23 September 2018

Marie NDiaye: Hilda (1999)

Some people are vulnerable in Marie NDiaye's universe, and others take advantage of this vulnerability: the strong, the powerful, the arrogant, the rich, lording it over the weak, the dispossessed, the less rich. It's dog eat dog, depending on what kind of a dog you are. And it's not merely (or even?) a question of intelligence, just of planning the right way to get what you want, finding the right words to say, at the right time. Humans are birds of prey, awaiting their time to pounce, and then pile on the pressure until there's no more fight in the victim. Here, I found in some respects an odd kind of reversal of the much later Slimani's Une Chanson Douce, and a woman totally dominating a man, emasculinating him, depriving him of his wife, reducing his life to almost nothing. Such is how some rule the lives of others. As Franck grows weaker, Mme Lemarchand profits from this fact. There are also subdued lesbian undertones.

Madame Lemarchand wants to set Hilda, the wife of manual worker Franck Meyer, on as a house help, and is willing to pay over the odds for the service. This means that Franck will have to find guardians for their own children, which is done. Hilda herself has no word in the play: this is in effect essentially a dialogue between Mme Lemarchand and Franck, a kind of card game in which Mme Lemarchand always has the upper hand, her trump cards being her financial aces, which always win over Franck's duff cards. He is powerless as Mme Lemarchand washes the putative dirt from Hilda, gives her more superior clothes, makes Hilda work more and more hours until Franck can see her no more, until Mme Lemarchand takes over her life and leaves the work injured Franck to his own devices, to his sister-in-law Corinne, who is the third (very brief) voice in this quietly devastating play.

Joël Dicker: Le Livre des Baltimore (2015)

I just looked at the popular French website babelio.com for comments on Joël Dicker's Le Livre des Baltimore (2015), read a few of the amateur reviews (514) to this follow-up to his hugely successful La Verite sur l'affaire Harry Québert (2012, with 1571 reviews) and breathed a silent sigh. I enjoyed Harry Québert to some extent, although the several hundred pages were a bit daunting, but the 600-page Le Livre des Baltimore went back to the boîte à lire only half-read: enough is enough, or too much. Harry Québert made it to the first selection of the Goncourt novel, garnered the Prix Goncourt des lycéens as well as the Grand Prix de l'académie française 2012, and yet I ask myself why. Both of these books, and it appears the latest Dicker, La Disparition de Stéphanie Mayer, are not only set in the US, not only about a mystery with many twists and turns, not only bear the markings of a young adult novel, but are also so obviously made to be filmed, causing Frédéric Beigbeder to remark that he'd written the same book three times: make as much money as possible seems to be the ruling instinct with the Swiss Dicker. And yet to me 'real' novels are written from the intellect, not with the bank account in mind. OK, all writers have to survive and make some compromises, but we're not talking about that here. I got bored with Le Livre des Baltimore halfway through, read Marie NDiaye's very short play Hilda (1999) in a very brief time, ditched Dicker permanently, and was struck by the effect Hilda was having on me: my conclusion is that Marie NDiaye is a brilliant writer, Joël Dicker merely brilliant at writing best sellers. The difference between the two is enormous. (Oh, by the way, Babelio doesn't give Hilda a single review, although Les Éditions du minuit contains several professional reviews of it. There must be a moral in there somewhere.)

22 September 2018

Le Cimetière parisien d'Ivry, Val-de-Marne (94): #7: Roger Stéphane

Roger Stéphane (né Roger Worms) (1919–94) was a writer and journalist, a member of the Resistance, and a co-founder of L'Observateur. He was an admirer of the work of Stendhal, Proust and T. E. Lawrence and a friend of Georges Simenon. He was one of the first campaigners for gay rights. He wrote several biographies on, for instance, Simenon, Lawrence and Cocteau, and, ill and in poverty, killed himself.

Le Cimetière parisien d'Ivry, Val-de-Marne (94): #6: Missak Manouchiank

Missak Manouchian (1906–44) was an Armenian poet and journalist who moved to France in 1925. As a member of the French Resistance, he was shot in 1944.

Le Cimetière parisien d'Ivry, Val-de-Marne (94): #5:Jules Boucher

Jules Boucher (1903 – 1955) was a writer, occultist, alchemist and free-mason. His works include La Symbolique maçonnique (1948) and Manuel de magie pratique (1941).

Le Cimetière parisien d'Ivry, Val-de-Marne (94): #4: Abdel Hafed Benotman

'Abdel Hafed BENOTMAN
1960 – [2015]

'Ça valait pas la peine
mais ça valait le coup !
Enfin libérable...'

Abdel Hafed Benotman was of Algerian descent and wrote detective novels, short stories, poems, songs, plays and film scenarios. He was guilty of many thefts and bank robberies and spent several occasions behind bars. He was born in France and spent his childhood in the Latin Quarter. Later, he set up theatre workshops for various groups of people: psychotic children, elderly people, delinquants, and the handicapped. Back in prison in 1990, his collection of short stories, Les Forcenés, was published in 1993. 

Le Cimetière parisien d'Ivry, Val-de-Marne (94): #3: Arthur Adamov

First recognized along with the likes of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco as a defining figure at the forefront of the theatre of the absurd, French playwright Adam Adamov had a fairly prolific career, writing twenty plays between 1947 and his death in 1970. Now though he has fallen into obscurity. John J. McMann provides a study of Adamov's work which traces the playwright's artistic development and explores his role in defining the avant-garde and political theaters of France.

Adam Adamov doesn't get much of a grave here, which is absurd, but then like Alfred Jarry's grave is pretty much to be expected. Adamov wrote about twenty plays, but is now almost forgotten: in 1962 Martin Esslin's Theatre of the Absurd lists ten authors in huge letters on the cover of the Pelican version, and Adamov is one of them. But Esslin accepting the OBE from her royal etc, now that really is absurd...

19 September 2018

Le Cimetière parisien d'Ivry, Val-de-Marne (94): #2: Artur London

1915 . 1986 
1916 . 2012

The memorial on the grave to the brave work of Lise for the workers and the oppressed, with a translation in Catalan.

As a couple, man and wife published L'Aveu (lit. 'The Confession') in 1968, which was an autobiographical account of London's experience of the Prague trials. Costa-Gavras turned the book into a film starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret.

Le Cimetière parisien d'Ivry, Val-de-Marne (94): #1: Georges Jamati

Finding the grave of Georges Jamati (1894–1954) caused me to stumble, break my glasses (which needed renewing anyway), and gave me several large scratches and bruises. No idea why, as it certainly hadn't been raining, I've been in many cemeteries which are very frightening to negotiate but this one isn't, so it's just the way things go. Oh yes, Jemati. The cemetery guide describes him as a playwright and a writer of non-fiction, although the only play I can definitely pin him down to is Le Complot (lit. 'The Plot') of 1934. I'm obviously open to correction, but he seems more preoccupied with theatre theory, such as his Théâtre et vie intérieure or Théâtre et collectivité (1954).

Pierre-Jean de Béranger in the 3rd arrondissement, Paris (75)

I wrote about the grave of Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857), which he shares with Jacques-Antoine Manuel, some years ago when visiting the more famous spots in Père-Lachaise. This monument is in the 3rd arrondissement in the Square du Temple. The statue was made in 1953 by Henri Lagriffoul (1907–81).

Alphonse Daudet in the 8th arrondissement, Paris (75)

Alphonse Daudet (1840–97) by René de Saint-Marceaux (1845–1915) in Le Jardin des ambassadeurs. He needs no description here, as his name appears a number of times in this blog, particularly in relation to Provence.

Jean Moulin in the 8th arrondissement, Paris (75)


The monument to Jean Moulin (1899–1943) in Les Jardins des Champs Elysées was sculpted by the Jewish sculptor Georges Janclos (1933–97) in 1984. The five bronze statues represent tears, the whisper of the Resistance, silent imprisonment, disappearance and the Resistance, although not in the order shown.

18 September 2018

More from Le Cimetière Père-Lachaise, Paris (75): #21: Évariste Parny

Évariste de Parny (1753–1814) was a poet born in La Réunion. His name was known by his Poésies érotiques (1778), his poetry was hugely popular at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and in 1813 Chateaubriand said that he still remembered some of his works by heart.

More from Le Cimetière Père-Lachaise, Paris (75): #20: Vivant Denon

Vivant Denon (1747–1825) was an engraver and a writer as well as a French diplomat and administrator. He became the general director of museums, and as such was particularly involved with the Louvre. Study bored him, although observation entertained him. The sculpture is by Pierre Cartellier.

More from Le Cimetière Père-Lachaise, Paris (75): #19: Jacques Lelille

Jaques Delille (1768–1839) was a poet and translator (mainly from Latin and English). The most famous of his own work is Jardins (1782).

More from Le Cimetière Père-Lachaise, Paris (75): #18: Georges Cuvier

Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) was an anatomist, indeed the founder of comparative anatomy, and an ethnologist. Some of his findings led to racist conclusions, as of course could have been expected at the unenlightened time when he was writing.

More from Le Cimetière Père-Lachaise, Paris (75): #17: Philoxène Boyer

Philoxène Boyer (1824–67) was a Hellenist. During his studentship at the Sorbonne he met Charles Baudelaire, who introduced him to the Parnassian poets, including Théodore de Banville, with whom he wrote some books. He lived for literature, at the expense of his personal hygiene. A brilliant mind, he had many famous writer friends although now he is all but forgotten.

More from Le Cimetière Père-Lachaise, Paris (75): #16: Jean Bacon



9 décembre 1914
29 février 2012'

Jean Bacon was a journalist for France with the BBC for ten years and an occasional writers of plays. His most important publication, after a great deal of research work, was Les Seingeurs de la guerre in 1981, was about the commerce and the use of weapons.

More from Le Cimetière Père-Lachaise, Paris (75): #15: Marie-Céleste Bache

Rose-Céleste Bache (1774–1843) (or Céleste Vien after the painter Jjoseph-Marie Vien she married) learned Greek and Latin, of which she published several translations. During her feminist period, she published Journal des dames et des modes.

17 September 2018

Max Jacob in the 18th arrondissement

1876 – 1944
DE 1907 – 1911'

7 Rue Ravignan.

Maurice Utrillo and Suzanne Valadon in the 18th arrondissement

Maurice Utrillo (1883–1955) was the son of Suzanne Valadon, an acrobat and model encouraged, for instance, by Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir to develop a powerful expressionist painting talent. Unusually, Utrillo was a painter of Montmartre who was born there. La Maison Rose was immortalised by a number of painters of the time. Utrllo is buried in Le Cimetière Saint-Vincent, Montmartre, and Suzanne Valadon in the Cimetière parisien de Saint-Ouen, both graves of whom are on this blog.

Rue des saules.

Le Moulin de la Galette in the 18th arrondissement

Le Moulin de la Galette at the corner of rue Lepic and rue Girardon, Montmartre, formerly a noted guinguette. The mill is not accessible to the public, although the front is a restaurant.

15 September 2018

Audrey Tautou in the 18th arrondissement

Anyone reading my blog will be aware of how much I detest tourism, but occasionally you just have to ignore the tourists and do your thing. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's brilliant movie Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulin (2001), boringly Anglicized to Amelie, has a number of scenes set in the Café des 2 Moulins, rue Lepic, Montmartre. As expected, there are shots of the actor Audrey Tautou on the walls, although I suspect that the vast majority of people who know this movie just prefer to take an outside shot of this place, whose interior isn't entirely recognisable from the film.

Le Lapin Agile (revisited) in the 18th arrondissement

Well, it's been seven years since I last saw Le Lapin Agile, and I'm pleased to see that there's now an 'Histoire de Paris' plaque there. It doesn't really say anymore than I wrote before (just key in the words to the left), and especially notes Roland Dorgelès's donkey hoax), so I'll say no more.

But let's not forget the origin of the place's sign: André Gill: Le Lapin Agile was originally the work of the painter Gill: Le Lapin à Gill.