29 May 2016

Marcel Pagnol: La Gloire de mon père | My Father's Glory (1957)

Marcel Pagnol's La Gloire de mon père (trans. as The Glory of My Father) is the first part of his autobiographical Souvenirs d'enfance cycle, and both this and the second volume, Le Château de ma mère, were immensely popular. I'm not too sure why though, and the Provençal literature of Jean Giono and Frédéric Mistral is much more powerful. I think its popularity has much to do with the readers' memories of Provence, the glorious sun, the smell of the herbs, the slow pace of life.

La Gloire de mon père, then, tells the story of Marcel Pagnol's formative years around Marseille, concluding before he was nine years of age. Marcel lives with his schoolteacher father Joseph, his mother Augustine, his younger brother Paul, and relations between aunt Rose and her husband Jules are close. Like any child, Marcel grows up half in the 'real' world of what's happening around him, and half in a fantasy world, in his case (for someone preoccupied by language and the magic of words) particularly by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and Gustave Aimard (whom Pagnol calls 'Aymard' on both occasions the writer is mentioned.)

The problem for me is that the book concerns not so much information about Provence itself, even its wildlife as such, but the savage hunting of it, the tearing apart of it. In Claude Chabrol's movie Partie de plaisir, the protagonist scoffs at his lover's squeamishness about using a tiny crab as fishing bait, and almost merrily rips the carapace off for her to use; a little later he summons her to watch as he positions a ladybug in a spider's web and they watch the arachnid savagely eat it: his lover is appalled by the violence which is of course normal in the natural world. This is done for suspense by Chabrol, being an indication of the pathological nature of the protagonist. However, there's little suspense in this novel, and when Marcel performs atrocities on insects and other smaller members of the animal kingdom, he is just learning about the natural world, there's nothing pathological about this or about his father's approval of Marcel learning about the natural world.

The first time I visited Provence was a fair while back although I vividly remember sitting with my partner of the time on a bar stool in front of the zinc in Saint Remy de Provence, when suddenly locals around us greeted a visitor as if he were a movie star: he was in fact a bull-fighter: we were horrified, and made a hasty exit. But violence to animals appeared to be a part of the DNA of Provence.

In La Gloire de mon père we have naming of parts, those parts belonging to Joseph's father's rifle, designed not to destroy the parts of humans as in Henry Reed's poem 'Naming of Parts', but of the parts of 'game' – what a hopelessly insensitive and violent euphemism that is! – referring to birds in particular, although almost any moving wild animal is par for the killing course, and this is what the novel is largely about: Marcel's bookish father becoming a real man by killing a brace of rock partridges: that is what is 'The glory of my father'. Pathetic, cowardly, macho and shameful, many people would consider this as today. The book doesn't even redeem itself by brilliant writing.

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

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