26 March 2017

George Orwell in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire

25 JUNE 1903 . 21 JANUARY 1950'

This plaque is on the south wall of All Saints's church, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.


Orwell wanted to be buried in a country graveyard, and he was. To the right is a rather rain-weathered copy of his Homage to Catalonia which an admirer has obviously left.
1912 – 2001'

David Astor was the editor of the Observer, an owner of estate in Sutton Courtenay, a friend (and employer) of Orwell's, also responsible for seeing that Orwell's wishes were carried out. He bought two graveyard plots in All Saint's', and is buried immediately behind Orwell's grave.

25 March 2017

Mary Arnold Ward (Mrs Humphry 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 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?