27 July 2012

Boris Vian: J'irai cracher sur vos tombes / I Shall Spit on Your Graves [1946]

Les Éditions du Scorpion was a French publishing firm created in 1946, and its founder, Jean d'Halluin, asked Boris Vian in the same year if he would write a novel in the same genre as Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. Vian wrote the book between 5 and 20 August and later described it as principally influenced by James M. Cain, a writer of hardboiled crime novels perhaps best known for his (filmed) The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1943). (There are also, of course, some (mainly sensational) similarities between this novel and Richard Wright's Native Son (1940).)

But Vian wrote this under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan (a name he would use for three more novels), an invented person whose work he claimed to be translating from the American, and who he also claimed was an American black who could pass as a white but identified himself as black: J'irai cracher sur vos tombes concerns Lee Anderson, an American black who passes as white, and one of whose brothers has been lynched in a racist attack.

The book was banned in France in 1949 for its (at the time extreme) sexual and violent content: Anderson narrates the whole book apart from a few very short chapters at the end, and much of its concern is with his sexual pursuits on moving to Buckton, but his obsession with two sisters from a wealthy family (in Prixville(!)) turns from mere interest in sexual conquest to violent retribution for the his brother's death. This is a long way from L'Écume des jours.

Vian, whose health was quite delicate, died of a heart attack aged 39 in 1959 during the showing of the rather different cinematic version of the book, and had previously declared that he wanted nothing to do with it.

In 1948 The Vendôme Press in Paris (a one-off imprint of Éditions du Scorpion?) published Vian's translation of his own book into English (with an Introduction by Vian, and apparently in collaboration with Milton Rosenthal) as I Shall Spit on Your Graves; the American publisher Audibon Ace rendered the title as I Spit on Your Grave in 1971; and this was re-pluralized to I Spit on Your Graves by Canongate of Edinburgh in about 1982, and then in a new edition in 2001. But surely a better translation is 'I'm Gonna Spit on Your Graves'?

Boris Vian: L'Écume des jours

25 July 2012

The Babington Monument, Kingston on Soar, Nottinghamshire

St Winifred's church, Kingston on Soar.

Inside the church is the Babington Monument, which dates from 1538. This canopy was intended to be for the Babington family burial vault.

Two of the supporting columns.

Around the capitals are babes in tuns, a visual pun on the family name.

There are about 200 figures such as these on the monument.

Between the east pillars is a representation of the Last Judgement, with God at the top centre, the saved ascending to heaven on the left, and the damned being drawn into the jaws of hell on the right.

24 July 2012

The Doom Painting in Blyth, Nottinghamshire

The church of St Mary and St Martin in Blyth is now a parish church but was originally built as a Benedictine monastery.

The most interesting feature in the church is the Doom (or Last Judgement) painting on the large east wall, which was only 're-discovered' in 1985 and restoration came shortly after.

A notice in front of the painting mentions Christ sitting on a 'rainbow throne' with St Mary, St John and eleven apostles. An extra note adds that the painting was used as a 'Biblical teaching aid' (for the illiterate).

A detail from the lower part of the painting.

Gothic vaulting, the nave.

Amélie Nothomb: Tuer le père (2011)

Tuer le père (literally 'Killing the Father') is Amélie Nothomb's latest work, although Barbe-Bleue ('Bluebeard' as in the Charles Perrault story) will appear on 22 August: she turns one out a year in time for the rentrée, and has been doing so for twenty years. I've read all her books so far, and have been impressed (to varying degrees of course) with each one.

This novella has a framing device: the first and last brief scene (both on the same occasion in 2010) take place at L'Illégal Magic Club at Le Shywawa in Paris, and these are related by an observer called Amélie Nothomb. She sees everyone enjoying themselves apart from a 30-year-old man winning at poker, and everyone watching him apart from a 50-year-old man whose intention seem to be to disturb the younger man. On enquiring, she learns that the younger man is Joe Whip, and the other Norman Terence. And then the flashback starts.

The action begins in 1994 in Reno, Nevada, where Joe's mother sells bicycles. Joe, who doesn't like his mother's new boyfriend, is thrown out because she doesn't want to lose her new man.

Joe is only 14 and must find his own way in life with the small amount of money his mother sends him every month. But Joe's gift is magic and he can do amazing card tricks, so has no difficulty making money. He learns the tricks through videos, but a stranger tells him he needs a teacher. So Joe gets to live with the professional magician Norman Terence and his girlfriend Christina, who is a fire dancer from hippie parents whose ways she has partly rejected.

When Joe becomes madly in love with Christina he hides it from the couple, but saves his virginity for when he is eighteen, when Norman and Christina will allow him to go to the Burning Man festival, Black Rock, Nevada. Once there, Norman and Christina take LSD but Joe secretly hides his blotting paper in his jeans, and by pretending to feel sick at a night club he manages to be alone with Christina and have sex with her. Norman believes that this is Joe's way of killing the father he believes he had been.

After Burning Man Joe chooses, amicably, to leave his substitute parents to be a croupier in Las Vegas, but much to their chagrin he completely severs ties with them. It's only the day after Joe's twentieth birthday in 2000 that Norman will hear any more of Joe, who is accused of a huge swindle at the casino. That there is not sufficient evidence to convict him is believable, as is his having to pay the money back to avoid death by concrete, but it's the conversation Joe has with Norman near the end of the book that is too much to believe.

What devastates Norman is that Joe refuses to see him as a father, because the man he looks upon as his father is the stranger (mentioned above) who devised the poker scam, which was arranged five years in advance, and Joe hasn't seen the man since, apart from across the card table when the swindle took place. And it is this 'father' who went flying back to Belgium with the fortune that Joe made for him, leaving Joe a relatively paltry $40,000 tip (and incidentally leaving him to refund the full $4,000,000 to his boss). What reason could Joe possibly have for keeping this agreement after five years, and how could he have seen, and indeed still see, this stanger as a father? Well, of course, he's insane. Sorry, but this is just too easy an escape.

Finally, the reader is back at L'Illégal Magic Club, now with the character Amélie Nothomb fully acquainted with the circumstances about Joe and Norman, who has been following his 'son' wherever he goes for eight years, and will continue to do so until he gets 'justice': recognition as a father. Yes, he's gone mad too.

This book has themes common to many other books by Nothomb: obsession, psychedelic drugs, madness, etc. It didn't feel the same though, and I was drawn back to a sentence a few pages near the end: Maintenant, je découvre à quel point tout ceci était dénué de signification: 'Now I understand to what extent all this was stripped of meaning'. Quite. Normally the reader expects a twist with Nothomb, but this just seems twisted: this reader feels short-changed, although I only borrowed the book from the library.

My Amélie Nothomb posts:
Amélie Nothomb: Autobiographical novels
Amélie Nothomb: Hygiène de l'assassin
Amélie Nothomb: Robert des noms propres
Amélie Nothomb: Les Combustibles
Amélie Nothomb: Antichrista
Amélie Nothomb: Tuer le père
Amélie Nothomb: Le fait du prince
Amélie Nothomb: Péplum
Amélie Nothomb: Le voyage d'hiver
Amélie Nothomb: Une forme de vie
Amélie Nothomb: Acide Sulfurique
Amélie Nothomb: Mercure
Amélie Nothomb: Journal d'Hirondelle
Amélie Nothomb: Attentat
Amélie Nothomb: Cosmétique de l'ennemi
Amélie Nothomb: Les Catilinaires

23 July 2012

Phoebe Anna Traquair in Clayworth, Nottinghamshire

The artist Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852–1936) was born in Ireland and moved to Scotland after her marriage. She finished the mural paintings in the chancel at St Peter's, Clayworth, in 1905: they were a memorial to the Boer War, and were restored in 1996 by Elizabeth Hirst. I'll let the murals speak for themselves without comment, although there is obviously something really special here:

A view of the nave and chancel from the first floor, and many thanks again for making this shot possible.

St Peter's, Clayworth.

Writers in Churches in Nottinghamshire #10 Constance Penswick Smith and William Morris in Coddington

Constance Penswick Smith (1878–1938) was twelve years old when she came to Coddington, where her father had been appointed as the new vicar of All Saints'. It was in 1913 that she learned of the American Anne Jarvis's plans to introduce Mother's Day into the UK, which Smith felt would take the religious significance of the tradition of Mothering Sunday. Consequently she devoted the rest of her life to campaigning for the re-establishment of that tradition, writing a book, plays, and articles dedicated to that purpose.

The lady chapel in the south aisle was originally designed as a Sunday school. It was dedicated to Constance Penswick Smith in 1951:

The window is by Wiliam Morris:

The left light: St Joseph.

The centre light: St Mary Magdalene.

The right light: St John.

The east window.

Top left is a self-portrait by William Morris as St Peter, one of a number of such windows that he designed.

By the south porch is the grave of Constance Penswick Smith, the inscription acknowledging her as 'the founder of the Movement for the Revival of the Observance of Mothering Sunday'.

And next to her is the grave of her father, the Rev. Charles Penswick Smith, who spent 32 years as vicar of the parish.

All Saints' Church.

(I visited this church because of the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham's Open Churches Weekends (Saturday and Sunday 14 and 15 July and 21 and 22 July 2012). Details of participating churches and opening times are listed here.)

17 July 2012

Writers in Churches in Nottinghamshire #9: Dean / Samuel Reynolds Hole in Caunton

This image is from Dean Hole's (or Samuel Reynolds Hole's) autobiographical Then and Now (London: Hutchinson, 1901). Hole was a man of the church, although he was perhaps known as much by the broader general public as 'The Rose King', one of his extra-clerical interests being horticulture, especially roses.

His grave in Caunton is one of the first things seen on nearing the south porch of the parish church of St Andrew.

1850 – 1587
1887 – 1904
BORN DEC: 5 1819
DIED AUG: 27 1904'

Hole, therefore, was vicar at Caunton for 37 years and his name is remembered in a number of places in the church, such as in this brass plaque in the middle of the altar step:

'To beautify the place of
The Altar,
at which he served as a Priest,
and in memory of his Father and Mother,
who there received the
Bread of Life.
Samuel Reynolds Hole,
Vicar of Caunton,
erected this Window,
A. D. 1872.'

This is not the above mentioned east window, but the splendid west window dedicated to Hole himself, and I was very lucky to see it not in its restricted and distant ground floor aspect, but to climb to the first floor via the normally locked door to see the sight in its full glory: I am very grateful to the man who showed me up there, and only regret that I didn't ask his name so I can mention it here.

The left light shows Saint Elizabeth of Hungary with roses and lilies.

The central light shows Saint Andrew with a book.

And on the right is Saint Dorothy with roses again, and an apple.

At the top of the central light is the quotation 'The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose' (Isaiah 35: 1).

At the bottom of the window, and across the three lights: 'To the glory of God and in loving memory of Samuel Reynolds Hole DD many years vicar of this church and late Dean of Rochester this window is offered by parishioners and friends 1905'.

Moving away from Dean Hole now, my guide then led me up another flight of narrowing steps to another room where there was an amazing piece of clockwork: made by J. B. Joyce of Whitchurch (a name since absorbed into Smiths of Derby) and dated 1888, the clock is now powered by electricity.

Briefly back to Dean Hole before I wind this post up: he dedicated this window in the south wall of the chancel to his friend and fellow traveller the Punch cartoonist John Leech, although there was no way I could find the brass plate saying so. Who cares: this was a wonderful visit, and thank you so much!

(I visited this church because of the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham's Open Churches Weekends (Saturday and Sunday 14 and 15 July and 21 and 22 July 2012). Details of participating churches and opening times are listed here.)

Writers in Churches in Nottinghamshire #8: Lord Byron in Hucknall

JANUARY 22 1788
APRIL 19 1824'

22ND. OF JANUARY 1788.
19TH. OF APRIL 1824,


The Pilgrim of Eternity'

'Bright be the place of thy soul.
Burial place of
Lord Byron
the poet and his family'

Byron's tomb is apparently in the vault directly beneath this spot.

At the side of the plaque and memorial to Lord Byron:


BORN 1OTH. DECR. 1815,
DIED 27TH. NOVR. 1852.

R. I. P.'

The visitors' centre inside the church has information about famous locals, principally Lord Byron. In it is this statuette which was sculpted by Nikoloas Kotziamanis, who was born in Cyprus in 1946. In 1992 he was commissioned to sculpt a three-metres-high statue as a gift from the British nation to Missolonghi, where it now stands in the Garden of Heroes. Newstead Abbey Byron Society and friends bought this smaller one. The sculptures were modelled on Thomas Philip's oil painting in the British Embassy in Athens.

In the Market Square there are a number of plaques on the ground, some of which are relevant of the Byrons:

'Hills of Annesley, bleak and barren,
Where my thoughtless childhood stray'd,
How the northern tempests, warring,
How above thy tufted shade!
Now no more, the hours beguiling,
Former favourite haunts I see;
Now no more my Mary smiling,
Makes ye seem a heaven to me.

Lord Byron 1805.

Annesley Hall is where Mary Chaworth – a young woman with whom Byron was infatuated – lived, near Byron's ancestral home Newstead Abbey. The above verses were written shortly after Mary married Jack Musters.


'Albeit my brow thou never shouldst be-hold
My voice shall with thy future visions blend.
And reach into they [sic] heart, when mine is cold'


The above quotation is from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III (1816), Stanza CXV, where Harold is addressing his daughter.

Ada Byron King
Countess of Lovelace

'For your father's fame they would have loved you,
And for your endless womanly virtue:
A wife, mother and writer of letters.
And yet you sidestepped female fetter.

Looked past your time's low expectation.
Lent you mind to Babbage and computation.
Now No. 10 glows with your silver gowns
A role-model for this evolving town.'

The railing in front of the public library bears several representations of local figures, among them of course Lord Byron.

And his daughter Ada.

On the west wall of the church:

'This Khachkar (Armenian stone cross) was presented to Holgate School in 1991 in recognition of work undertaken by Britain following the devastating earthquake in Armenia of 1988. The Lord Byron School, Guimri, Republic of Armenia, was built to replace one of the destroyed schools and subsequently a link was formed between this new school and the Holgate School, Hucknall. The Khachkar is placed here in memory of Father Fred Green'.

(I visited this church because of the Diocese of Southwell Nottingham's Open Churches Weekends (Saturday and Sunday 14 and 15 July and 21 and 22 July 2012). Details of participating churches and opening times are listed here.)

'The Byron Vault at Hucknall Torkard', by A. E. L. Lowe

Lord Byron in Hucknall

Lord Byron and Newstead Abbey