Ludovic Trarieux (1840–1904) was born in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, Charente, and was a lawyer and a politician of the 'soft' right. He was the founder and the first president of La Ligue des droits de l'homme (1898) (The League of the Rights of Man), and the instigator of the revision of the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. As such, he was also a strong supporter of Émile Zola, who was suffering from huge legal problems following his publication of 'J'accuse' in the newspaper L'Aurore in 1898 in support of Dreyfus, an issue which was dividing France in two. Trarieux himself published a number of papers, mainly on legal questions, including the Dreyfus case. The bust of him is in the centre of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, just a few meters away from his birthplace, with a plaque recognising his contributions to humanity.
28 February 2018
Pierre Véry (1900–60) was a crime writer born in Bellon (Charente), where he is buried. His first novel, Pont-Égaré (1927), featured in the selections that year for both the Renaudot and the Femina, although after hesitating between literary fiction and crime, he chose crime in 1934. Among his most famous books are L'Assassinat du père Noël (1934), Les Disparus de Saint-Agil (1935), and Goupi-Mains rouges (1937), all of which were adapted to the cinema screen. Some of his works are set in the area of his birth. His former home in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is now a restaurant named after him:
HOMMES DE LETTRES
NÉ LE 17 NOVEMBRE 1900
DÉCÉDÉ LE 12 OCTOBRE 1960'
26 February 2018
Pierre-Henri Simon (1903–72) was a literary historian, a novelist, poet and literary critic born in Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde, Charente-Maritime. He was elected to the Académie française in 1966. As a seven-year-old his teacher's anti-clerical views shocked him so much that his mother withdrew him from school and taught him for four years. André Malraux admired his work, he narrowly missed gaining the Femina for Les hommes ne veulent pas mourir (1953), and his Contre la torture (1957) (concerning his views on the Algerian war, towards which the government of the day was hostile) was defended by François Mitterrand (then Garde des Sceaux). Several streets and squares in different towns in Charente-Maritime are named after him, including Place Pierre-Henri Simon in Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde. He is buried in the cemetery of the town of his birth.
25 February 2018
Émile Combes (1835–1921) was a politician who was mayor of Pons for forty-three years. Elected radical-socialiste sénateur of Charente-Inférieure in 1885, he became President of 'La Gauche Démocratique'. His anti-clericalism played a large part in the divorce of the state from the church. His writings are many, and include La Psychologie de saint Thomas d'Aquin, thèse présentée à la Faculté de Rennes (1860); De la Littérature des Pères et de son rôle dans l'éducation de la jeunesse (1864); and Considérations contre l'hérédité des maladies (1868). Below is the monument to him in the centre of Pons in the shadow of the donjon; the house in Pons where he lived for sixty years and where he died; and his grave in the Cimetière Saint-Martin in Pons.
24 February 2018
Barthélemy Gautier (who dropped the Pierre- in front of his name) was born into a family of tanners, although he managed to escape from the same fate due to his artistic abilities: he was a talented creator of humorous sketches of Saintongeais and Parisians, which he drew for a number of mazagines. He was born and died in Pons, and his bust, on its huge pedestal, holds pride of place among the sculpted hedges in le jardin public by the donjon in Pons. Jean Becker's film La tête en friche has many scenes taken in Pons, including ones in the jardin public with Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus: the book of the same name was written by Marie-Sabine Roger.
23 February 2018
'Ivre de livres': drunk on books, it says on the barrel. And it's not a bad expression: here, you can pick up a book or two, or leave a book or two, and this is of course a version of the girafe on Marseille's Canabière, the girafe-livre: a boîte à lire. Has anything been done like this in the UK? Probably not, for obvious reasons.
Émile Gaboriau had a number of jobs before becoming Paul Féval's secretary, from whom he learned the art of journalism. His best known work as a novelelist is L'Affaire Lerouge (1865), where the police inspector Lecoq appears, and Gaboriau is generally considered to be the father of the detective story. He was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, and in turn influenced Arthur Conan Doyle. His health was fragile and he died of a lung infection at the age of forty. His father Charles Gabriel Émile Gaboriau retired to Jonzac, where Émile is buried with him and his mother Stéphanie (née Magistel). Jonzac appears under the name 'Sauveterre' in Émile Gaboriau's work.
19 February 2018
But the fictional (in 'real life') Gloire Stella (or Gloire Abrall) is elusive and hasn't been heard of for some years. She's disappeared from the radar, which obviously makes her more interesting, although the reader perhaps wonders why Salvador goes to such lengths and such expenses to re-locate her.
Quite simply, Gloire has had enough of fame and wants to live a quiet existence. But then there's this 'homoncule' (or homunculous): I remember Ian McEwan (a guy I intensely dislike) once interviewing John Updike on his use of the word 'homunculous' – just saying. But a homonculous called Béliard appears frequently in Les Grands Blondes, an invisible little creature who might be her guardian angel, although this is doubtful as he sometimes encourages Gloire to kill people who get in the way of her rehabilitation, if that's the right word. So, maybe the devil or the id...?
Nah, too simple: this is Echenoz: don't look for symbolism, just enjoy a disturbing read, prepare to be mentally knocked around, thrown from pillar to post, but accept no easy solutions as there are none. Re-read and you'll enjoy far more, but still be no wiser. Just prepare to be surprised every which way the novel takes you, and this (it's Echenoz after all) will geographically (as well as mentally) take you to many places.
As a plaque shown below informs us, the author Maurice Leblanc (1864–1941) lived here at the Clos Lupin, Étretat, from 1915 until his death in 1914. In 1999 it was opened to the public by Leblanc's grand-daughter Florence. The tour is audio-guided (by Frence television's own Lupin, Georges Descrières) and is much more about Arsène Lupin and the mystery of L'Aiguille creuse than Maurice Leblanc himself: but then, look at the name of his house, where fiction takes over from reality. I let the photos tell the story, which ends with the treasure hidden in the needle, Lupin staring at it in the background.
The street where Maurice Leblanc lived, and which is now an author's house, is in fact named after Guy de Maupassant.
Maupassant bought some of the land on which La Guillette stands from his mother, who had bought it for a vegetable garden. Originally Maupassant wanted to call it 'La Maison Tellier', although his mother (and some friends) strongly objected to any suggestions that it was a brothel. Instead, he adopted Hermine Lecomte de Noüy's suggestion of La Guillette. The house was eventually built in 1883, and is where the author finished 'Pierre et Jean' and wrote a large part of 'Bel Ami'.