31 May 2015

Douglas Ashdown: An Introduction to William Barnes: The Dorset Poet: 1801–1886

It's very useful to have a book such as this – particularly if, like me – you want to find William Barnes's grave and have been given completely the wrong information by a most emphatic member of Dorchester TIC about where to find it. This contains far more information than that though, and for anyone just wanting a potted version of the poet's life and work such a short book is ideal. I found the Dorset dialect words culled from Barnes's Glossary particularly interesting.

William Barnes was born in Sturminster Stowe in Dorset, came from a working-class background and was essentially self-taught, leaving school at thirteen to begin working life as a solicitor's clerk. He moved to Dorchester in 1816, where he continued to work as a clerk and began to educate himself in his spare time.

In 1823 – after publishing two books – he started his own school in Mere, Wiltshire. He returned to Dorchester with his wife and children in 1835, where he opened a school in Durngate Street. Barnes was rector of Winterborne Came from 1862 until his death in 1886 and was buried in the churchyard – not, I repeat – Whitcombe churchyard.

My other William Barnes post:
William Barnes in Dorchester and Winterborne Came, Dorset

30 May 2015

Marie-Claire Blais: Les Nuits de l'Underground (1978)

At first I couldn't see in what way Marie-Claire Blais's Les Nuits de l'Underground bore any resemblance to her Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (1965), although it's clear that the interest is in the outsider, in those who don't have an effective voice. Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel isn't a comfortable read, although I found Les Nuits de l'Underground far less so: frequently, long drawn-out sentences are used, often unrelieved by paragraph breaks, and a French-speaking person from anywhere other than Québec would probably have problems with the pigeon English in this novel.

The pigeon English is used by Lali, an Austrian medical doctor living in Montréal who usually speaks in this variety of English, also using a sometimes slightly tortured form of French. For a time, she's the lover of the protagonist Geneviève, a sculptor who seems to spend her time between Montréal and Paris. (But if Geneviève was so fond of the Brontës she wouldn't have referred – three times – to their brother Branwell as 'Bradwell': surely Blais's error there?)

The Underground of the title is a night club in Montréal where lesbians tend to hang out until the early hours of the morning, and this being set in the 1970s means that the sexual orientation is considered louche, something against the the norm. This is very much a novel of internal exile, a wail against the turmoil of the dispossessed: not in a financial, but in an existential sense.

The expression transformations d'être (literally 'transformations of being') is used at one point in the novel, and I thought of its aptness to this book, which describes such transformations so fluently. This novel is profoundly sensual, it delineates minute changes of temperance, carves out a voice for the sexually oppressed and depressed, and views both the present and the future with a kind of despair.

I'm sure I'll revisit this novel sometime and come up with a different verdict: maybe I read it at the wrong time, but it disappointed me.

My other Marie-Claire Blais post:

Marie-Claire Blais: Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel

26 May 2015

Marcel Pagnol: Marius (1931)

Marius is the first part of Marcel Pagnol's play trilogy set in Marseilles, (or Trilogie marseillaise), as indicated by this cover shot of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde basilica in the background. The other parts are Fanny and César.

This comedy is strongly steeped in the culture and mores of the time, essentially revolving around the relationship between the twenty-three-year-old Marius, who works in the seafront bar run by his father César, and the eighteen-year-old Fanny, who sells shellfish a few yards away.

This is a kind of he-loves-me-he-loves-me not story with an odd third person in the love mix: the besotted and slightly ridiculous Panisse, a widower of fifty who is a relatively prosperous sail maker only too eager to marry Fanny.

Fanny is truly in love with Marius, so much that she is willing to forsake marrying him for his real love: the world of the sea that obsesses him and his dreams of all the exotic places he can visit. But he's torn apart between his spirit of adventure and his love and perceived obligations towards Fanny.

The lovers' single parents certainly aren't torn, and as this story takes place long before the sexual revolution, César and especially Fanny's mother Honorine – whose memories of her 'fallen' sister Zoë lapsing into prostitution and causing the early death of their mother are still fresh – are keen for Fanny and Marius to marry and officially consummate the sexual relationship they are already enjoying.

But Fanny knows that the call of the sea and different climes will eventually intervene in any relationship between her and Marius, and feels incapable of standing in her lover's way: she's resigned to Marius leaving her either sooner or later, and the break comes sooner with Marius – under tremendous pressure – boarding the Malaisie and departing for years.

It is only in the second volume of the trilogy (Fanny) that the eponymous protagonist will discover that she's pregnant, and that the joyous Panisse is only too happy to marry her and have the child that he never had with his first wife.

Marius is shot through with the dialect of the area, and also the esoteric rules of the card game manille, which I'd rather not bother learning: I never learned belote, although I must admit I really enjoyed playing the card game tarot when I lived in France.

Interesting play though.

My Marcel Pagnol posts:
Marcel Pagnol's Birthplace, Aubagne
Le Petit Monde de Marcel Pagnol, Aubagne
Claude Berri's Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources
Marcel Pagnol: La Gloire de mon père | My Father's Glory
Marcel Pagnol: Le Château de ma mère | My Mother's Castle
Marcel Pagnol: Marius
Marcel Pagnol in La Treille, Marseille
Marcel Pagnol: Le Schpountz

25 May 2015

Nadine Bismuth: Les Gens fidèles ne font pas les nouvelles (2001)

Nadine Bismuth's Les Gens fidèles ne font pas les nouvelles (lit. 'Faithful People Don't Make News') is a collection of short stories with the theme of infidelity running through it, but all kinds of infidelity: this is not a repetitious book, but one that experiments with numerous areas of its subject.

In 'Un secret bien gardé' (lit. 'A Well Kept Secret') the title is that of a book that the narrator Élise – a cleaning woman in a huge office block – is reading. It's about a woman who falls in love with her psychologist, and has a secret affair with him. Just as Élise has an affair with M. Séquin in the office block, and whose funeral she anonymously attends. When Mme Séquin asks the name of the unknown mourner, Élise says she was Séquin's psychologist, and that the nature of her client's problems must be kept secret for professional reasons.

And so the stories continue: a bride disappearing for a short time; a hotel worker discovering that his fellow worker and lover is nowhere near as faithful as he believes; a ten-year-old boy stuck on a girl who quickly turns his attentions to another girl who has the hots for him; etc, etc, infidelity and/or jealousy, situations real or imagined. And at the end a faithful couple in which the husband reads news items of unfaithfulness and his wife goes a little crazy: but not enough to be newsworthy. Highly readable all the same.

Thomas Hardy in South Street, Dorchester, Dorset

house is reputed
to have been lived in
by the
story of that name
written in
A bank is at present on these premises, the name of which I've obliterated as I have no wish to have bank names polluting my blog.

My other Thomas Hardy posts:

Thomas Hardy in Stinsford, Dorset
Thomas Hardy's birthplace, Higher Bockhampton, Dorset
Thomas Hardy at Max Gate, Dorchester, Dorset

24 May 2015

Thomas Hardy at Max Gate, Dorchester, Dorset

Thomas Hardy designed Max Gate on the outskirts of Dorchester, and lived there with Emma his first wife and later Florence his second wife from 1885 until 1928, the year of his death. During this period he wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1892), and his last novel, the highly controversial Jude the Obscure (1895), after which Hardy restricted himself to just writing poetry.

Hardy had a great interest in sundials.

The dining room, which contains some of the original furniture. Two of Hardy's guests were W. B. Yeats and T. E. Lawrence.

The drawing room opposite.

On the first floor, the flushing toilet.

Emma occupied two attic rooms following extensive alterations in 1894.

The master bedroom, first used by Hardy and Emma and later by Florence.

Hardy first used this room as a study. Here he wrote The Woodlanders and corrected proofs of The Mayor of Casterbridge. Towards the end of his life he used this room as a bedroom, and this is the room in which he died.

The bathroom.
A bust of T. E. Lawrence lurks in the drawing room on the ground floor.

Outside, the Druid Stone which was found three feet below ground.

Hardy was a huge lover of animals, and this pet cemetery reminds me of Edith Wharton's in Lenox, Massachusetts.
The shepherd's hut in the grounds.
At the top of High Street in Dorchester is a statue of Thomas Hardy sculpted by Eric Henri Kennington (1888– 1960), the same man who sculpted T. E. Lawrence's bust.

My other Thomas Hardy posts:

Thomas Hardy in Stinsford, Dorset
Thomas Hardy's birthplace, Higher Bockhampton, Dorset
Thomas Hardy in South Street, Dorchester, Dorset

23 May 2015

T. E. Lawrence at Clouds Hill, Dorset

The rear of Clouds Hill. Originally this was probably an early nineteenth century forester's cottage. T. E. Lawrence first rented it in 1923 when he was stationed at Bovington Camp with the Tank Corps, and he bought it two years later. In 1935 he left the RAF and lived here, although he died shortly after, at 46, several days after a motor cycle accident. The cottage was very primitive, with no kitchen, no electricity and no toilet.

The logo above the entrance door reads 'οὐ φροντὶς': 'Why Worry'.

I don't know the significance of the door knocker.

In Lawrence's reading room-cum-bedroom. His specially designed chair indicates his small (5ft 5 inches) height, and of note is his reading stand in the centre.

Lawrence's bathroom.

Upstairs in the Music Room is a bust of Lawrence by Eric Kennington (1926).

The bunk room (also called the store room), where a number of Lawrence's guests stayed. The walls are lined with aluminium to keep cool and prevent condensation.

Lawrence had a ship's port hole fitted here.

Outside, the garage which housed Lawrence's Brough Superior motor cycle is now an exhibition room dedicated to the writer. In the year after his death, his brother A. W. Lawrence gave Clouds Hill to the National Trust.

My other T. E. Lawrence posts:

T. E. Lawrence in Moreton, Dorset
T. E. Lawrence in Lincoln

22 May 2015

Fanny Burney and George III in Weymouth, Dorset

As 'Keeper of the Queen's Robes', the author Fanny Burney visited Weymouth on George III's first visit in 1789, the year after his first (possible) attack of porphyria. A plaque at the side of this replica of his bathing machine records Burney's impressions of the royal visit here:

'His majesty is in delightful health, and much improved spirits. All agree he never looked better. The loyalty of this place is excessive; they have dressed out every street with labels of "God save the King"...[The sailors] never approach the house, nor see the king, or his shadow, without beginning to huzza, and going on to three cheers...Nor is this all. Think but of the surprise of His Majesty when, the first time of his bathing, he had no sooner popped his royal head under water than a band of music, concealed in a neighbouring machine, struck up "God save great George our King".'

Thomas Hardy's birthplace, Higher Bockhampton, Dorset

The birthplace of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) in Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester.

The woodshed, with the outhouse to the right.

The bread oven in the kitchen.

COTTAGE 2nd. JUNE 1840.


My other Thomas Hardy posts:

Thomas Hardy in Stinsford, Dorset

William Barnes in Dorchester and Winterborne Came, Dorset

The statue occupying pride of place in the centre of Dorchester is not a representation of Thomas Hardy but William Barnes. This is by Edwin Roscoe Mullins, in 1888.
1801 – 1886

I have a very Foucauldian way of looking at institutions: the medical profession exists to give you illnesses, schools exist to prevent you from learning, the police exist to encourage crime, etc. So it makes perfect sense that tourist information centres exist to give you hopelessly misleading information: yesterday, at Dorchester Tourist Information Centre, this proved exactly the case. Now I knew that William Barnes is buried in St Peter's churchyard in Winterborne Came, and although Winterborne Came – a mere two miles from the centre of Dorchester – is a derelict village and the church redundant, both my AA map and Googlemaps show the ex-village but not the ex-church. So I wanted the exact whereabouts, because the Poets' Graves website notes that it's difficult to find. The girl at Dorchester TIC claimed the grave is easy to find, being on the A352 just outside Dorchester, only she called it Whitcombe church. I knew she was wrong and insisted that it was Winterborne Came church that I was looking for. She'd never heard of Winterborne Came, and continued to insist that Barnes' grave is in Whitcombe churchyard. I showed her the Poets' Graves site: 'Winterborne Came'. 'So they're wrong?', I ask. It clearly says it's hard to find too, and she starts backing down slightly and mentions the relativity of difficulty and names, and maybe in the past the church was, well who knows? Certainly the girl at the Dorchester TIC doesn't, although she continues to repeat that we want Whitcombe church. That's it then, and we walk away in the false knowledge that William Barnes's bones are at the side of the A352: I mean, she must know what she's talking about, mustn't she? Er...
But then I happen to wander into a secondhand bookstore in South Street and find proof positive that the girl at the Dorchester TIC was talking out of her arse: Douglas Ashdown's An Introduction to William Barnes: The Dorset Poet: 1801–1886 (Tiverton: Dorset Books, 1996). On page 12, there's a map showing Whitcombe church to the right of the A352, but there's a Came church down a road to the left of it. Furthermore, page 43 says that Barnes was buried 'on 11 October in the churchyard of his Winterborne Came church'. No arguments there then. For the benefit of anyone wishing to go there, I have to add that it is indeed extremely difficult to find: heading north on the A352 towards Dorchester, take the final unnamed road on the left about half a mile south of Max Gate, continue for about half a mile until you reach a triangle, park on it and walk a few hundred yards down the road on the left, then turn down a path on the right after a tiny path that says 'To the Church'. (In retrospect, I should have stuck a middle finger up in the direction of Dorchester TIC: they'd wasted a lot of my time.)

DIED OCT. 7th 1886
St Peter's, Winterborne Came.
A view from the pulpit.
A view of the chancel.

Church of St Peter: Winterborne Came, Dorset (London: The Churches Conservation Trust, 2009).

My other William Barnes post:
Douglas Ashdown: An Introduction to William Barnes

19 May 2015

Cecil Day Lewis in Stinsford, Dorset


Poet Laureate
Shall I be gone long?
For ever and a day.
To whom there belong?
Ask the stone to say.
Ask my song.'

Cecil Day Lewis was a great admirer of Thomas Hardy and his wish to be buried as close as possible to him was granted.