23 August 2016

Roger Vailland: 325.000 francs (1955)

325.000 francs is Roger Vailland's second novel, and in a sense is a very working-class one, although Vailland himself wasn't a member of the working class. In very few books is the nature of working-class labour described, although here it is repeated like a litany. What strikes me – hard – about this book is that it is written by someone who is very concerned about the conditions of work in Oyonnax (in the novel called Bionnas), with its important plastics industry and the many injuries to workers.

For the communist Roger Vailland, then, is this a novel of political commitment? Hardly. The capitalist Jules Morel, owner of the firm Plastoform and Cité Morel, isn't the evil capitalist of left-wing sterotypes. But then nor is Bernard Busard (ah, more bird imagery as in Les mauvais Coups) anything like a working-class hero: under the thumb of his artificially-looking 'girlfriend' Marie-Jeanne – with whom he hasn't yet even had sex after eighteen months, and for whom the sexy and far more natural Juliette Doucet would be a far better match – Bernard slaves away to shape a capitalistically-envisaged future for the two of them.

Bernard sees this future as working in a snack-bar off the N7, and fantasises about running a whole series of snack-bars from Paris to Nice, each given a number relating to the number of miles covered from Paris. But to acquire the first one he needs 700,000 francs, of which he had to provide 325,000 of them. This he has to do by working extra hours (in tandem with Le Bressan, who is working for his own interests: or so it initially appears).

Vailland was inspired by seeing someone with an artificial hand in Oyonnax, the hand which holds the cards of the Tarot card game which he plays all day. Bernard becomes that person, who because handicapped is unsuited to running the N7 snack-bar and so runs a café in the town with his wife Marie-Jeanne. Until he returns to the plastics factory, that is.

Many of the themes in Les mauvais Coups are here, notably jealousy, although in this book it is Bernard's almost insane jealousy of Marie-Jeanne that impotently conquers. An important work, I think, but one which must certainly be viewed in the context of Vailland's total of nine novels, of which I've so far only read three.

My other Roger Vailland posts:

Roger Vailland: La Loi
Roger Vailland: Les mauvais Coups

21 August 2016

Roger Vailland: Les mauvais Coups (1948)

There are a number of autobiographical elements in Les mauvais Coups, Roger Vailland's second novel. Certainly there is something of himself in the protagonist Milan, of his first wife Andrée Blavette (or Boule) in Roberte, of his dear friend the poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte in Octave (who doesn't appear here but is mentioned), and of course there's much drinking and a whole chapter is devoted to reckless gambling.

Milan (French for the kite bird of prey) is actually married to Roberte (whom he dreams of as a violent bird), although he doesn't believe in marriage, believes in freedom, believes in having lovers as he pleases, they have no real significance (although one (Juliette) obviously was, which is why Roberte slapped her face). And what can be more, er, significant than suicide, as performed by Octave who had been having an affair with Roberte and kills himself over her, or Roberte's final drunken (or maybe not so drunken) act of driving into a swamp after (presumably) reading Milan's letter to the lovely and much younger Hélène? After fifteen years (Milan with Roberte) what is left of love, if that means a great deal after the dying of the burning passion? Is all that remains just, as the cover illustration indicates, Milan the hunter symbolically crushing the skull of a crow, as if it were Roberte's? No, he clearly shows that he knows there are various kinds of love.

Is love that first dying burn, like the burn of winning at the roulette or the chemin de fer table, the burn of shooting defenceless animals, or does it take a long time to grow, like Vailland's emotional maturity?

My other Roger Vailland posts:

Roger Vailland: La Loi
Roger Vailland: 325.000 francs

Laurence Cossé: La grande arche : roman (2016)

La Grande Arche is Laurence Cossé's novelised story of the building in La Défense, which was a commemoration of the bi-centenary of the French Revolution of 1789, and President François Mitterand's pride and joy. But the events surrounding the construction of it begin in 1983, six years before it was officially 'unveiled.

A rather obscure architect, Johan Otto von Speckelsen, was the winner of Tête-Défense prize, chosen to receive this great honour. Before la Grande Arche, 'Spreck' as most people seemed to call him, and indeed the name the author herself often chooses to call him, had only built his own family house and four modest churches in Denmark.

As the events of the book unfold, it becomes evident that the book is partly a biography of Spreck, partly a description of the nature of Denmark, and partly a description of what happens when two very different cultures collide.

And collide they do, as Spreck, ensconced with his wife in an apartment in Puteaux near La Défense, learns to his horror. Things just don't work out the way he planned, he moves back to Denmark, resigns from his own project (an unimaginable thing) a few years later, and dies two years before the full installation. It's amazing how Cossé manages to make such a riveting tale from this.

19 August 2016

Frédéric Mistral in Maillane (13)

The Centre Frédéri [sic] Mistral in Maillane, with an impressive bust of the poet at the side. Maillane is a small village, and is Frédéric Mistral: even the local Maison de Presse sells statuettes of Mireille (or should I say Mirèio – Provençal is quite rightly taken very seriously here). If this makes it sound like a tourist village, it certainly isn't as the streets were deserted, there wasn't a parking meter in sight, and the only car park I found was the one outside the cemetery. There is a bureau de tourisme (incidentally originally Mistral's second home after Le Mas du Juge), although it was closed at the time of our visit.

There are several plaques dedicated to Mistral (mostly in his third and last house) although as they're all in Provençal I won't attempt to make a hash of a translation.

And so to Mistral's final home, which became a museum in 1944 following the death of his wife the previous year. Due to serious work needed on the first floor it will probably be a few years before it's fully open again. I found the guided tour useful because knowledgeable, although at the same time it was horribly humourless and perfunctory. Another thing too: there is a number of (often recent) online images of the museum put up by visitors, but we weren't allowed to take any photos at all.

The magnificent memorial to Mistral in the garden of his home, dating from 1929, sculpted by J. Itier, and at the bottom at the back is a list of Mistral's works.

Several plaques to Mistral around the museum:

And finally, his elaborate grave in the cemetery in Maillane, a replica of the Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne in Les Baux, and which doesn't bear his name:

My other Frédéric Mistral related posts:

Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne
Frédéric Mistral and Le Mas du Juge

Conrad Aiken in Rye, East Sussex

Sadly, the plaque here is illegible. But Conrad Aiken bought Jeake's house (now a hotel) in 1924, and among the writer quests who visited him are T. S. Eliot, Malcolm Lowry, E. F. Benson and Radclyffe Hall.

The link to my very wet drive and walk to Aiken grave in Savannah, GA, is below:

Conrad Aiken's grave

John Fletcher in Rye, East Sussex

In this ancient vicarage
John Fletcher
was born in 1579
Jacobean dramatist and
collaborator with
Beaumont, Shakespeare & Massinger'

E. F. Benson in Rye, East Sussex


18 August 2016

Rudyard Kipling and Bateman's, Burwash, East Sussex

Already famous and much translated, Kipling bought Bateman's in Burwash, East Sussex, in 1902. The datestone above the main entrance states '1634'. As his fame (and fortune) increased, Kipling bought up surrounding property to evade curious sightseers.

A view of the hall, dark and impressive.

The sofa in the parlour is apparently inspired by the seventeenth century one at Knole.

At the bottom of the stairs is Patrick-Synge-Hutchinson's posthumous bust of Kipling.

The study, where Kipling would read and write.

And the day bed in the study, where he would think about his writing.

The dining room, with its leather wall hangings.

The former oast house was the servants quarters, now the NT shop.

One prominent feature outside the house is Kipling's 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom.

In the garden:


Kipling's use of the old water mill (built in 1750 and extended in the 1830s) was to generate electricity by turbine.

17 August 2016

Henry James and Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex

Henry James (1843–1916) owned the eighteenth century Lamb House in West Street, Rye, East Sussex, named after James Lamb (1693
–1756). There are three plaques outside:

'In Lamb House lived
from 1919 to 1940
from 1922 to 1925
Brothers and writers'


18TH AUGUST 1940 


Among the most noted novels that Henry James wrote in his garden room were The Wings of a Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). Fortunately, the rest of the house is intact.

The Dining Room. The painting is a reproduction of Singer Sargent's,  commissioned by friends for James's seventieth birthday. The fireplace has Delft tiles at the side of it.

A terra cotta bust of Count Alberto Bevilacqua which James bought from Hendrik Andersen's Rome studio in 1899 for $250.

The fireplace in the room to the right of the hall, 'the Telephone room': . At the top are two of the many walking sticks James used. The telephone itself displayed here isn't James's original.

The oak parlour, dominated by the painting of George I, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Rye and stayed with James Lamb's family here for four days.

The small pictur above the mantelpiece is The Garden of the Hesperides which was given to James by his friend Constance Fenimore Woolston (1840

The marble bust of James made in 1913 by F. Derwent Wood.

The bronze bust of James by Hendrik Andersen, in 1904.

The dog cemetery in a corner of the garden.

James left his house to Henry James junior, his nephew, and apart from the Bensons, other people who lived here include H. Montgomery Hyde, Rumer Godden, and the dust jacket designer Brian Batsford.

16 August 2016

Virginia Woolf and Monk's House, Rodmell, East Sussex

In 1919 Virginia and Leonard Woolf bought an 'old fashioned' (for which by today's standards read unbearably basic with no bath, flush toilet, hot water, etc) for £700. It became their retreat from London, which they would make many improvements to, and where they would spend their remaining years.

All the above shots are of the sitting room. The table immediately above is 'Venus at her toilet', by the artist Duncan Grant.

This table top too is by Duncan Grant, along with Vanessa Bell, Virginia's sister.

The fire screen is also by Duncan Grant, with his mother Mrs Bartle Grant doing the canvas work as she was experienced in needlecraft.

An oblique view of the dining room, with chairs by Vanessa and Duncan, and the painting on the right being of Virginia, which Vanessa painted in about 1912.

Out of view here, over the mantel-piece is a primitive painting of the Glazebrook family, millers who used to own the house in the nineteenth century.

The entrance door between the sitting room and the dining room.

The kitchen was subject to flooding.

The extension, Virginia's room of her own, her bedroom.

The fireplace, with tiles by Vanessa Bell, one (on the floor) reading 'VW from VB 1930'.

In the garden, C. H. N. Mommen's Goliath.


Born January 25 1882
Died March 28 1941.

Death is the enemy. Against you
I will fling myself, unvanquished
and unyielding – O Death!
The waves broke on the shore.'

The quotation was chosen by Leonard from Virginia's novel The Waves.

Born November 25 1880
Died August 14 1969

"I believe profoundly in two rules:
Justice and mercy – They seem to
me the foundation of all civilized
life and society, if you include
under mercy, toleration".'

who lived in this house from 1919 until their deaths,
were scattered under the great elm tree.
In 1972 the plaque in Virginia's memory, which
Leonard had placed there, was moved
from the elm to this more permanent position. At the
same time the bust of Leonard Woolf and the
plaque in his memory were placed here.

The head of Virginia was modelled by
Stephen Tomlin and placed on this wall by
Leonard. That of Leonard was modelled
by Charlotte Hewer and placed here
together with these plaques by Trekkie Parsons.'