31 July 2014

Louis Hémon: Maria Chapdelaine (1914)

Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelaine sold a few million copies and three movies were produced based on it. And yet Hémon (1880–1913) is scarcely remembered anywhere apart from Canada, where he was killed by a train at the age of thirty-two.

Last year was the 100th anniversary of the death of the author of Maria Chapdelaine, which Le Nouvel Observateur marked by this article, which underlines Hémon's present-day obscurity in France, the country of his birth. The novel was first published in serial form in Paris and as a book in Montréal in 1916.

Maria Chapdelaine is set in Québec in the Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean area, with specific mention of Péribonka, where there is a Musée Louis Hémon, which incorporates the house of Samuel Bédard where Hémon lodged shortly before his death.

Maria lives with her parents in an isolated house, her father being a peasant farmer-cum-land-clearer. Each year is dictated by the whim of the weather, although winters always last several months and the snow is deep, and a long tough winter means scanty resources during the short summer. Prayer is a way of life, resignation almost an inherited disease.

Against this bleak backcloth a love story is central, and three men vie for Maria's hand: François Paradis, a woodcutter who has sold the family property to live an itinerant (but relatedly free) existence; Lorenzo Surprenant, who has moved to the US and to the bright lights of the cities where there is much more money; and Eutrope Gagnon, who lives closest to the family and whose life is much the same hardscrabble existence and whose prosaic, repetitive conversation mirrors that of her family's.

François and Maria are in love: he has made it clear to her that he is saving as much money as he can, and he is distancing himself from the masculinist environment he works in by not drinking or using 'profane' language. He says he will return to her the following spring, and she agrees to wait for him. And wait she does, chained to her rosary until she learns that François has made an attempt to see her for the New Year, but frozen to death in the process.

Maria is devastated but not broken and knows that she has to continue life through the grief. Her sense of hope for the future tells her that she should be with Lorenzo, but in the end her conservatism makes her choose Eutrope to stick to the land she 'belongs' to, stick with the language she has grown up with:

'A travers les heures de la nuit Maria resta immobile, les mains croisées dans son giron, patiente et sans amertume, mais songeant avec un peu de regret pathétique aux merveilles lointaines qu'elle ne connaîtrait jamais et aussi aux souvenirs tristes du pays où il lui était commandé de vivre'.

'Through the hours of the night Maria remained motionless, her hands in her lap, patient and without bitterness, but thinking with a little pitiful regret about the distant wonders that she would never know, and also of the sorrowful memories of the country in which she was ordered to live'. (My translation.)

28 July 2014

Susan B. Anthony in Adams, MA

Susan Brownell Anthony (1820–1906), women's rights campaigner and abolitionist  was born, and spent the early years of her life  just outside Adams, Massachusetts. Her father Daniel was a tolerant Quaker and her mother a Baptist. Elizabeth Cady Stanton later called Susan an agnostic.

The kitchen. The house was built in 1818 by Susan's father shortly after his marriage.

A section of the original wall.

A reconstruction of the birthing room, using furniture of the period.

Next to the room where Susan was born, Daniel (who also had interests in cotton and education) ran a small store in the other front room. He had been the first Anthony to marry a non-Quaker, but the fact that he sold alcohol in his store was more seriously frowned upon, which he promised to stop.

The newspaper The Revolution was established by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and was in existence for just over four years, between 1868 and 1872. The photo above this is the first issue.

A medallion bearing a representation of Susan B. Anthony.

There were many cartoons and caricatures of the women's rights movement. The photo above is from the Saturday Evening PostDecember 30, 1911.


'There ain't much 'am in that sandwich, 'Arry.'
'No, but there's plenty of mustard.'

bring all
into the world
Let women vote'

We had intended to drive to Seneca Falls on our last day in Elmira, NY. Famously, dress reformer Amelia Bloomer introduced Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, and a statue by Ted Aub commemorates the occasion. Unfortunately it rained all day so we gave up on the trip.

The Williamson Tunnels, Edge Hill, Liverpool

David Bridson's brief booklet The Life of Joseph Williamson (Liverpool: The Joseph Williamson Society (2011)) gives a potted biography of a little of what is known of Joseph Williamson (1769–1840), including a number of updates. Williamson was born in Yorkshire and at the age of eleven or twelve moved to Liverpool to work for and lodge with tobacco manufacturer Mr Tate (no forename given), whom his family had probably known.

Williamson's position in the tobacco business grew greatly and in 1802 he married Elizabeth Tate, the boss's daughter, and the following year he bought the business from his brother-in-law. Then in 1806 he bought Edward Mason's Edge Hill estate to the east of Liverpool (now part of the city) and started using local men to build houses in the Mason Street area.

But it was in the same year that he began employing many men in a yard in the Smithdown Lane area – building networks of tunnels that were of no use apart from the fact that they provided men with a regular income, a philanthropic activity which would continue until Williamson's death. When he retired in 1818, he employed hundreds of poor and out-of-work, demobilised men from the Napoleonic wars to build his tunnels.

One venerable but much more amusing source of information on Williamson is James Stonehouse's Recollections of Old Liverpool: By A Nonagenarian (Liverpool: J. F. Hughes (1863)), which has some very spirited (and perhaps more than a little exaggerated(?)) descriptions of Williamson:

'Mr. Williamson appears to have been a true Troglodite, one who preferred the Cimmerian darkness of his vaulted world, to the broad cheerful light of day.  He spent the principal part of his time in his vaults and excavations, and literally lived in a cellar, for his sitting room was little else, being a long vault with a window at one end, and his bedroom was a cave hollowed out at the back of it. In his cellar it was that he dispensed his hospitalities, in no sparing manner, having usually casks of port and sherry on tap, and also a cask of London porter. Glasses were out of use with him. In mugs and jugs were the generous fluids drawn and drank.'


'Mr. Williamson’s appearance was remarkable. His hat was what might have been truly called “a shocking bad one.” He generally wore an old and very much patched brown coat, corduroy breeches, and thick, slovenly shoes; but his underclothing was always of the finest description, and faultless in cleanliness and colour. [Where Stonehouse can have found this last piece of information is intriguing, to say the least.] His manners were ordinarily rough and uncouth, speaking gruffly, bawling loudly, and even rudely when he did not take to any one. Yet, strange to say, at a private dinner or evening party, Mr. Williamson exhibited a gentleness of manner, when he chose, which made him a welcome guest.'


'A lady of my acquaintance once caught Williamson intently reading a book.  She inquired its purport.  He evaded the question, but being pressed, told her it was the Bible, and expressed a wish that he had read much more of it, and studied it, and that he always found something new in it every time he opened it.  This lady said that the touching way, the graceful expression of Mr. Williamson’s manner, when he said this, took her completely by surprise, having been only accustomed to his roughness and ruggedness.  He added, “The Bible tells me what a rascal I am.”'

I'm not aware of any specific writings by Williamson's workers on the intrinsic futility of their work, although this piece by Stonehouse is very interesting:

'The industrious poor of Edge-hill found in Williamson a ready friend in time of need, and when work was slack many a man has come to the pay-place on Saturday, who had done nothing all the week but dig a hole and fill it up again. Once, on being remonstrated with by a man he had thus employed, on the uselessness of the work, Williamson said, “You do as you are told — you honestly earn the money by the sweat of your brow, and the mistress can go to market on Saturday night — I don’t want you to think.”'

The Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre was opened in 2002, and excavation is an ongoing process. Below I show a number of photos from my visit there yesterday, which include displays of various objets trouvés from different periods – clay pipes, (ginger) beer bottles, toys, etc.

The image above is an artwork inspired by the work carried out by Williamson's workers.

For an off-centre view of Liverpool, away from the usual attractions, the Williamson Tunnels are a must. I like this Guardian article, the title of which suggests a healthy 'Bollocks to Alton Towers' attitude:

Emma Kennedy: 'Forget the Cavern'

26 July 2014

James Augustus Page in Tintwistle, Derbyshire

Thomas Middleton's Poets, poems, and rhymes of East Cheshire; being a history of the poetry and song lore, and a book of biographies of the poets and song writers of the eastern portion of the County Palatine of Chester (1908) really is a very significant find for me, and continues to provide me with a very interesting literary history of the east Cheshire area of the time. From this, I recently  learned of the existence of the forgotten poet James Augustus Page, who also wrote as James A. Page.

Page published several books of poetry, the first (Scattered Leaves (1839)) when he was in his late teens and attending Boteler's Free Grammar School in Warrington; and the second (Gathered Leaves (1843)) when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1944 he won the vice-chancellor's prize at Trinity for his poem 'The Ruined Cities of Central America', which was published the same year by J. W. Booth. The only other publication of his that I can find mention of is Protestant Ballads (1852).

The List of Vicars on the north wall of Christ Church, Tintwistle, shows James Augustus Page as the incumbent between 1846 and 1873.

Middleton records that he 'quite recently' found Page's grave 'near the path and the gate through which the dead husband and his wives must have passed often during their time at Tintwistle. It is an ideal resting-place, within sight of the everlasting hills.' Middleton's 'quite recently' meant in 1908 or a little before, but things change a bit in over a century. With the churchwarden's help, we were able to figure out that 'the path and the gate' don't relate to the main path into the church from the A628, but to the gate from the vicarage and the (now barely visible) path from it to the church, which lie to the north of the church.

The grave was pretty well hidden by vegetation, but we hadn't come prepared this time with a rubber scraper and baby wipes, etc (see John Critchley Prince's grave below), so we thought we'd be coming away with rather hazy photos of the grave. However, my partner Penny just happened to tell the churchwarden that we'd found the grave and he came out with tools and clipped away at the vegetation and rubbed off much of the moss, and here is the very unexpected result. We very much appreciate the (anonymous) churchwarden's efforts. Thank you so much.

'James Augustus Page M. A.
For 27 Years Vicar of This Parish
Died Rusholme Manchester March 25th 1880 Aged 58 Years'

Middleton states that Page's death, which was 'attended by crowds of people', 'caused a profound sensation in the parish of Tintwistle', as he was buried beside his first wife Catherine Mary Page, who died in 1866. But his second wife Margaret is also buried here a little more than three years after James's death, in 1883.
One link below is to a Page book, the other is to Middleton's Poets, Poems and Rhymes of East Cheshire:

James Augustus Page: Gathered Leaves
Thomas Middleton: Poets, Poems and Rhymes of East Cheshire

25 July 2014

Michel Tremblay: À toi, pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou (1971)

Set in Montréal, À toi, pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou is Québécois Michel Tremblay's most famous play, and it strongly impressed me with its Beckettian overtones.

The language is perhaps the first thing that impresses, with its use of elision, idiosyncratic spelling and Québec-specific words: 'yeule' ('gueule'), 'marde' ('merde'), 'toé' and 'moé' ('toi and moi'), 'chus' ('je suis'), 'astheur' ('à cette heure'), and 'ciboire' and 'câlice' (two oaths of religious derivation): for me, it's as though the ground is being set for a different experience, and this play certainly is different. Like Beckett's plays, it's also disturbing.

I'm unfamiliar with any of Tremblay's other work, so the quite lengthy Introduction by Michel Bélair is of great use. He subtitles it 'ou quand Michel Tremblay se permet d'espérer', or 'or when Michel Tremblay allows hope in'. Perhaps, but then I can only imagine how bleak his earlier stuff must have been if that's the case.

The main point here is that the play almost throughout is set in two different periods of time in which the dialogue alternates between two pairs of characters – Léopold and his wife Marie-Louise (who are speaking ten years before their deaths), and their daughters Carmen and Manon (who are – almost entirely  speaking ten years after the death of their parents).

Like his wife, Léopold is in his forties. His manual work brings him little pay and he grumbles about spending money on Marie-Louise's peanut butter, although all he does is drink beer when not working; he goes to the bar but has no friends there so drinks alone. He also criticises his wife for her complete lack of interest in sex.

Marie-Lou spends her time watching television while knitting, and one of her survival mechanisms is to verbally attack her husband. Her mother taught her to steel herself against sex by lying rigid and bearing the onslaught until it passed: sex is merely 'good for animals'. In addition to Carmen and Manon they have the very young Roger, but the audience learns later in the play that she is pregnant, and although Léopold doesn't have the money to feed a new mouth, and there isn't enough space in the home, Marie-Lou refuses to have an abortion: religion is another survival mechanism, although in this instance it is obviously self-defeating.

Manon, 25, has no existence apart from through her dead mother, and stays in the house worshipping God. Her slightly older sister, 26, returns to try to convince her that there is life outside, that she has escaped the familial impasse by embracing life, and embracing the many lovers she has at the 'Rodéo', where she sings 'cowboy songs' on stage. It is because of the existence of Carmen and her positive choice the Bélair calls the play more hopeful than Tremblay's others. But, trapped in her imitated religious behaviour and the memories that she refuses to shrug off, Manon merely calls Manon a 'Boulevard St-Laurent prostitute'.

At the end of the play, Léopold asks Marie-Lou to join him that evening in a suicide car crash, and although she says nothing, the obvious implication is that his wife agrees. The final word – in the stage directions  is 'noir', and that (for all the hope it may contain) is my impression of the play: noir, but deliciously so. I loved Tremblay's power to convey the despair and the (self-)alienation, the holes that people carve themselves into and from which they can't escape. Remarkable stuff.

I read Marie-Claire Blais's very odd Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (1968) a few months ago and more recently Suzanne Jacob's in some ways even odder L'Obéissance (1991) and I'm left really interested in learning how much French Canadian literature is like this, but that's for me to discover and not strictly relevant to this post.

14 July 2014

Ralph Bernard Robinson in Glossop, Derbyshire


The grave of R. B. Robinson is in the Roman Catholic section of Glossop Cemetery, and is another example of a writer mentioned by Thomas Middleton in Poets, Poems, and Rhymes of East Cheshire (1908).  Middleton regrets how little read the 'Mottram poet and historian' Robinson's short book Longdendale: Historical and Descriptive Sketches of the Two Parishes of Mottram and Glossop (1863) was, and adds that he was born in Mottram in 1829, first winning fame as a poet.

Robinson's early book Woodbines (1851) contains, reckons Middleton, 'some pretty pieces', but he seems most interested in the long and ambitious 'Melandra', which speaks of Melandra Castle and Mouselow Castle, and is 'full of interest, containing as it does much of the local Arthurian romance'.

Middleton knew Robinson towards the end of his life, when he was 'a tall old man, with dreamy eyes, and hair white as snow. [...] Mr. Robinson was brim full of anecdote. [...] Then we chatted on the scheme for the excavation of Melandra Castle, which was becoming popular about that time, and in this fashion the evening passed along. I met him often after that; he came to see me several times at Hyde, and it was with regret that I heard of his death.'

Robinson moved from Mottram to Glossop, at first working as a schoolmaster and then as a librarian at Glossop Town Hall.

13 July 2014

Ronald Gow in Altrincham, Trafford

LIVED HERE 1898–1910

Gow was born in Heaton Moor, Stockport, and is most noted for his stage adaptation of Walter Greenwood's novel Love on the Dole (1933), which he published a year later. Hiller (born in Bramhall, Stockport) acted in the play, and they lived in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, for many years. Both of them died there.

12 July 2014

John Critchley Prince and Joseph Johnston in Hyde, Cheshire

In Thomas Middleton's remarkably informative Poets, Poems, and Rhymes (1908), he gives clear directions to the grave of minor poet Joseph Johnston (1810–68) in St George's churchyard, Hyde. Unfortunately, the grave now seems to have disappeared under a children's playground. Johnston (although teetotal) was a good friend of John Critchley Prince, so I'm taking advantage of that fact to post more shots of Prince's grave, but cleaned up this time:

Now, we are able to see a much clearer picture of the grave.

DIED 5TH MAY 1866'

Inside the large circle is a laurel wreath and the initials 'J C P'.

My John Critchley Prince posts:
John Critchley Prince in Harpurhey, Manchester
John Critchley Prince in Hyde
John Critchley Prince and Joseph Johnston in Hyde
The Life of John Critchley Prince (1880), by R. A. Douglas Lithgow

Walt Whitman in Huntington Station, Long Island, NY

The Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center. It was built by his carpenter father (also Walt Whitman) in about 1816 and the future poet was born here in 1819. He left when he was four years old.

The house as it was in 1903, published in the monthly periodical The Four-Track News in August 1904.

As this beautifully preserved house looks today, with the well in the foreground.

And there were no restrictions on indoor photography. This is the ground (or first) floor sitting room with fireplace and cupboard below. The furniture is of the period, but none of it is from the original house.

The stairs, showing the odd small top step.

The kitchen.

The exit door.

BORN MARCH 31, 1819.

Erected by the Colonial Society
of Huntington in 1905.'







Bust by Justin C. Mayer.

'Walt Whitman

Warren Wheelock, c. 1940
Carved from butternut wood

Gift of Oscar Lion'

'Poets to Come

Poets to come, orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic,
continental, never before known,
Arouse! for you must justify me.

Leaves of Grass, 1855'

Whitman taught school from the age of seventeen, beginning his four-year period in the summer of 1836. He taught in a number of places and this is his desk from Woodbury, Long Island, from 1840. In Smithtown the schoolhouse only had one room and he had eighty-five students. He became a strong advocate of educational reform.

Whitman was also known for having published a local paper called The Long Islander. This is a similar type of press he used to print his newspaper.

Whitman's original printing materials.

'Walt Whitman as a Young Man

Joy Buba, 1953
Plasticene bust
Gift of the artist'

'Walt Whitman as an Old Man

Joy Buba, 1953
Plasticene bust
Gift of the artist'

CONCORD, Mass'tts, July 21, 1855.

DEAR SIR, I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "LEAVES OF GRASS." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean.

I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.
I did not know, until I last night saw the book advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the name as real and available for a post-office. I wish to see my benefactor, and have felt much like striking my tasks and visiting New-York to pay you my respects.


I have to add that the staff here were extremely helpful and even gave me full directions for the drive back to JFK: unfortunately, this was our final day.