to handcuff him and lead him away.

My verdict: it's a great shame about all those animals murdered gratuitously by Raboliot, but this is still a hell of a read, and – dare I say it – probably one of the most interesting of the forty or so Goncourt winners I've read so far?

24 February 2017

Violaine Bérot: Des mots jamais dits (2015)

Books, real books – by which I mean those not just written to make pots of money but out of a necessity to attempt to translate the writer's thoughts, evoke a vision of his or her reality – can be a source of deep revelation to the reader, an epiphanic moment. I can't remember how many such moments I've felt, and I'm not yet certain that reading Violaine Bérot's books is one of them, but it's beginning to feel that way. And there's something about the strangeness of Francophone literature that for instance contemporary English literature just can't come anywhere near to matching. Marie NDiaye, Laurent Mauvignier, Patrick Lapeyre, to name but three, have all sent me into raptures: all in their different ways are deeply concerned with (non-)communication, particularly of the non-verbal kind.

Des mots jamais dits: 'Words never spoken': yeah, that's it, we're in the realm of what it means when nothing is said. Or, how do you fill in the blanks between what's not even suggested by non-verbal means? Or, of course, how important things become if and when they're actually spoken. When we read, we are reminded (not at all necessarily intentionally by the author, who of course we've long since learned doesn't exist) of other books, or possibly words expressed in a different medium, such as song. The end of Violaine Bérot's Nue, sous la lune reminds me of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and by no means just because of Edna's suicide.

Des mots jamais dits reminds me of the expression 'Le désir incroyable de se vouloir construire' ('The incredible wish to construct yourself') written by the poet Jacques Brel in his song 'J'en appelle' (1957).) We are all constructed largely by words, although fascinatingly there are very few spoken words in the two novels of Violaine Bérot that I have read. And yet, in Des mots jamais dits the protagonist is deeply affected by words, such as Tom (the second of the narrator's lovers, and only the second of merely two named people in the novel) calling her 'la femme de ma vie' ('the woman of my life'); such as her father unsuccessfully bullying her into putting an end to his misery by euthanasia; and finally, by the cook telling her that he is there, and singing her the kind of song that she never heard in her cradle, so never sent her to sleep, and played a part in depriving her of her childhood.

In a book in which alienation plays a key role, the distancing effect of the very frequent use of 'on' ('one, 'we', 'they', 'people' (?)), etc, is remarkable.

Violaine Bérot is an extremely powerful writer. As I come to read the books that she's written in the past, has yet to write, and which I shall re-read, I wouldn't be at all surprised if I have a similar epiphanic moment.

Violaine Bérot: Nue, sous la lune (2017)

There's a little of Auguste Rodin's relationship with Camille Claudel in Violaine Bérot's Nue, sous la lune (lit. 'Naked, under the moon'), if only in that both were sculptors in a tumultuous relationship with one another, and that Claudel became psychologically disturbed.

But there are no names in the book, the events of which take place in a contemporary setting. We learn much of her relationship with her lover, who is violent, possessive, unpredictable, manipulative, dismissive of her work, uses women as playthings, and finds any pretext for an argument.

The effect the man has on her is devastating: she feels frightened, insecure to the point of hopelessness, and dreams of a lobotomy to purge herself of him. The reader knows that she has left him before, although this time there seems to be a sense of finality to the relationship as she puts her foot down on the accelerator and believes she could drive endlessly. In fact she stops in a small unknown place and goes to sleep on a bench, only to be taken in by a speechless, kindly, elderly woman. The reader feels that this is perhaps a new beginning, a therapy in which she is in urgent need.

Unfortunately this is not to be and like a magnet she seems drawn back towards her torturer. But the sense of finality is correct though, and her tormentor's indifference leads her to a place where he can no longer harm her, as she walks away naked, abandoning herself to the total oblivion of a lake.

 Nue, sous la lune is an extremely powerful read, narrated in the first person and addressed to her lover/torturer.

Michel Tremblay: Des nouvelles d'Édouard (1984)

Des nouvelles d'Édouard is the fourth volume of Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal by the gay Québéquois writer Michel Tremblay, and for me it was a surprisingly fascinating, often hilarious, read. I say surprising because the initial pages about the ageing Édouard, a shoe saleman-cum-drag queen and the world of the drag queens weren't too interesting for me, until Édouard meets his death by a knife blade in a Montréal street. That's when both he and the book come alive.

Because we go back to 1947, when Édouard came into a little inheritance and went to Paris for the first and only time, when he wrote a diary about his journey and his findings, but intended it to be read after his death, a diary from the dead to be read by his sister-in-law the 'Grosse Femme'.

This is a tale of lies, masquerades, outsiders (whoever they are: aren't we all in some way outsiders?), and culture conflict. A common language links Québec and France, or maybe divides it: after all, French Canadian talk is different, often difficult to understand, laced with English therefore bastardised, but then so are all forms of speech, and who's to say which is better than another?

On the voyage across he meets Antoinette Beauregard – the name of course is an indication of the pedigree, or at least the pretension towards the pedigree – but in any case don't we all pretend to be someone we aren't, as for instance Édouard was pretending to be the Duchesse de Langeais when a drag queen? Why shouldn't Édouard lie and pretend to have read all of the books by (the incidentally gay and sort of mid-way between American and French) Julien Green, the author she's reading? Or pretending to read? And then along comes the Princess Clavet-Daudun, by which time Édouard's had just a gram of bullshit too many, and confesses – in broad French Canadian dialect, really laying it on thick – that he's really just a shoe seller and she may well not be a member of the aristocracy, etc. But she doesn't realise that he's speaking the truth, she just sees him as a brilliant actor. It's a bit like an Eliza Dolittle 'Luvaduck me beads!' moment, but Édouard really doesn't give a shit.

Until, that is, he has to have one in the (unmentioned by the same name) chiottes à la Turque in France, has no toilet paper and is forced to use his underpants. See what I mean about culture shock? That is before more dirt greets him in Paris, before he discovers the minuterie and has to scrabble in the dark, before he discovers there's a rez-de-chaussée before he reaches the first floor, and oh the smells, the lack of en suite accommodation, the crap food.

The Deux Magots café near the Café Flore isn't specifically mentioned, but that's where Édouard ends up late at night with a street map spread out before him, pretty pissed, very pissed off, but a certain Simone (who's with a certain Jean-Paul) is very obliging and tells him which métro to take home. But home is Montréal, not Paris, so after a ten-day journey and a mere thirty-six hours in Paris he's off home. And so a final lie is discovered posthumously: Édouard didn't spend all that time in Paris that he said he did.

A book to read before you die.

23 February 2017

Simone de Beauvoir: Une mort très douce (1964)

Une mort très douce is Simone de Beauvoir's account of the last few months of the life of her mother, who is in hospital after a fall in her bathroom, occasioning the breaking of her femur. I remember Beauvoir's Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée (1958), which I read many years ago and which I particularly remember for the strict nature in which Beauvoir was brought up, her reading habits being heavily vetted: later, on learning of Virginia Woolf having a completely free run of her father Leslie Stephen's library, I couldn't fail to think of the contrast.

But here is writing of a much later period in their lives, and although she occasionally dips into memories (such as of her father's infidelities) it is the present moment that holds precedence, and here her love for her mother and her concern for her welfare are of the utmost importance.

Terminal cancer is discovered and Beauvoir and her sister Poupette witness her dying moments. What also strikes here is Beauvoir's humanism, her anger with doctors who are forced needlessly, indeed inhumanely, to spin out a patient's misery when euthanasia would evidently have been a far better option for all concerned.

Very painful to read, but then it must have been very painful to write. However, if Sartre really did think this the best book Beauvoir had written, then I'm in absolute disagreement. Better, for instance, than Le Deuxième sexe – in it's original French form, of course, not Parshley's badly translated, heavily Anglicised, twenty-five per cent excised catastrophe? No.

20 February 2017

Alan Turing at Bletchley Park, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

The British government bought part of Bletchley Park in 1938.


Bletchley Park grew rapidly in size and importance
as the war progressed. What began with just a handful
of experts became a CODEBREAKING HUB on
an industrial scale, employing around 9,000 people
on site. TOTAL SECRECY remained essential.

Information supplied by Bletchley Park proved
crucial to Britain and its allies at several key points,
including the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the Battle of
Cape Matapan, Crete, North Africa, the Battle
of the Atlantic and D-Day. It is estimated that the

Codebreakers' work helped SHORTEN THE WAR
by at least two years, saving many lives on both sides.'

'THE TURING BOMBE REBUILD PROJECT'. Alan Turing (1912–1954) worked at Bletchley Park.

Turing was based in Hut 8, in which there is a reconstruction of his office.

'This statue was donated by
The Sidney E. Frank Foundation
and unveiled by
Abel Hadden
on 19th June 2007'

The slate statue of a man with a great brain but who was driven to suicide by the government's intolerance of his homosexuality. His official pardon didn't come until 2009.

15 February 2017

William Ernest Henley in Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire

The impressive grave of the poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) in the tiny Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire.



SEPT 4th 1888 FEB 11th 1894


Margaret Henley, known to J. M. Barrie, is said to be the inspiration behind Barrie's Wendy of Peter Pan fame. Curiously, a village just a few miles from Cockayne Hatley is called Wendy.

Henley is most remembered for his poem 'Invictus' (1888):

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul'.

1 February 2017

Thomas Inskip in Campton, Bedfordshire

Thomas Inskip (1780–1849) was a watch- and clockmaker born in Kimbolten, Northamptonshire and who died in Brighton. He was a friend of Robert Bloomfield (next to whom he is buried in the chuchyard in Campton) and John Clare, and carried out a correspondence with both rural working-class poets, some of which is available online.

Robert Bloomfield in Shefford, Bedfordshire

Bloomfield House, 17-19 Northbridge Street, Shefford, Bedfordshire.


My other post on Robert Bloomfield:


31 January 2017

Sitwells in Weedon Lois, Northamptonshire

Weston Hall near Weedon Lois was home to Sacheverell Sitwell between 1923 and his death in 1988. His sister Edith Sitwell was a frequent visitor. They are both buried in the parish church overspill in Weedon Lois. According to Wikipedia, Edith Sitwell's first published poem 'The Drowned Suns' was in the Daily Mirror in 1913: scarcely believable when compared to what has now become of a once quite decent working-class supporting newspaper which has completely lost its way.



6th Baronet CH
Writer and Poet

Born 15 November 1897
Died 1 October 1988'

29 January 2017

Robert Bloomfield in Campton, Bedfordshire

The pastoral Poet who is buried in this churchyard
Then bring me nature, bring me sense,
And joy shall be your recompense'

This memorial is in the south aisle of All Saints Church remembering the rural working-class poet buried in the churchyard. The guide to the church states that Bloomfield lived in nearby Shefford, that the memorial is in Welsh stone and was installed in 2003.



Above is the correct inscription on the headstone. Dr Bridget Keegan wrote an essay in Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon (Bucknell University Press, 2006). I can't believe that she has ever seen the headstone, as her copy of the inscription of the tombstone (disregarding the fact that she chooses to write it in lower case as opposed to the inscribed upper case) has several errors and/or omissions: she manages to make a grammatical (and factual) mistake in the first line by saying the headstone reads 'Here lies'; she gets both his (correctly inscribed) dates of birth and death wrong; she also omits the exact date of his birth (inscribed on the stone) and omits the adjective 'native' between 'wild' and 'wood': in a word, she makes a hell of a mess of the inscription. I didn't read the essay itself as I had no obvious way of telling how many errors are in it.

My other post on Robert Bloomfield: