30 April 2015

Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté (2002)

Laurent Mauvignier sculpts – I think that's a decent word to describe them – internal monologues, meandering, poetic, seemingly endless sentences by pained individuals, people terrified by the slings and arrows of existence, numbed by emptiness and striving desperately to fill in the blanks: they are living in an existential jigsaw without end.

Ceux d'à côté refers in part to the people neighbouring Catherine – Claire and Sylvain, although Claire's fiancé Sylvain has never actually lived there: if he had, there would probably never have been a serious crime that deeply affects everyone concerned.

Slowly, the events in the story come together through two voices, whose thoughts are revealed through alternating sequences. At first there's that of Catherine, a part-time school canteen worker studying for her exams to become a music teacher, although if she passes or not is of no interest here, the substance being far meatier. And then there's the voice of a man whose name is never revealed: to do so would humanise him a little too much perhaps, although he is – somewhat disturbingly – sympathetically portrayed in certain respects.

Internal monologues can be parsimonious, only doling out dribs and drabs of information every so often, and such is the case here. Catherine lives in a block of flats – no doubt an HLM – close to Claire, who takes her out to the beach with Sylvain some weekends, and by this action Catherine can at least attempt to move away from the void that surrounds her, her existence otherwise bounded by the elderly man above moving his chair on his uncarpeted floor and her (unnamed) goldfish who surely lives a life symbolically similar to her own?

And then the rapist overturns everything, attacking Claire and leaving her for dead: only she's not dead, she survives, but has to leave for another town with Sylvain, away from the bad memories, away from her friend Cathy with whom she now largely communicates over the phone. But Catherine, whose sexual life seems for some time to have been reduced to one-off encounters, almost envies Claire.

The nameless man, the perpetrator of the unspeakable (the word 'rape' is never mentioned) is confused, as empty as Catherine, with no self knowledge of why he has – and it certainly appears to be his first time – performed this horrific act. He tortures himself over it, is possibly as empty as Catherine, and haunts the area of the crime where he doesn't know if he committed just ('just'?) rape or murder too.

Towards the end of the novel the two internal voices almost merge, with the rapist seeing Catherine in the same places, such as in the public garden feeding the ducks, or in the bar-tabac near the block of flats where Claire is moving out, where he regularly takes a coffee and fills the ashtray while reading the café paper for an hour, and thinks Catherine doesn't notice him, but she knows all his movements, knows he's behind her in the cinema, although (unlike with Claire) he gives up following her. So they never meet in any verbal or physical way, although there remains a nagging doubt – for me at least – as to whether the two voices come from the same person: in other words, is the man's internal monologue an imaginative creation by Catherine, as there are a few suggestions that point that way?

My other Mauvignier posts:

Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Dans la foule
Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde
Laurent Mauvignier: Une Légère blessure

29 April 2015

Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers (1929)

Un de Baumugnes (translated rather bizarrely as Lovers Are Never Losers) is the second part of Giono's Pan trilogy, and another bizarre thing is the cover of this Le Club du meilleur livre edition, suggesting a medieval setting for this book, but Un de Baumugnes – although unspecific about date – takes place when railways existed.

Disinterested friendship is of major interest in a book in which humans, as opposed to Nature in general in Colline, are the focal point of attention. (Although frequent comparisons are almost always images from the animal kingdom, such as roof tiles described as flying away like partridges, or (in the next sentence) hailstones appearing as big as hens' eggs.)

Amédée is an older man doing seasonal work from farm to farm, and meets the young Albin – who's from the fictional Baumugnes and doing the same – in a bar where they drink a great deal and Albin's tongue loosens and he tells his story of Angèle, the girl he loves, being seduced by his treacherous friend Louis, who takes her away from her family and leads her into prostitution. Albin still yearns for her.

The story touches Amédée so much that he resolves to track Angèle down, and with some difficulty manages to find work at her parents' run-down farm. La Douloire is 'run' by the miserable and easy-to-anger Clarius and his also sorrowful but more amenable wife Philomène. Also working there is Saturnin, who laughs at lot but not at all at the appropriate times.

Eventually Amédée's detective work pays off and he realises that the source of the couple's misery is Angèle, who came back to her parents, but with a baby whose father's identity she has no idea of: due to the shame, her parents hide her and her child away in a cellar so that no one will be aware of their existence.

Amédée has left Albin to work in nearby Pertuis, where Amédée used to live with a woman and where he returns to tell Albin of his findings. Eventually Albin – by means of a monica which is part of his short-tongued ancestors' history, but that's another story – establishes contact with his lover. Amédée slips her a screwdriver so she can pick the lock of her prison, and the four of them (with babe in Angèle's arms and relative ease) escape from La Douloire.

A coda to the novel is that a few years later Amédée – when walking near La Douloire – meets a young child who says she's from Baumugnes but lives at the farm and speaks of pépé, her grandfather. From this Amédée concludes that Albin and and Angèle have made it up with Clarius and Philomène. But although this is obviously a happy ending, there's no sentimentalising and Amédée decides not to pay his friend a visit: he simply tells the girl to let her father know that Amédée passed. He knows that she'll forget his name as soon as he leaves, but he's content just to know – and for Albin to know – that he's done his good deed.

My Jean Giono posts:
Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque
Jean Giono: L' Homme qui plantait des arbres
Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit
Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny
Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers
Jean Giono in Manosque
Jean Giono: Notes sur l'affaire Dominici
Jean Giono's grave, Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Pierre Citron: Jean Giono 1895–1970
Jean Giono: Regain | Second Harvest
Jean Giono: Que ma joie demeure
Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville
Jean Giono et al, Le Contadour

27 April 2015

Eugène Savitzkaya: Exquise Louise (2003)

Eugène Savitzkaya is a Belgian writer who has written many poetry books and novels. Exquise Louise is classed as one of Savitzkaya's novels, although it contains barely more than seventy pages, which are in quite big print with many white spaces: in the English-speaking world, this would be called a short story, although it is in fact more of a poem written in prose.

In 1992 Savitzskaya published the 90-page novel Marin mon cœur, which concerns his son. Exquise Louise is about his daughter. Or rather, he's describing an independent being with a power of her own to discover the life around her.

Louise is described teething, bathing in the River Ourthe, playing truant, with friends, playing in the garden, trying to capture a snail, and many other activities. Although not in anything like the prosaic language I use here, but a language imbued with wonder, the magic of the everyday discoveries of a child: Savitzkaya takes the ordinary and turns it into a thing of wonder.

This makes for an interesting read and I'm pleased that I came across this writer's work, although I didn't find it sufficiently enlightening to feel encouraged to actively seek out further books by him.

26 April 2015

Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny (1929)

Born in Manosque where he also died, Jean Giono was the son of a shoemaker born in Provence and of Italian descent. He is one of the great uncompromising Provençal writers with nothing of the sentimentalism and commercialism of Marcel Pagnol. The first novel he wrote was Naissance de l'Odyssée – the title of which reveals a major source of his inspiration – although it was not actually the first novel of his to be published.

Colline (1929) – translated as Hill of Destiny (and now Hill) – was the first one published and is the first part of the Pan trilogy, the others being Un de Baumugnes (also 1929, and translated as Lovers Are Never Losers) and Regain (1930, translated as Second Harvest). Colline is set in a peasant community near Manosque in the imaginary hamlet of Les Bastides Blanches, which has just twelve inhabitants, and the novel is steeped in mythology and superstition.

Les Bastides Blanches is not a hermetic community – goods are sold to neighbouring communities and the postman and doctor make occasional visits – but it is otherwise cut off from the outside world. Here, Gondran lives with his wife Marguerite and Janet, his eighty-year-old former alcoholic father-in-law who is the éminence grise of the story; Arbaud lives with his wife Babette and two very young daughters; Maurras live with his mother; Jaume is considered as the leader of the community, and just lives with his daughter Ulalie now that his wife has hanged herself for reasons that remain completely unclear; and finally there's Gagou, the community idiot who lives in a self-made 'cabin' and who enjoys a sexual relationship with Ulalie because, well, she doesn't really have anyone else to choose.

Bedridden, Janet starts to babble and things start to go radically wrong. First, the well – the community's only source of water – refuses to work. Then Arbaud and Babette's young child Marie falls seriously ill and Jaume's copy of Dr François-Vincent Raspail's medical manual doesn't help.* It's as though Les Bastides Blanches is cursed, as if Nature is taking its revenge on the humans. And the appearance of a black cat is seen as a very negative omen. In desperation, Jaume looks to Janet for advice, but all he gets is pantheistic doom-laden words and insults.

Jaume suspects Janet is responsible for the community's misfortunes, and he believes that his theory is backed up when he notices the black cat on Janet's bed. After a fire nearly destroys the hamlet, Jaume calls the men together and tells them that the only way they can ease their burden is to kill Janet. A job which is more easily done than expected, and suddenly the well begins to work again.

A really striking aspect of Giono's dialogue writing is its directness, its trueness to life, which must have come across at the time as a little coarse?

*Boulevard Raspail in Paris is named after the amazing François-Vincent Raspail, of whom much more later this year.

My Jean Giono posts:
Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque
Jean Giono: L' Homme qui plantait des arbres
Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit
Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny
Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers
Jean Giono in Manosque
Jean Giono: Notes sur l'affaire Dominici
Jean Giono's grave, Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Pierre Citron: Jean Giono 1895–1970
Jean Giono: Regain | Second Harvest
Jean Giono: Que ma joie demeure

Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville
Jean Giono et al, Le Contadour

25 April 2015

Annie Ernaux: La Place | A Man's Place (1983)

La Place (translated as A Man's Place) is Annie Ernaux's livre de mon père, a biographical (and autobiographical) novel about her father. Intentionally, she writes without sentiment, without poetry, in a flat style which comes naturally to her: she reveals this after stating that her father died two months after she passed the CAPES, qualifying her to teach in secondary schools and colleges, and she then describes her father's funeral and the reception that followed.

She begins the story proper with her grandparents, who like her parents came from the working classes: the novel is very much concerned with the class conflict with her life at home as she educates herself into the middle class. Her grandfather was an illiterate carter who worked on a farm and who expressed his resistance to his condition – and his perception of his masculinity – by unleashing his anger on any family member with their head stuck in a book or newspaper.

At the age of twelve her grandfather took his son out of school to work on the same farm, and after the war her father worked in a rope factory. Their daughter was born in L...' (Lillebonne) in Seine-Maritime, and the family later moved to 'Y...' (Yvetot) in the same département, which is where Ernaux (then surnamed Duchesne) grew up. Her parents moved a little up the social ladder by running a café-cum-grocer's shop.

Unlike her grandfather her father is not illiterate, although his reading is restricted to Paris-Normandie, and he continues to eat as before – with an Opinel, a knife which he cleans after eating on his bleu, unless he's eaten herring, in which case he cleans it in the soil to get rid of the smell. Small wonder, perhaps, that there could never be any real mix between the narrator's family and that of her bourgeois husband's, in which – if anyone broke a glass – someone was certain to say 'Don't touch it, it's broken!' ('N'y touchez pas, il est brisé'): a line from Sully Prudhomme's poetry.

But her father was proud of her academic achievements.

24 April 2015

Laurent Mauvignier: Dans la foule | In the Crowd (2006)

I view Laurent Mauvignier as one of the best living French writers of fiction, although I'm a little uncertain that a tremendous number of other readers think the same. Which would be unfortunate, as they'd be missing out on a major talent. Mauvignier specialises in monologue as opposed to dialogue, and Dans la foule (translated as In the Crowd) consists of four voices leading up to, during, or after the disaster in Heysel stadium, Brussels on 29 May 1985, in which thirty-nine people died.

Geoff is the rather sensitive and cultured youngest brother – from a working-class, football-obsessed family from Liverpool – who tells his story of (a little reluctantly) going to the match with his yob brother Doug and his devoted younger brother Hughie. I could easily believe the existence of Geoff and his brothers, although I really couldn't believe in Geoff's girlfriend Elsie: a Liverpudlian nurse who reads Rimbaud in the original French and bakes stilton and fig scones? No, Mauvignier doesn't do English culture entirely convincingly. But this is a minor detail.

There's also the voice of the French Jeff, who goes to Brussels with his Italian-born friend Tonino, and they're slumming it, don't even have tickets, until they meet up with the Belgian couple Gabriel and Virginie. There's a lot of drinking in this novel and Virginie can have a loud mouth and really shouldn't have brandished their precious match tickets, giving Jeff a perfect opportunity to create diversions and so allow Tonino to steal the tickets.

A third voice is that of Gabriel, who's understandably angry that the tickets have been stolen so eagerly waits outside the stadium – later joined by his two friends who were with him at the time of the theft – in the hope of apprehending Jeff and Tonino and confronting them with their outrageous abuse of his and his partner's hospitality. Although jealousy creeps in here too, and there seems to have been a kind of understanding between Tonino and Virginie which clouds things, but anyway the deaths in the stadium are a far bigger cloud on the whole issue.

Mauvignier's writing is firmly planted in the world of the non-spoken, and even though Gabriel and Virginie meet Jeff and Tonino again and even invite them to their place where Tonino is given a change of shirt by Gabriel, we don't get to hear of any confrontation. More important is the state of mental and physical health of the Italian Tana who is also with them, and whom Jeff and Tonino met before the match with her husband Francesco, who was killed in the stadium at the beginning of their honeymoon.

Tana's voice is the fourth one, and in the final section of this 427-page book – the longest Mauvignier novel to date – she dominates it and pitches the reader further into the realm of the non-spoken as her internal monologue strives to cope with her grief and the aftermath as a 23-year-old that her mother seems to want – like her – to remain a weeping widow for the rest of her life. Three and a half years later Tana doesn't attend the trial in Brussels, although a short time after this she welcomes (the now-married father) Jeff and Tonino, and they all – along with her younger sister Grazia – escape from her mother for three weeks with a friendly uncle in Sardinia, where they drink, swim and sunbathe, and where nothing is said of the past.

I think Laurent Mauvignier is incapable of writing a mediocre novel.

My other Mauvignier posts:

Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde
Laurent Mauvignier: Une Légère blessure

23 April 2015

Jules Verne and Georges Rodenbach: Graves

Once again my thanks to Dr Rowena Edlin-White, this time for sending me a scan of a postcard she discovered in a flea market in Brussels: this shot is of the tomb of Jules Verne (1828–1905) in the Cimetière de La Madeleine in Amiens (80), depicting Verne breaking out of his shroud and looking towards heaven. It very strongly reminded me of the grave of symbolist poet and novelist Georges Rodenbach  (1855–98) in the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris:

Surely there has to be a link between the two? Yes, indeed there is. I discovered an essay on the sculptor of Rodenbach's tomb: 'Charlotte Besnard (1854–1931) : être femme sculpteur et épouse d’artiste en vogue, au tournant du XXe siècle' by Hélène Moreau-Sionneau. (Charlotte was the wife of artist Albert Besnard (1849-1934)). Moreau-Sionneau writes that Besnard sculpted the Rodenbach grave, on which was an inscription of a few now completely illegible lines of his poetry addressed to the Lord and praying for an after-life in literature. This tomb inspired Albert Roze (1861–1952) – commissioned by the Verne family – to sculpt the later grave, which is titled Towards Immortality and Everlasting Youth (Vers l’immortalité et l’éternelle jeunesse). Roze, with the aid of Verne's death mask, completed his work in 1907.

17 April 2015

C. F. Ramuz: Jean-Luc persécuté (1908; repr. 2008)

Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878–1947) spent a little time in the earlier half of his life in Paris and to a lesser extent in Germany, although in 1914 he returned permanently to French-speaking Switzerland (La Suisse romande), where he was born in Lausanne and died just three or four kilometres away in Pully.

Ramuz was therefore born in the canton of Vaud, although he was commissioned in 1907 to write a book on life in Varais – a canton adjacent to Vaud – in collaboration with the painter Edmond Bille, which resulted in the publication Le Village dans la montagne (1908). Ramuz spent various periods in Varais between September 1907 and the autumn of 1908 writing this, and a bi-product was that he began to write a fictional book which was to become Jean-Luc persécutée.

Jean-Luc persécutée is set in mountainous Varais. But unlike other fictional French Swiss works set in alpine areas there is no romantic nostalgia here, no picturesqueness: this is a depiction of Hell.

Ramuz's novel is intense and violent and to some extent reverses norms, particularly sexual ones. Essentially this is the ageless story of a sexual triangle, a book that the back cover suggests has the impact of a Greek tragedy. I can't argue with that, although it's a little unusual that a back cover should so precisely reveal the end in the beginning: the husband Jean-Luc burns to death in a barn his wife Christine and her child by her lover Augustin and then throws himself off a precipice. Surely this is the ultimate spoiler?

Well, not exactly because I'm sure Ramuz himself wouldn't have minded spoilers: what matters is not what happens, but how.

So, to the how. This is a very powerful novel, although I appreciated the first of its thirteen chapters the most. Here, Jean-Luc leaves his wife and baby Henri to see a man about a goat, but the man is ill so Jean-Luc calls off the project for the time and walks home. But his wife isn't there and the more he investigates her absence the more he worries and then he begins to trace her footsteps in the snow. For me it's the description of the minute, almost forensic details that lead Jean-Luc to his (secretly) discovering his wife in the hayloft with Augustin that make this a highly unusual read, written – like the other chapters in a very fresh style considering when it was written.

And the gender reversal that will play such an important part in the book is also notable right at the beginning, setting up this – as the back cover will have it – 'Aeschylean' tragedy. Christine comes right out with the fact that Jean-Luc was aware right from the beginning, before their marriage two years before, that she preferred Augustin but that her parents didn't approve because he hadn't enough money, and that she'd never concealed from Jean-Luc that she'd still 'kiss' Augustin (a seasonal hotel worker) even when married. Obviously stunned, Jean-Luc goes back to his mother.

But he returns to Christine, even though he's not too sure why, and when he breaks his leg they become close again, although she continues to see Augustin on his return to the area and eventually Jean-Luc throws her out and keeps Henri. But he begins to drink a great deal, abandoning his child to friends and neighbours. He starts to sell his property to drink more, Henri is discovered accidentally drowned in a stream, and Jean-Luc begins a descent into insanity: he walks around with his imagined child in his arms, talking to it and caring for it, until he 'loses' it.

Christine now has a child by Augustin, but Jean-Luc shuts his wife and her baby in a hayloft and sets fire to it. Imagining that his child has returned to him, he evades his pursuers by jumping off a cliff: 'his head cracked like a nut'.

16 April 2015

Simone Schwarz-Bart: Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle | The Bridge of Beyond (1972)

Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle – translated into English as The Bridge of Beyond – is Simone Schwarz-Bart's first novel on her own: previously, she had co-written Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes (lit. 'A Dish of Pork with Green Bananas') with her husband André Schwarz-Bart, which was published in 1967.

Pluie et vent is set in Schwarz-Bart's native Guadeloupe, and is suffused with Antillean words, with the supernatural, with the destructive legacy that slavery has brought through the generations. But – in spite of this – it is also a homage to the black woman, to allude to the seven-volume Hommage à la femme noire, another jointly written book by the Schwart-Barts.

The novel is in two parts, the first being only thirty pages long and detailing three previous generations: her great-grandmother Minerve, a freed slave; her grandmother Toussine (dubbed Reine Sans Nom (Queen without a Name)); and her mother Victoire.

The second part of the book is much longer and relates the ups and downs in the life of Télumée Lougandor, who is sent as a child to live with her grandmother. The book is told in the first person and inspired by the life of Guadeloupean Stéphanie Priccin.

Télumée goes to school with Élie and the pair accept their mutual love and know that they will live together one day. As a background to this knowledge, while Élie becomes a pit sawyer and dutifully works to build a house for them to live in, Télumée goes to work as a cook and general domestic for the Desargne family, sleeping in an outbuilding near a pig sty. Her love for Élie and general love of life mean that she easily deflects the direct racist comments from the wife, although the husband's attempts to rape her – thinking that he can buy her by thrusting silk upon her – result in her threatening (although not quite so directly) to cut off his sex organs.

When Télumée goes to live with Élie in the house next to Reine Sans Nom, they are very happy. The passing of time is often difficult to register in this novel, so it's hard to know how long they have lived together before Élie – unemployed and alcoholic – takes to badly battering Télumée until he forces her to retreat to her grandmother.

And her grandmother has noted the love that Ambroise (always in the background) has for her, although it is not until after Reine Sans Nom's death – when she is forced into working with the dreaded sugar cane to survive – that she forms a really loving bond with him, one of the men who are a positive force for good. Until he's burned to death at the factory.

Through everything, the eye of this poor Guadeloupean community is on her, and they name her 'Télumée Miracle' when they see her take Ménard – who has 'lived like a dog' – and make him 'die like a man'. In the end, Télumée sells roasted peanuts by the roadside outside her house: she is proud through her humbleness, resilient, resourceful...joyful: '[...] je mourrai là, comme je suis, debout, dans mon petit jardin, quelle joie !...' ('I shall die here, as I am, standing, in my little garden, what joy!').

Hibbert's Folly, Godley, Greater Manchester

Lawyer Joseph Hibbert, the son of mill owner Randal Hibbert, built this castellated structure just off Mottram Road in Godley around the mid-19th century. Hibbert was apparently the author of several plays, and also published the pamphlet A Lecture upon Hyde, in the County of Cheshire, and its neighbourhood: Delivered at the Hyde Mechanics Institution, on the 18th of November, 1856.

The folly is at the edge of Godley Brook and by the playground of Brookbank Day Nursery: members of the public are not allowed within the grounds.

12 April 2015

Brent Kinser and Anna Lillios (eds): The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Journal of Florida Literature Volume XIV (2005–06)

As I mentioned in a comment some posts ago, if it hadn't been for a heavy rainstorm forcing me to abandon the first attempt to get to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's farm at Cross Creek, I'd never have driven to a mall in Interlachen and bought this publication from a thrift store for all of 40 cents. And I'd have missed out big time.
This 154-page scholarly publication is very enlightening, and – to my surprise – highly amusing. I could have expected the disagreeable, drunken nature of Wallace Stevens's behavior as described in 'Mrs. Rawlings, Mr. Stevens and the Nature of Florida' by Thomas C. Harrison, but I wasn't prepared for the behavior of Rawlings herself in 'Yesterday's Woman' by, er, Lollie Pop Twitters. Twitters asks for directions to Cross Creek and a neighbor tells her that '[t]hat bitch [...] will shoot the pants off you' if she isn't expected. Well, she isn't expected and Rawlings has a bad hangover but nevertheless welcomes Twitters and invites her to have a drink with her, outside with all the mosquitoes and a friendly cockroach. On being asked how best she writes, Rawlings replies 'Tight as a tick'. Is this just a malicious joke? Well, it's a joke, although Rawlings is making it at her own expense because she is Lollie Pop Twitters!
But most of the book is taken up by Rawlings's letters to Dr – later Professor – Cliff Lyons and his wife Gladys, starting off very politely and then rapidly becoming very warm as their long-term friendship blossomed. Cliff Lyons was going to be Rawlings's literary executor, but for a few reasons – his increasing pompousness being among them – she named the publisher Julia Scribner instead right the end. Her disappointment with Cliff was professional, and she seems to have remained good friends with him and especially with his wife.
Mercifully, not a great number of Rawlings's letters here deal with the well-known long, tedious and hugely expensive 'invasion of  privacy' law suit of Zelma Cason. What really shines through these letters is not just Rawlings's warmth and generosity of spirit but her spunky sense of humor: for instance, on learning in 1945 that Julia Scribner is to marry an Episcopal clergyman she tells the Lyons 'I can only hope that as a man of God, he has enough Hell in him to give her a good time'. The same year, a cottonmouth moccasin snake appears in the toilet pan and is eventually killed, and Rawlings jokes that she feels queasy about toilets after that: 'God, the menace to my love life––.'
This is great stuff – a joy to read. My other Rawlings post:

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Cross Creek

Lorette Nobécourt: La Conversation (1998)

In a number of ways this novel comes across as a continuation of Nobécourt's first novel, La Démangeaision: the narrator is still called Irène, and she has violently harmed – although apparently not, as may have been suggested in her earlier novel, killed – a young lover. This novel is also disturbing, and appears to be narrated by a woman who is on the verge of, if not exactly possessed by, madness. Again, the narrator is perhaps not always reliable.
Nobécourt published the sixty-page L'Équarrissage in 1997, but this is her second novel. And it's a rather odd title for what is essentially a monologue, Irène's 'interlocutor' (if in fact she is present) not saying a word: the only other words come from completely digressive asides eavesdropped from other diners and drinkers in the café where Irène is delivering her monologue.
Which may well not be spoken but just thought: perhaps Irène is just imagining a one-sided conversation with Anna, her lawyer to whom she is supposed to be speaking as she drinks more and more on the night before her trial for seriously wounding her young friend (called Rodolphe in La Démangeaison but unnamed here).
Digressive this book certainly is, although its concern with the body isn't with the itching of the psoriasis as in La Démangeaison, but mainly with sexuality, and the sex act, lust, a sexual attack on a woman, masturbation, a threesome, an abortion, etc, all thrown into the melting pot of Irène's alcoholic, bitter, obsessed mind. The people under attack are the dead, those destroyed by capitalism whose purpose is self-perpetuation by absorbing everyone else into their deadness, razing everyone to the level of a zombie.
Lorette Nobécourt has produced a terrifying novel of modern alienation, but also a profound insight into the outsider, the nay-sayer. Riddled with apparent paradox, this is a work of considerable beauty and shows a tremendous love of life. Even at this early stage of her literary career – like Irène, Nobécourt was twenty-eight La Conversation is strong evidence of an important talent.
My other Lorette Nobécourt posts:

Lorette Nobécourt: La Démangeaison
Lorette Nobécourt: En nous la vie des morts

10 April 2015

Robert Higham in Hyde, Greater Manchester

Memory of
Robert Higham, J.P.
of Windsor Bank, Hyde,
Editor and joint proprietor
of the
North Cheshire Herald,
for upwards of 40 years,
who died Febr. 17th 1905,
aged 66 years.'
Strange how I missed this in Hyde Cemetery the first time round. Many local writers were published in the North Cheshire Herald, which for a large number of them was a literary launching pad leading to individual publications. George Booth's side of the monument is here.

Charles Bell Taylor (1829–1909), Nottingham

Here we have a clearer picture than the sculpted likeness on his gravestone in Nottingham General Cemetery – surely taken from this? – of what the ophthalmic surgeon, feminist, defender of animal rights, and writer Dr Charles Bell Taylor looked like. This picture is from Centenary of the Nottingham Medico-Chirurgical Society on March 7th, 1928.
Link to my previous post:

Charles Bell Taylor (1829–1909)

9 April 2015

Samuel Scott Sudlow, Hyde, Greater Manchester

In Poets, Poems, and Rhymes of East Cheshire (1908) Thomas Middleton devotes a few pages to the forgotten Samuel Scott Sudlow (1865–1951), who was born in Delamere Forest near Frodsham in the west of Cheshire, and moved to Hyde (probably with his parents) in 1881. His father was simply named Samuel Sudlow (1838–1914), who is the first named person on the grave here, followed by his mother Fanny (c. 1840–1920).

As the sentence states above in Hyde Cemetery, 'ALSO SAMUEL S[COTT], THEIR SON, DIED IN AUSTRALIA, SEP. 17TH. 1951, AGED 86 YEARS.' Middleton says that Sudlow hadn't published much, although he prints his 'To the Blue Bell' in full and says that it will 'take a high place in local verse'. At the time that Middleton published his book Samuel Scott Sudlow was about 43 and had yet to leave Hyde for Australia, although he appears to have published nothing at all there. But he was obviously a little more successful in another field.

Samuel Scott Sudlow was a joiner by trade, although Middleton speaks more of Sudlow's artistic education and of his local fame as a portrait and landscape artist. He says '[h]is work is highly spoken of by those competent to judge, and he is one of the few local men who have been successful as a portrait painter'.

And interestingly, a little Googling tells me that 'S Scott Sudlow' was several times one of the finalists for painting prizes in Australia, including one called Self Portrait, but – frustratingly – I can't find any of his paintings online.

8 April 2015

William Bedford (1811–61) in Hyde and the USA

William Bedford was an obscure working-class poet and political writer of English birth who killed himself eleven or twelve years after emigrating to America with his wife Sarah Nancy (née Wood) (1812–1892) and five children: two more were born in the USA. The truly bizarre thing about his death is that he left some writing – although not a suicide letter giving the reasons for deliberately taking a lethal dose of laudanum but notes – perhaps written over three hours, and describing exactly how the drug was affecting him from immediately after taking it until what must have been a few moments before his death. He makes no mention of his wife, but refers to his friends and children, specifically expressing his concern for the two youngest: James Rosser (1846–1942) and Thomas W. (1853–1921).

I'll return to the letter – which I'll quote in some detail – but for the moment I'll say what we know of Bedford, the large part of which comes from Thomas Middleton's Poets, Poems, and Rhymes of East Cheshire (Hyde: John Higham, 1908).

William Henry Bedford was the son of Matthew Bedford (1791–?), who was born in Clayton West, Yorkshire, and Sarah (née Rosser) (1789–1872), who was born in Stockport, Cheshire. Middleton says that their were thirteen other children in the family, and that Matthew had come to Hyde and worked at John Howard's mill. William attended the Wesleyan Sunday School and 'received the bulk of his education from there'. He was first a piecer and then a spinner at the same mill where his father worked.

From an early age William was interested in the poor conditions of the working classes. The above plaque at the entrance to the market in Hyde marks the site of The Norfolk Arms, where a disaster took place on 1 April 1829. Seven hundred cotton workers – among them William and Matthew Bedford – assembled here to discuss their employers' plans to reduce their wages during the depression in the cotton trade. The floor collapsed, causing people to fall into the cellar. Twenty-nine people were killed and many more injured, although William and Matthew escaped. The family first moved to Stockport and later Ashton-under-Lyne.

William Bedford wrote poems and – under the name 'Sam Shuttletip' – also wrote political papers on the government, the working class and communism. His own family originally appear to have been successful, and it is unknown why he took his life. Below are the parts that Middleton publishes of the remarkable letter that Bedford wrote as he was dying during a walk near the Hudson River:

'August 10, 1861.

I have just swallowed the laudanum in a small quantity of brandy; do not feel much effect from it yet, except a bitterness in my mouth and throat, and a little trembling in my hands. [...] 15 minutes since I took the laudanum; the effects feel exhilarating, like those of intoxicating drinks. No pain, and the scenery of the Hudson River [...] grand and glorious, my heart aches, and my eyes weep for my friends and children, especially for my boys James and Thomas, but I hope they will not grieve much at my lot, and that they will try to be good boys. [...] Quarter of an hour later, I feel a bitterness and dryness in my throat, and a tendency to lay down and go to sleep, but I shall resist it as long as I can. [...] quarter later. [...] I am trying to read a paper called the "Phunny Fellow," but my ideas begin to get confused, as they have done many a time before, when I have fallen asleep reading. [...] Two hours since I took the dose, I feel more confused in mind every minute, [...] but it don't feel unpleasant.– It must be a quarter of an hour later, and I had just fallen to sleep, and have waked again, [...] I have tried walking about, but it is no use,– cannot keep awake, and feel a trembling all over. [...] Cannot calculate the time, think it must be three hours since I took it. Feel a little inclined to vomit, but hope I shall not do so, have walked about a little, and the sickness is nearly gone away, but my limbs tremble considerably–I have lain down awhile–don't know how long–and have dreamed as usual about the dear friends at home; very sleepy indeed, and my mouth and throat dry–end.'

5 April 2015

Roadside Art in Key West, Florida

As my final Florida post, I have to include this structure in Key West that I omitted the first time round, quite possibly because I couldn't find anything to say about it. I haven't much to say now, although this largely appears to consist of pieces of clay moulded into spidery shapes on top of the original wall and encrusted with various kinds of circular mirrors. It's on the corner of Margaret and Angela streets, just opposite the main entrance to Key West Cemetery, and I suppose I'll never know the story behind it. Or maybe there is no 'story', perhaps it was just built on a whim. Interesting to note that the covering of the car in the background goes with the color scheme though.

Florida Pioneer Museum, Florida City

Florida Pioneer Museum in Florida City is not to be confused with Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City (which I did), as that's hundreds of miles from this place. The museum is run by volunteers and is only open two days of the week in the afternoons. It was built in 1904 by the Florida East Coast Railway and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is set up as it might have looked at the time it was built (although there may be a few anachronisms), and the exhibits here come from donations.
The living room.
The dining room.
Various kitchen tools.
A Cole seed planter.
A washing machine.
Upstairs, a doll's house (illuminated).
The bed contains wooden pegs that tightened the bed ropes.
And a modern gift item displaying the key architectural features of Homestead: the museum is very close to the boundary between Homestead and Florida City.

3 April 2015

Palatka, Florida: Old and New

This incarnation of the impressive Memorial Bridge over St Johns River in the background to this waterfront shot was built in 1976 and is taken from Palatka. It runs into East Palatka and is 4020 feet (or 1230 meters) long.

This historical marker is next to the police station in downtown Palatka:

Established as a trading post in 1821, the settlement was burned in the Seminole War (1836). In 1838, the U.S. government constructed Fort Shannon which served as a garrison, supply depot and hospital for the forts in the southern area of Florida. Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor and William T. Sherman were stationed here. During the Civil War the city was occupied by Federal troops. In the postwar period Palatka became one of the leading tourist centers of Florida.'
It's difficult today to imagine this lovely but rather sleepy little town as an important tourist center, although two notable people to be attracted towards Palatka were Harriet Beecher Stowe and Thomas Edison.
By the waterfront are other information boards, this one being about the trail of the naturalist William Bartram (1739–1823). Bartram is a rather obscure figure today, although he was once famous for his book Travels (1781), the full title of which reveals its subject matter fully: Travels through North & South Carolina, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws, Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. One of the most interesting points to note is that this publication influenced writers, the most notable being the early Romantics Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Palatka, Florida: City of Murals

Throughout downtown Palatka, in Putnam County, Florida, there is a series of murals, mostly very large, although some smaller. I managed to take a shot of nearly all of them, or at least for one reason or other – mainly the sheer size of them or the fact that an obstruction presented itself – what I considered as an essential detail of a mural.

The Putnam House hotel, circa 1891. This was a huge hotel, and once stood on this site.

The Mug Race takes place annually each weekend in May, from Palatka to Jacksonville.

Putnam County Jail, circa 1880.

Putnam County Courthouse, circa 1909.

Bronson-Mulholland House, circa 1854. This house is on the National Register of Historical Houses and kept by the Putnam County Historical Society.
Palatka City Hall, circa 1905. Once, this place also housed the fire station and a library.
J.T & K.W. Railroad Depot, circa 1886. The old building is more or less in the same place as the present station.
Old Palatka Waterworks, circa 1886–87. These were fed by a spring, driven by steam pumps with heat from a wood furnace, and continued in use until 1986.
Heartbeat of Palatka, circa 1890, 1909, and 1916. The main building on the left is the Old City Hall, which was demolished in 1963.
Wild flowers in Putnam County (details).
Florida jasmine, spiderwort, and butterfly weed.
Prickly pear, paint brush, and passion flower.
The Battle at Horse Landing, 23 May 1864 (detail).
To God Be the Glory, 1937–38. Billy Graham was baptised in Silver Lake and his first pulpit was at Peniel Baptist Church, both in Putnam County.
Night Passage (Ochlawaha Riverboat), circa 1884 (detail).
Bygone Days, circa 1880.
Putnam Treasures (details).
High Time in Palatka, circa 1872. This mural remembers street entertaining.
Mary Lawson Hospital, which opened in 1918 (detail).
Train Station. This is at the side of the Welcome Center, which we called the Unwelcome Center because for some reason known only to herself the woman who was working there treated us very offhandedly: my partner Penny found much more courtesy at the Chamber of Commerce.
Cattle Drive to Paynes Prairie, circa 1930 (detail).
Senator B. C. Pearce – Agricultural Mural (detail). Pearce passed legislation helping farmers.
Annie Oakley. She was a popular figure who brought her sharp-shooter show to town in 1908.
Harlem Nights in Palatka. The Belton Society Syncopaters.
Finally, a mural not included in the 'City of Murals' leaflet: a peace mosaic.