9 December 2016

Georges Conchon: L'État sauvage | The Savage State (1964)

Georges Conchon wrote the 1964 Goncourt-winning novel L'État sauvage – translated into English as The Savage State – after he had been secrétaire général of L'Assemblée législative centrafricaine in Bangui. Politically correct it certainly isn't. The epigraph, from Marcel Proust's Sodome et Gomorrhe, is instructive: 'Ils avaient l’air d’une bande d’anthropophages chez qui une blessure faite à un blanc a réveillé le goût du sang' ('They looked like a gang of cannibals for whom a white person's wound had aroused the taste for blood.') The quotation at the head of the final chapter – from Blaise Cendrars's Poèmes nègres – is no less provocative – 'Le commerce des Européens sur cette côte et leur libertinage ont fait une nouvelle race d'hommes qui est peut-être la plus méchante de toutes' ('Europeans trading on this coast and their moral dissoluteness have created a new race of men who are perhaps the most vicious of all.')

The novel is set over a twenty-four hour period in Fort-Jacul, a Central African country recently independent from French rule. It begins with twenty-six-year-old French UNESCO employee Avit landing at the airport in Fort-Jacul, and ends with him leaving it. He has spent two years recovering from his very young wife Laurence just leaving him and taking off with another man, although he finds shortly after arriving in Fort-Jacul that Laurence is in Fort-Jacul too and now living with Patrice Doumbé, the country's minister of health.

And on landing, Avit is sent to see Modimbo, the Ministre de l'Information, who in no uncertain terms tells him to go home, although he doesn't say why. It becomes quite clear that the reason is the blacks' prejudice against the whites, and this is seen throughout the book, from the killing of Doumbé whose relationship with Laurence causes anger among the population, through the increasingly violent and threatening atmosphere of the country, all the way to the thousands of black and white people following Laurence and Avit to the airport.

The book was faithfully adapted into a film whose screenplay was written by Conchon and the director Francis Girod in 1978. I'm unsure how such works would fair in a post-politically correct age though.

7 December 2016

Jean Rouaud: Les Champs d'honneur (1990)

Jean Rouaud's Les Champs d'honneur was his first novel, and he won the Goncourt with it. Reading back over the immensely enthusiastic reviews, that win seems almost an inevitability.

And reading that novel for the first (and probably not last) time I have to say that I can understand the enthusiasm. Temporarily, the book flits all over the place, but that isn't important. This novel is (the beginning of) a family saga of sorts. Deaths are important here, and some of them relate to World War I. But the three deaths of note are those of the father, the 'petite tante' or great-aunt, and the grandfather.

The book begins with the grandfather and immediately the reader is captivated. His erratic driving, the painstaking way his chain-smoking while driving is described, but most of all his old 2 CV , which is called Bobosse and which lets in water through the canvas roof, make grand-père almost more the partner of his car than his wife.  Great-aunt Marie, with her saints and her lasting belief in their triumph over science and health, is also a fascinating character, and a kind of celestial comeback kid who comes back to life but loses her senses.

But maybe the rain (especially in the département of Loire-Atlantique) is the principal character on, er, reflection: one critic called Rouaud the 'Mozart of the rain-gauge', with his ability to comically describe and differentiate between spitting, drizzling, regular raining, downpouring, etc. Rouaud was an obvious gift to French literature.

Marie Redonnet: Mobie-Diq (1982)

Marie Redonnet's Mobie-Diq, particularly with its hyphenation, obviously calls to mind Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, as well as the Bible (Jonah and the whale), but more so – this being Redonnet and early Redonnet in particular – Samuel Beckett. Minimalism is in the nature of this play, which like Tir & Lir (1988) merely has two characters, although unlike that later play has no voices of other people.

Mobie is the ageing woman, Diq her husband, and they are in evening dress – which little by little turn to rags as the play progresses – because they have been having the honeymoon they didn't have on marriage, on board the luxury liner Tango. Unfortunately the ship (like the Titanic on its maiden voyage) comes to grief and Mobie and Diq are apparently the only survivors, on a rowing boat without a compass, but not without hope.

Although, the audience surely knows that hope is a short-lived commodity in the Redonnetian (as in the Beckettian) universe: the 'treasure' found in the boat will prove to be valueless, any compensation after the disastrous voyage (paid for by the sale of their pathetic home) will not be forthcoming, and inevitably they will end up in the belly of a whale. Gulp, all gone.

Links to my other Marie Redonnet posts:

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Marie Redonnet: Rose Mélie Rose | Mellie Rose
Marie Redonnet: Seaside
Marie Redonnet: Nevermore

Marie Redonnet: Tir et Lir

3 December 2016

Beatrix Potter in Near Sawrey, Cumbria

Hill Top, Near Sawrey (Sawrey consisting of the hamlets Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey). This is the farm the very successful Beatrix Potter (1866–1943) – author and artist (a word she scorned in relation to herself) – moved to in 1905, shortly after her fiancé Norman Warne's death. At the time John Cannon managed the farm and lived there with his family .

Potter wanted the Cannons to stay there, so had an extension built, which is dated 1906. She married local solicitor William Heelis in 1913.



The entrance hall.


The parlour, originally a bedroom.

A glimpse of the kitchen.

Beatrix Potter only rarely used this room, and never slept in this bed.

The sitting room.

On the road down from Hill Top:

'Buckle Yeat
is featured in many
of Beatrix Potters [sic]
books, including The Tale
of Tom Kitten, Pie &
The Patty Pan and
Piggling Bland'

Beatrix Potter bequeathed over 4000 acres to the National Trust, including fifteen farms and many cottages.

1 December 2016

William Wordsworth in Grasmere, Cumbria (continued)


The memorial to William Wordsworth at the entrance to the village.


The Wordsworth memorial in St Oswald's church:

'TO THE MEMORY OF

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH,
A TRUE PHILOSOPHER AND POET,
WHO, BY THE SAME SPECIAL GIFT AND CALLING OF
ALMIGHTY GOD,
WHETHER HE DISCOURSED ON MAN OR NATURE,
FAILED NOT TO LIFT UP THE HEART
TO HOLY THINGS,
TIRED NOT OF MAINTAINING THE CAUSE
OF THE POOR AND SIMPLE;
AND SO, IN PERILOUS TIMES WAS RAISED UP
TO BE A CHIEF MINISTER,
NOT ONLY OF NOBLEST POESY,
BUT OF HIGH AND SACRED TRUTH.

THIS MEMORIAL
IS PLACED HERE BY HIS FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS,
IN TESTIMONY OF
RESPECT, AFFECTION, AND GRATITUDE.
ANNO MDCCCLI.'

The Wordsworth daffodil garden, a tribute to the poet.

'For oft, when my couch I lie
In vacant of in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude:
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodil.
                             William Wordsworth'


'WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
1850
MARY WORDSWORTH
1859'

'DOROTHY WORDSWORTH
1855'

'DORA QUILLIAN
9TH DAY OF JULY
1847'

'EDWARD QUILLIAN
Born at Oporto, August 12th 1791.
Died at Loughbrigg Holme, July 8th 1851.'

'JOHN WORDSWORTH
BROTHER OF WILLIAM AND DOROTHY
"A SILENT POET", A "CHERISHED VISITANT"
AND LOVER OF THIS VALLEY. BORN 4 DEC:
1772, HE DIED AT HIS POST AS COMMANDER
OF THE EARL OF ABERGAVENNEY WHICH
WAS WRECKED IN THE ENGLISH CHANNEL
5 FEBRUARY 1805. HE WAS BURIED AT
WYKE REGIS.'

30 November 2016

William Wordsworth at Rydal Mount, Ambleside, Cumbria

From Allan Bank the Wordsworths moved to the Old Rectory in Grasmere, and after that settled into Rydal Mount near Ambleside in 1813, where Wordsworth became Distributor of Stamps. William stayed here until his death at the age of eighty in 1850.

The dining room.

In pride of place over the mantelpiece is the mezzotint portrait of Robert Burns (1759–96), a writer of huge influence on Wordsworth's poetry.

Spice cupboard made by Edward Knott, whose family owned the house between 1700 and 1780. It is dated '1710' and bears Knott's initials 'E. A. K.'.

The chair needlework was done by Mary and Dorothy and William's sister-in-law Sarah. 

The drawing room. This room and the library were knocked into one in 1968.

William and Mary by Margaret Gilles, 1839.

A note in the room at the side of this statue says that Wordsworth called this statue 'The Curious Child', which he mentions in 'The Excursion':

'...I have seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a track
Of inland ground, applying to its ear
The convolution of a smooth-lipped shell,
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely, and his countenance
Brightened with joy, for from within soon were heard
Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.
Even such a shell the universe itself

Is to the ear of faith...'

The library, from the drawing room.


The Georgian barometer bought back for Rydal Mount at an auction by Susan Andrew, William's great-great-great-granddaughter.

William and Mary's bedroom.

Dorothy's bedroom.

Sculpture of Wordsworth by Ophelia Gordon Bell (1915–75).

Dora's bedroom. She was Wordsworth's oldest daughter, born in 1804. Although not in very good health, she married Edward Quillian in 1841 but died six years later.  Wordsworth had previously bought a field adjoining Rydal Mount, which is now known as 'Dora's field'. On her death, William and Mary planted it with daffodils.

Isabella Fenwick (1783–1856), a good friend of William and Mary who managed to persuade the poet into the good of Dora marrying Edward Quillian.

'To commemorate
the sesquicentary
of the death of
WILLIAM
WORDSWORTH
at Rydal Mount on the
23rd of April 1850
This plaque was
placed here in the
Millennium
Year'

The sesquipedalian plaque at the entrance to Rydal Mount, commemorating the 150th year since William Wordsworth's death.

William Wordsworth at Dove Cottage and Allan Bank in Grasmere, Cumbria

Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved at the end of 1799, to be joined by Mary after her marriage to William in 1802. Before, it had been and inn called the Dove and Olive Bough. Three children were born in four years, and the growing family moved to Allan Bank about a half mile away, on the other side of Grasmere. The cottage is now a memorial to Wordsworth's stay, and an extensive museum has been built a few yards from it.


Bedroom on the ground floor.


The kitchen.


With the adjoining larder.


The master bedroom.


Where the children slept, with newspapers on the wall as insulation. The Wordsworth Trust has faithfully used copies of newspapers of the day.

The living room-cum-study.

William and Dorothy lovingly tended the garden, seen here with an arbour at the back.

The view of the cottage and background from the garden.

In the museum, masks of Coleridge and Wordsworth.

Wordsworth by Francis Legatt Chantrey (1820).

The poet Felicia Hemans (1793–1835), who visited the Wordsworths at Rydal Mount in 1820. Hemans is most popularly remembered for 'Casabianca', specifically for the line 'The boy stood on the burning deck'. This bust was created in 1829 by Angus Fletcher (1799–1862).

Allan Bank once belonged to Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley, a co-founder of the National Trust. The Wordsworths moved here in 1808, although William hated it and called it a 'temple of abomination.'

The chapel at the side of the house.


After a disastrous fire in 2011 caused by an electrical fault, the general consensus was to leave the interior as it is.

Photos of Beatrix Potter and Hardwicke Rawnsley, who was a friend of Potter's father Rupert, who took the photo in 1885. Beatrix first met Rawnsley when she was sixteen.

The view from the window.