“Rambling” versus “Seriously Blogging”

I have always considered blogging like an act of sheer indiscretion. This is first and foremost talking of oneself, albeit indirectly, but speaking of one’s tastes, one’s walks, one’s readings, one’s listenings, sometimes one’s life.

Nonetheless, exchanging with a correspondent, I was asked the right question: was I looking for a vast number a people reading me or was I just aiming at a small number of “devoted followers” (as my correspondent put it) or (as I would say) friends and acquaintances with whom I liked to talk? If I was looking for the vast number of followers, there was an element of indiscretion. If I considered I was talking with friends and acquaintances, however remote they may be, the indiscretion was less. It still existed because I was speaking of me, and there was the occasional reader who didn’t know me and whom I did not know, but there was the chance this occasional reader would turn “friend”.

Of course, all bloggers would like their oeuvre not to be too confitentielle, too private, otherwise the blogger would not blog. Let’s face it there is an element of exhibitionism in the fact of putting pen to paper for a public – but this is the same for the journalist and the writer. We write to be read, and even if we don’t want it, there is an infinitesimal spark of ourselves, bloggers, that lands on the virtual paper you are reading.

But, the audience or readership informs the nature of the blog as much as the nature of the blog informs the audience or readership. I would not ramble about the books I read, or the adventures of The Little Family, or my thoughts when I come back from buying fresh bread, as I do if I did not know you. In return, at the very beginning of my first entries, you would not have read me and stayed to know what would happen next if you had not liked rambles in general, and rambling with me in particular! Writers and readers have to be attuned, more perhaps when a blog is concerned as they are now so many.

There is a greater pleasure for the blogger – at least for me: the comments that are received either attached to the blog or by e-mail. This is a privileged means to initiate sometimes a true discussion and more rambling.

It has not been long since I have started writing these Sketches and Vignettes, and I already know some of you; I have had rather long chats on the most unexpected topics: faith and religion, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England, the perspective on Time and History in the New World and Europe, writers I had forgotten to mention such as Henry James, the importance of preserving verges along country lanes… I could cite many more as each week brings its budget of conversations and confabulations. I look forward to them and rejoice when a topic does emerge.

I do not deny that I would also love to receive publishers’ offers to review their books, and make a “literary blog”.

However, I would be able to do it only by using my own voice, and still rambling somewhat, as I did with “Miss Buncle’s Book” (http://camilledefleurville.blogspot.fr/2015/05/miss-buncle-goes-to-la-dordogne.html), “The Day of Small Things” (http://camilledefleurville.blogspot.fr/2015/07/small-things.html) and “The Proper Place”( http://camilledefleurville.blogspot.fr/2015/07/the-proper-place-and-my-proper-place.html), or Anthony Trollope (http://camilledefleurville.blogspot.fr/2015/08/anthony-trollope-and-i.html).

But this is more of a dream than a reality to come to pass: reviewers do NOT ramble. They do not seek to take their readers by the hand and show what effects the books have had on them instead of describing the twists and turns of the plot. They address the task seriously and professionally. They are efficient down to their answers to comments.

Why this long digression upon the nature of blogging and the delight of observations, will you ask? For one reason that shocked me this week.

I read a “literary blog” written by someone who has achieved the feat of becoming quite quickly one of the most prominent reviewers and a shiny leading character in this small world of journalists, bloggers, publishers, advertisers, and, incidentally, readers. The entry in itself was classic, describing, saying enough but not too much, enticing and snaring but with the equivalent of a musical “flat” of critic. It was well-balanced and perfect.

I wrote a comment.

I received a dutiful answer.

It was dispatched in subject, verb, and complement: a passing comment in all senses since I could feel so well that the blogger had passed to another comment without thinking twice of what was written.

I read more comments from other readers and their answers: same feeling.

I was startled. I found none of the personal note I expected.

This shiny blogger (among others) has started a beautiful career. But I am not sure I would enjoy such a life devoid of true relationships with readers and other fellow human beings… They stand forgiven: their blogs are NOT to ramble and to chat; they are to promote books, booksellers, publishers, and their own careers. In this, they are perfect. My hat!

And mea culpa. What was I doing there instead of answering my own comments and preparing my own next stroll in my own world of ramblings? Each one in her or his proper place: I am an indiscrete exhibitionist but no professional!

P.S. And to be entirely open and exhibitionist I have to add that I received delightful answers from other bloggers and that they became true conversations. However I am not sure that the finality of their blogs is to make a career and to promote themselves!

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In remembrance

To be, or not to be, that is the question

to die, to sleep

No more; and by a sleep, to say we end

The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks

That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,

To sleep, perchance to Dream

to die, to sleep

No more; and by a sleep, to say we end

The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks

That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. 






Mother died in my arms at 4 o’clock

during the night

12 August

Anthony Trollope and I

It was spring – April, and who has sung “April in Paris”? For I was living in Paris. It was years ago, well before The Little Family and well before I thought of The Village as my home. It was the place where I had almost always spent my holidays or part of my holidays, and I loved it as such. I was still a student. I was too old to follow my parents around the world and my school was in Paris.

My brother had died in the previous September. I was dreadfully shocked, but thought that I had no right to cry or to show my sorrow as this was first and foremost the right of my parents, especially Mother’s. I was also too proud to say anything. At last, Mother had gone away with Father, joining him in a sedentary and secure post abroad. I had stayed behind with my Godmother whose four years of work in Paris, per chance, was  being done at the same moment. She was living in what I always think is the most beautiful part of Paris, the top of the 5ème arrondissement, rue Saint-Jacques, near the Panthéon and close to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Bliss!

But she and my parents had thought I was old enough to take care of myself and she had lent me a one room flat she had further down the arrondissement, rue du Cardinal Lemoine. I had a very little kitchen, a bathroom and one room where the bed was sofa at the same time, and the dining table had been changed into a long and wide desk. Shelves along the walls everywhere it had been possible to put them, a tea table, an armchair, four folding chairs, which were either folded or supporting stacks of papers and books, and cushions to sit on the the floor. It seemed to me the height of bohemianism and sophistication at the same time since there was only soft indirect lighting plus the strong desk lamp and the bedside lamp (not much more was required), a chimney place with a great looking glass above and gilded plaster all around it, plaster mouldings looking like pastries in the middle of the ceiling as decoration where the chandelier should have been hanging, and flowers wherever I could put them as I had made an arrangement with a florist who knew the various sizes of my vases and the places where they would be put. A lot of my allowance went into flowers – more than it was reasonable but I thought I was very reasonable in most other things.

To go to my Godmother’s and to my School, I had to go up the rue du Cardinal Lemoine for two hundred metres at the utmost and then turn right into the rue des Ecoles until La Sorbonne, cross the boulevard Saint -Michel to Louis-le-Grand, or up by narrow streets to the back of the place du Panthéon to Henri IV. After that, I was free to choose an itinerary to my journeys and my dreams. Most of the time, if I was not in a hurry, I was going by foot, looking at the bus with disdain but looking at bookshop windows with interest.

My life could have been this pure bliss and I saw myself as a character in a Barbara Pym’s novel who was dwelling in a bedsitter – not the spinster type but the busy student – if my brother had not been haunting me. I worked a lot and kept myself occupied but there were times when I had to go to bed and sleep would not come or was interrupted by nightmares. My usual “bookfriends” were of no use. I was getting more tired and excited and going to a breaking point without wanting to say anything and without knowing what to do.

One evening after the School, I was going back home and looking distractedly at the shop windows in the rue des Ecoles when I saw boxes full of second hand books on the pavement and a filthy door engagingly open. It was a shop for English books only. There was a youngish man at the counter, muttering to himself, who did not answer to my tentative “good evening”, and two or three patrons who were reading freely from oldish volumes that had seen better times. I started browsing from the door, trying to make my way through the various stacks of books or boxes that made navigating in the shop a real steeplechase. I had not gone far when I found a shelf packed with new Oxford University Press paperbacks so thickly that their weight had made the rough plank curve dangerously in its middle.

I had never read 19th century British literature in its original language but for School then, and, although I had lived in English speaking countries, my vocabulary and my command of speech were far from being fluent enough for a “classic” novelist. Therefore I had my most brilliant idea never equalled since. I chose the fattest volume of the longest row of books by the same novelist, thinking that either it would keep me awake by doing something clever and improving my English or would send me to sleep far more naturally than the drugs I was given.

I had met Anthony Trollope.

The book I bought was “Can You Forgive Her?”, and at the beginning it was hell. I recognised the codes of 19th century literature, the length, the presentation of the settings and characters, the slow introduction of the story, the pace, the digressions. I thought of Balzac, so irritating for some. But my first thought had been right: the language was the stumbling block. I needed a pad and pencil and a dictionary – not only a bilingual dictionary English/French but also a whole English/English (!) dictionary with references to former meanings of words that were (or not) still employed nowadays. The first nights I was so exhausted after a few pages that I went to sleep without any drug. Good! Afterwards I picked up the rhythm of the sentences, and it was a music that lulled me to sleep. I was less and less thinking about my brother’s death when going to bed and it was not love diminished but love soothed.

And I made the reading some sort of challenge to myself.

And I learnt to love the research and the struggle to understand.

And I took the book, pad and pencil with me on my walks, sat down in the Jardin du Luxembourg and read.

And I went back to the weird little bookshop to find reference books and to other British bookshops in Paris. And started changing my spending of allowance for less flowers and more books.

As a good French girl I was used of course to the rule of unities defined in the 17th century for plays but that were more or less implicit and respected in the 19th century classic novel – most of all ONE plot. But as in Shakespeare, I discovered that Trollope was weaving at least three plots: Alice Vavasor and her two “suitors”, her aunt and her suitor as well, and Lady Glencora being married to Plantagenet Palliser and loving another man. These three plots were answering each other as in a choir voices answer each others or sing together. There was also a political element and references to other characters to what I discovered quickly was another series of novels. One fat book to keep sorrow away had opened the doors of a whole new world. It reminded me more and more of La Comédie Humaine by Balzac.

This is how I became obsessed by Trollope. I bought the whole series of  the “Parliamentary novels” or “Palliser novels”:

and read them in order, not in this disorderly fashion! I went then to the Chronicles of Barset from “The Warden” straight to “The Last Chronicle of Barset”.

I was attracted by some topics like spinsterhood and religion:

or by what seemed a “queer” title:

I was clearly hooked. But I was hooked not only by Trollope but by his contemporaries: I read Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, discovered links and families of writers the “Gothics”,the “Realists”, Lawrence Sterne, then the XVIIIth century, Fanny Burney, Charlotte Lennox, Fielding, Richardson, and down in the XIXth century, the “Sensationalists” through Mrs Oliphant who was polymorph, and the Bloomsbury Group (I knew Woolf, of course, but not the others in the group), and it seemed without end because one book was sending me to another or to the critics and the critics were sending me to Thackeray who was sending me back to Trollope and Dickens and Mrs Oliphant and Jane Austen (but I have never liked the Austen mania and was rebuked by it) and Oliver Goldsmith and further back through Barbara Pym to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Piers Plowman, and the Paston Letters, and Chaucer. And I read and read and read and decided to add to my already well loaded studies a BA in English.

I discovered Paris through Trollope. Because I made a mental geography of the various bookshops that specialised in criticism, or those selling English literature, or those selling American literature or both, or adding Canadian and Australian literature. I learnt the ways of the buses through Paris. I was interested in the film adaptations of the novels by EM Forster or what Kenneth Branagh had done with Shakespeare. I had a serious Shakespeare crisis that brought me for short week-ends across the Channel to see plays at the Barbican or Stratford or the National Theatre or Chichester Festival.

I discovered the British Council and the American Library. I went to conferences. I hunted new bookshops I did not know. And I was so lucky to find kind booksellers who guided me through the maze of books to read and others that could be left for later, or others who introduced me to contemporary literature and contemporary trends of criticism. This is how I discovered the Persephone Books and the Virago Books and later the Slightly Foxed Books and the Greyladies Books. All these are reviving these neglected women’s books from 1900 to Barbara Pym and Anita Brookner – low voices, almost whispers who took more strength thanks to Nicola Beauman and the Virago Press in the first place.

And even if it is called “falling” from “great literature” to “gentle literature”, I discovered Johanna Trollope and Angela Thirkell and DE Stevenson and O Douglas – but I have already spoken of some or shall speak of others.

This is how I begun my one-sided love story with Trollope and with English speaking literature. It is thanks to him that I escaped a bigger breakdown than that I was having, and had, and I begun to live again.

But I am eternally grateful to this little untidy bookshop in the rue des Ecoles, which has disappeared since, and to its bookseller and to the other booksellers who took time to talk with me and guide me. Now, from where I stand, it seems crazy, and I seem both crazy and obsessional but at that time I needed a strong passion. Life today would certainly be easier with The Little Family if I could do the same again…

Jardin du Luxembourg

Holidaying in the Dordogne: Périgueux

Have you packed your backpacks, taken bottles of mineral water, sun proof cream, cereal bars and, in case of a shower, a light waterproof? Have you got your walking shoes? Yes. Then all is right because today The Little Family takes you on a trip to Périgueux.

View of Périgeux from the Isle River

Périgueux is the equivalent of a State Capital City in the USA or a County Town in the UK, called in France le chef-lieu de département, i.e. the main administrative town of the département – metropolitan France being divided in 95 départements, classified alphabetically (from A -1 – for Ain to V – 95 – for Val-d’Oise) and la Dordogne is the département 24.

We think you will remember where the Dordogne stands in the South-West of France but, as a reminder, just in case, this is a map:

and this is where Périgueux stands:

in the middle of the département. When these were created after the great changes of the 1789 Revolution, it was decided that the chef-lieu, also called préfecture, would be in the middle of the département and could be reached within one day on horseback. This is why the other “big” town of the Dordogne with a cathedral, Sarlat, in the South-East of the département could not be chosen. Four towns were made into administrative relays instead: Sarlat in the South-East, Nontron in the North, Ribérac in the North-West and Bergerac in the South, on the Dordogne River. They were called “sous-préfectures”: le préfet is the highest administrative authority in a département to represent the State (République) and the sous-préfets come immediately beneath him. In Périgueux as in other préfectures, there is also the bishopric and the town is the cathedral city. La Dordogne has the particularity of having two cathedral cities, the second being Sarlat.

We must say that the design of the département is very much like that of the Comté du Périgord (Périgord County) before the Revolution.

Périgueux is sometimes called the “Little Rome” as the town is built over and among seven hills, as is Rome. Its cathedral towers over it but it is built in a loop of the Isle River and its life began close to the River.

Before Julius Caesar and before the Gauls, we must remember that la Dordogne is one of the territories of the prehistory and here as elsewhere in Périgord, Man was present very early. But we will be more interested about his particular life during another trip of ours during these holidays.

Thus, the Gauls were established on the hills around the River. They are called the Petrocorii and will give their name to the Périgord. We have met these encampments on tops of hills in the description of The Village:

and

They are called oppida  or castra, and they become very quickly major economical and politic centres. The Greek geographer Strabo mentions the Petrocorii expertise in the iron work. The Petrocorii worship the goddess Vesunna who will later give her name to the Roman town.

In 52 BC, the Petrocorii march off to join the other Gaul tribes and help Vercingetorix at the Alesia Battle against Julius Caesar. As is well known the Gauls are defeated and go under Roman domination. Caesar mentions the Petrocorii in his “Gallic Wars”.

The territory becomes one of the 21 cities created by Augustus around 16 BC under the name of Vesunna. The town grows thus in the Province of Aquitaine, in the loop of the Isle River the foot of the ancient oppida, still maintained in case of attacks or wars. Being so close to the river allows growing exchange and trade with Burdigala (Bordeaux), Divona (Cahors), Mediolanum Santonum (Saintes), etc. The town is at its height under the reign of Marcus Aurelius during the Second Century AD and the great Pax Romana. Vesunna has then around 10.000 inhabitants. It is modelled upon the map of Roman Towns with rich houses (domii) and of insulae. There is of course a forum and a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Vesunna.

These are the Roman remains of the temple dedicated to Vesunna

still called today la Tour de Vésonne

It has given its name to a district of the modern town

And this is the model of Vesunna as it stood under Marcus Aurelius

 Near the temple, a domus has been found and researched for years: it seems to have been the Great Priest’s house. Over the excavated archaeological remains, a museum has been erected so that all rooms of the house are seen from platforms above with displays of potteries, glass, and things pertaining to each room.

The model of  the Domus as it is supposed to have been

A view of the museum with the remains of the rooms, the platforms and stairs going to the casements of the displays of potteries, glass, needles, pots and pans and things of daily life

A mosaic

The detail of another mosaic in another room

 We don’t know if there was a theatre and a harbour for the traffic over the Isle River, but we do know that there was an amphitheatre that could host 20.000 onlookers. When we, The Little Family, went on holidays in The Village and made the trip to Périgueux, we were almost always taken there for a walk in the park and there were great frights that lions or bears or other wild animals, notwithstanding gladiators, might appear round the bend of a ruin or a shrub.

Remains of the amphitheatre and the arenas

 At the beginning of the IVth century AD, the town is surrounded by a bailey with 24 half towers and 3 doors to limit the boundaries and the population of the city and to protect it against the Barbarians (mainly the Wisigoths). This is the Fall of the Roman Empire and the High Middle-Ages. From Vesunna, the town becomes Civitas Petrocorirum.

The bailey of the IVth century

(the stones were used later for other buildings)

What we call in French, la Légende Dorée, which is a Life of saints more or less legendary (both the saints and their lives) tells us that Front came to evangelise the area and dispel paganism. At his death, pilgrims came to pray on his tomb, which was not in the Civitas but on a previous oppidum, called Puy in the current dialect. A “puy” in the language of the South of France is a hill. There are thus a real city still down in the loop of the Isle River and the embryo of another one, a little on the East and on a hill, rather quickly called Puy Saint Front as Front is easily sanctified, makes miracles and has died a bishop.

At the end of the VIIIth century AD / beginning of of the IXth century Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlemagne) gives the Civitas a count (titles meant rank but also places in the military and Court hierarchy). Therefore he does create the real proper city of the Middle-Ages with a status and the County of Périgord, divided in baronies. The Civitas changes again as the Count builds his castle in the middle of the rests of the amphitheatre, knights build their own fortified houses upon the old bailey and the bishop builds his episcopal palace and several churches and chapels. Most of these monuments were destroyed during the following centuries – and the XIXth century was a great destroyer! -. Still there remains two main edifices, one temporal, the Chateau Barrière and one spiritual, the church Saint Etienne (Stephen) de la Cité.

Château Barrière

Saint Etienne de la Cité (front)

Saint Etienne de la Cité

(back)

You will of course note that the church is fortified and was used to shelter the population in case of conflicts or wars and to sustain a siege. It is also the first church with a cupola in the Périgord.
Meanwhile, the town around Puy Saint Frontgrows and grows. Pilgrims are good for trade and merchants and craftsmen make a good business in what becomes a town. Soon they erect walls  and towers to protect them and the two cities, the Civitas in the loop of the river and on the site of the Roman town, and the new Puy Saint Front on the hill are only separated by a stone pit that is used as their battleground. They are geographically different, socially different: one is aristocratic and based on the model of knights and bishops, the other is a trading city. Conflicts rage. In 1240, Louis IX (Saint Louis – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_IX_of_France) enjoins the redaction and signature of a treaty which unites the two cities and creates Périgueux. The counts have no more authority, the merchants in guilds are vested of the temporal power (they are called consuls). And the One Hundred Years War (1337-1453) is the end of the Middle Ages, of the Counts as military authorities, and the beginning of a new era, the Renaissance.

La Tour Mataguerre

(the last defensive tower of the Puy Saint Front)

House of the Middle Ages near the River

(at the opposite side of the Civitas)

We are not the best judges and critics of Périgueux but we do find that the end of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are the Âge d’Or of the town. Its history will now follow the centralised history of France with its wars and peaces and rebellions and revolutions and kings and queens but we want to show you the heart of the city around its cathedral Saint Front and how harmoniously the life of our days and the architectural background with all its wealth do marry.

Street from the Middle Ages in the centre of the town

(cars are prohibited)

The most well-known of these streets

Rue Limogeanne

(with a wonderful bookshop: La Mandragore)

These streets are lined on each side by Renaissance houses or mansions, sometimes with wonderful stairs and staircases.

And life goes on: this is no museum but a continuous flow of lives and Life:
with passages half hidden between the houses and squares which join “official” streets:

All this thrives around the cathedral that was first built before Carolus Magnus, under the Mérovingiens (500-750 AD), then destroyed and rebuilt under the Carolingiens (750-900 AD), destroyed again, and rebuilt again as a Latin church (architectural mode on the model of a Latin Cross) that was burnt in 1120. It was rebuilt again after knights were coming back from the crusades and were used to the Byzantine architectural mode (Greek Cross and five cupolas – it is the only one in France).

But… but in 1852 the architect Paul Abadie (contemporary of the architect Viollet-Leduc – not well beloved by The Little Family, both of them) undertakes works of renovations. He destroys parts of the monastery … and (unfortunately) wins in 1870 the contest to build the Sacré-Coeur in Paris (which is for the Little Family a monstrosity. And very soon he will transpose what he did to Saint Front in Périgueux for the Sacré Coeur.

 

 The cathedral is on the caminos de Compostella, the roads the pilgrims took and still take nowadays to go to Compostella in Spain and has been registered at the UNESCO Heritage in 1998.

The XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries do not have great interest for our visit to the town and we can make a break either to buy postcards or to eat delicious ice creams in the Rue Limogeanne or taste the local strawberries if there are still some from the market this morning. Some of you will like a good lunch with duck and raspberry vinegar with pommes de terre sarladaises or cèpes or foie gras followed by goat cheese and figs while drinking a good bottle of Bergerac wine. I may leave you a moment to go to my favourite bookshop and converse with the new owners that I do not know, and as we are all in a dream, I shall come back with boxes of books in French (sorry, no English books there). After a light lunch taken at the terrasse d’un restaurant, place Saint-Louis, the Little Family is already in the most recent part of the town built in the XIXth century where they have THEIR favourite bookshop and they will have completed their own purchases (other boxes of books and DVDs and CDs!).

We shall regroup on the boulevards, which are the main great streets of the town and where cars are not prohibited and watch inattentively the architecture à la Zola of some of these buildings that can be seen everywhere in France, which date very recently from the mid XIXth century.

Remember Pot-Bouille by Zol

The Court

(All the Courts buildings are almost the same in France: they were built after Napoleon I, of course)

The Préfecture

(well, not the administrative offices but the residence of the Préfet)

 Let’s sit down for a last time at the terrasse d’un café and drink whatever you choose. I will tell you of the statues of four great men that we honour in la Dordogne:

and Montaigne (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_de_Montaigne).

The old town with the red tiles roofs and the “new” town with the Boulevards

This is the hour to stroll and enjoy the end of the day. Do you want to wait for the festival du mime -Mimos? Or do you prefer coming back home with us to The Village? The Little Family is tired and will fall asleep while I drive us and we shall talk again about Montaigne who is a neighbour of ours. The car is full of books. We were glad to show you our capital city. We have not told you about railways and highways or motorways, about the unemployment or the economical difficulties of the population. It was a day for fun, for dreams and for friends.

 See you again soon holidaying in la Dordogne with us?

Rupert Brooke

The Great Lover

I have been so great a lover: filled my days
So proudly with the splendour of Love’s praise,
The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
Desire illimitable, and still content,
And all dear names men use, to cheat despair,
For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
Our hearts at random down the dark of life.
Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife
Steals down, I would cheat drowsy Death so far,
My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men’s days.
Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with me
High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
The inenarrable godhead of delight?


Love is a flame; — we have beaconed the world’s night.
A city: — and we have built it, these and I.
An emperor: — we have taught the world to die.
So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,
And the high cause of Love’s magnificence,
And to keep loyalties young, I’ll write those names
Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames,
And set them as a banner, that men may know,
To dare the generations, burn, and blow
Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming. . . .

I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wooThese d;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;

The good smell of old clothes; and other such —

The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,

Hair’s fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers

About dead leaves and last year’s ferns. . . .

 Dear names,

And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water’s dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
Voices in laughter, too; and body’s pain,

Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam

That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass; —
All these have been my loves. And these shall pass,
Whatever passes not, in the great hour,

Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power

To hold them with me through the gate of Death.

They’ll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath,

Break the high bond we made, and sell Love’s trust

And sacramented covenant to the dust.

—- Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,

And give what’s left of love again, and make

New friends, now strangers. . . .

 But the best I’ve known,

Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown

About the winds of the world, and fades from brains

Of living men, and dies.

Nothing remains.

O dear my loves, O faithless, once again

This one last gift I give: that after men
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
Praise you, “All these were lovely”; say, “He loved.”

Mataiea, 1914.

I could comment my love for Rupert Brooke – less the war poems than those which are not swept by the national impetus. But what could I add to this? It describes my love of the small things I have been talking about the past two or three weeks. These little things that bring joy and contentment but need a little practise to be noticed.

Yes, I would be glad to have said: “All these are lovely”. And to be said that “She loved”.

“The Proper Place” and MY proper place

“My” Scotland”

When I first came to Scotland, it was to Edinburgh and I was almost immediately under the spell of the town. I loved the monuments, the dour nature of the most ancient buildings, the darkness of some of them, their severity and austerity, the richness of the museums and the culture… and the number of bookshops where I spent many happy hours! I disliked the drunkenness and the week-end outings in pubs with people being sick in the streets, and kept cowardly to the flat at these moments. But I understood that drinking beer or ale could be necessary sometimes under such climates; I was to find the same later in Norway and Sweden. Life is rough and hard for some.

One morning, I awoke late to find that it was still dark and thought that I had some time before getting up. I had forgotten that when autumn comes, light shows itself seldom. The day was to pass in semi-darkness and clouds. There was an area of bare land I had not visited and I spent the end of the morning and part of the afternoon there.

There was no noise. There was short grass. There were hills. There was no one. I felt slightly frightened. It seemed I had come to the very beginning of the world when it was created and not yet populated by animals and men. It was eerie and of striking beauty.

Until today, this day spent in the hills so close to the city and yet so remote stands as one of my most precious memories and as an epiphany of the love and link one may have with one’s country and roots.

Scottish literature and arts are full to the brim of this love. For the French, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott are the most well-known of Scotland writers. But as I have started last week to talk about O. Douglas, let us return to her once more and take the story of Lady Jane Rutherfurd and her daughter Nicole at the beginning, since circumstances have led me to speak of the sequel, “The Day of Small Things”, first.

What could be Rutherfurd House

We first meet Nicole in Rutherfurd Place playing guide of the house to Mrs Jackson from Glasgow. And, as in “The Day of Small Things”, the explanation of the title and the development of the novel is given in the first few lines:

“In one of Hans Andersen’s tales he tells how, at a dinner party, one of the guests blew on a flute made from a willow in the ditch, and behold, everyone was immediately wafted to his or her proper place. ‘Everything in its proper place’ sang the flute, and the bumptious host flew into the herdsman’s cottage. But in the dining room, the young baroness flew to the upper-end of the table, and the tutor got the seat next to her and there the two sat as if they were a newly married couple. An old count, one of the oldest families in the country, remained unchanged in the seat of honour […] a rich merchant and his family who were driving a coach and four were blown right out of the coach, and could not even find a place behind it, two rich farmers who had grown too rich to look after their fields were blown into the ditch. It was a dangerous flute!

Fortunately, it burst at the first note, and it was a good thing: it was put back in the player’s pocket again, and everything was in its proper place.”

The title of the tale is very simply “Everything in its proper place” and was written in 1853.

When watched closely, the tale as described above is twofold. From a given situation where people are living in a social sphere that does not seem to be questioned, a piper puts, by a long note, “everything (that is everybody) in its (his or her) proper place”. This revolutionary act is in fact rather conservative as, apart from the “old count, one of the oldest families in the country, [who] remained unchanged in the seat of honour”, the whole world turns topsy-turvy and the “nouveaux riches” climb down for their places to recover their former humble stations in life. This is quite comic as in the tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and as chilling as “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”. Only two young people see their prospects improved: “the young baroness flew to the upper-end of the table, and the tutor got the seat next to her and there the two sat as if they were a newly married couple.”

However mainly conservative, the tale may sound, society takes its course again and it is reassuring for the “middle class” climbing bourgeois to see at the end that even if “It was a dangerous flute!” indeed. “Fortunately, it burst at the first note, and it was a good thing: it was put back in the player’s pocket again, and everything was in its proper place.”

But it leaves the reader in some quandary: which is the proper place? Is it the old order where the flute put people back or is it the new order that reigned at the beginning and is restored at the end of the tale?

  1. Douglas seems very often to be writing sweet, sentimental romances formerly read by young ladies and well-thinking ladies, today by ladies nostalgic of their younger years, but this novel is more astringent that it seems at first sight,since it boldly deals under a coat of sugar of the “proper places” of people after WWI.

The cover of the first edition

The Rutherfurds are an aristocratic family, landed aristocracy, father, mother (Lady Jane), two sons and a little daughter (Nicole) plus an adopted niece (Barbara) – of not so aristocratic background. Unfortunately, WWI has killed the two sons in their prime and the father, having done his duty to his country until the end, returned to the family seat to die of sorrow for the loss of his boys. Lady Jane, Nicole and Barbara, who are young girls around twenty, are left alone and understand soon with the help of their lawyer that they cannot afford to live in this great house. The solution is to sell it and live in a small place. Their small place reminds me of an acerbic comment made once by a critic or blogger about the Dashwoods in “Sense and Sensibility”“they went to a small cottage with only ten rooms”. Anyway, this is evil spirit and we must remember that the conditions of life were not the same then as they are today.

The three ladies decide to leave entirely the Borders, their friends, their habits, everything that would remind them of the past and to start afresh. Nicole and Barbara go house hunting and Nicole falls in love with a house in the harbour town of Kirkmeikle, in Fife, not in the genteel area up on the hill but right in the middle of the fishermen houses, right near the sea. The deal is quickly done almost in a day. And the Rutherfurds move quickly to their new abode.

A Fife village that could be Kirkmeikle

The novel deftly interweaves various strands and while the Rutherfurds arrive in Kirkmeikle, we know more about the family who has bought their ancestral seat. This family comes from Glasgow. Mr Jackson is a self-made man who has started at the lowest rung and gone up the social ladder by his industry. He now thinks he needs to be “county” and to have a house in the country from which he will commute every day to go to work in Glasgow. Mrs Jackson, at first sight, is a vulgar woman who tries to pass as a lady. But one discovers quite quickly that she is embodied motherhood, has a heart of gold, knows clearly her limits, does her best to be up to the situation and willing to learn from the Rutherfurds and their friends in the Borders. Her whole life is devoted to “Father” and to Andy, her son. Andy is already less lower class and already middle class. He is a nice fellow and one guesses easily that, failing to be an aristocrat, he will learn to be a good squire.

Of course, the Glaswegian friends of Mrs Jackson are both envious and spiteful before such a rise from their ranks and the Rutherfurds’ friends are quite reticent to accept these “nobodies” in their own ranks even if some are interested by the many changes brought for best and worst to the great house. Its backbone remains loyal because of Lady Jane and Nicole, and butler, Cook, housemaids, parlour maids and gardeners stay in the old pile to help the Jacksons to acclimatise to their new surroundings.

Meanwhile in Kirkmeikle, we observe the moving in of the Rutherfurds and their first contacts with the population. I have said in the previous blog about “The Day of Small Things”  that Lady Jane reminded me of a concoction of Angela Thirkell’s characters in her “Chronicles of Barset”: she has something from Lady Emily Leslie and Mrs Brandon except the flirtatious side, from Agnes Graham and Mrs Dean. But she seems more energetic in this novel than in its sequel. Barbara is … a snob. She is a good girl, a very good housekeeper, has great common sense but not much true blue blood in her veins, which makes her snob. She will seek distractions of a higher quality than that of fishermen and their wives or gentilized but hopelessly middle class population. Nicole is the true heroine, dancing like the flame of a lamp, hungry to live, laughing even when sad, putting on a brave front, good daughter, loving, born to be happy whatever the circumstances.

We are shown essentially two groups of people: the lower class with the servants, the fishermen’s wives and Old Betsy; and the genteel population either resident and “professional classes” and the middle class.

The recent edition by Geyladies

(the same illustration is included in the new jacket)

The Rutherfurds have almost immediately a very good relationship with their immediate neighbours on the sea front. We are visiting with Nicole and Lady Jane, Mrs Brodie and her family of numerous children, old Betsy whose great friend is Agnes Martin, the Rutherfurds’ cook. Old Betsy pines for the Borders where she has been born and raised and spent her youth before marrying a Fife man. In fact she comes from a place close to this of the Rutherfurds and a strong link is established between them. As Mrs Brodie is quite happy with her place, as Old Betsy is discontented. She is not in her proper place according to her, even with all Nicole’s and Lady Jane’s coaxing. The proper place can be the place where you live or don’t live.

The Rutherfurds also come to visit the Kirkmeikle society. In a letter to a friend, Nicole tells her who they meet – and the fishermen wives and Old Betsy are not named: one may read condescension in the Rutherfurds’ attitude to the lower class. Charity is still common and usual at that time, during the interwar: it is one of the duties of the gentry and gratitude is expected from those who receive the ladies bountiful. I was reminded there of the third trilogy of the Forsytes when Dinny wonders what will happen to her family and class who have been the backbone of England for so long a time by helping and visiting the poor, for instance. And I was reminded of my own family and my own childhood when I was taught to visit the sick and the farmers and the people in the home for the elderly and to take care of all who were less fortunate than we were. I was taught to thank God for his bounties towards us and never to complain that we could be richer: that would have been vulgar. Nowadays, at least in France, the Providence State has replaced the individual helper who has been turned into an object of derision, and charity is now almost an insult – no longer part of the LOVE in Greek as Caritas and Agape. The Rutherfurds of nowadays have no proper place here anymore.

As to the Kirkmeikle society, it is composed of the Doctor and his sister, Miss Kilgour, gruff and kind and always available; of the Reverend and Mrs Lambert (who has “a face transparent like a sea anamone”) and their children who live sparingly in the manse. All do good work and if with financial difficulties and lack of intellectual congeniality with close neighbours, they may be said to be in their proper place.

A manse then

Then, on top of the hill, up over Kirkmeikle, are the villas belonging to the gentility: Mrs Heggie who asks everyone in for a meal and gossip, has a heart of gold and looks like Mrs Jackson (remember the Jacksons who have bought Rutherfurd House?) and a daughter, Joan, who writes poetry, is bored and aspires to write a “serious” novel with social issues – no need to say there are frictions between mother and daughter. In the second villa, Miss Symington and her nephew, Alastair, are different. Miss Symington is rich, very rich, a wealth acquired by her father who was a rigid churchman, for whom beauty and laugh and pleasures are sins and her house bleak and as not inhabited, lives only for the Saturdays and Sundays, when lay preachers come to talk to villagers, the Presbyterian Reverend Mr Lambert having been thought lax in reading Shakespeare. Alastair is brought up but not really loved. He finds this love with a young gentleman, Simon Beckett, who lives in a guest house nearby – more rightly in a cottage whose owner (that we never see – no class for her -) is in need of more money and rents a room. But before talking of Simon Beckett, the third villa is occupied by a retired Anglo-Indian civil servant and his wife who are obsessed by servants and the regrets of their former life in India.

All these people are clearly climbing middle-class and not in their proper place. All are ill at ease and it will be the Rutherfurds’ mission to redeem them in putting them at ease and reorganise their lives by small touches, innuendoes, and good moves.

Let us now turn to Simon Beckett. He is a mountaineer and has climbed the Everest – or almost climbed it as his friend and companion died in the last effort to reach the summit and Simon had to go back down alone. He is recording the expedition and in between times of writing, he takes care of Alastair, Miss Symington’s nephew, in need of affection, with his nurse, Gentle Annie. Alastair is but six and already hurt by life as Simon has been hurt by his friend’s death. They are like two wounded birds, Alastair being nicknamed “The Bat” because of his over great cloak. Nicole will find them on the shore, one day of storm and tempest and all will come to the Harbour House for a magnificent and luscious tea. From then on, solid friendship will be made between the two solitary young “men” and Lady Jane and her daughter. In a way, they can be said to have found their proper place.

Another village that could be Kirkmeikle Harbour

Barbara is not forgotten. Through common acquaintances, she has met rich and suitable people, the Erskine with whom she spends lots of time. And one day…

One day, a letter arrives for Nicole. Mrs Jackson is going to give a formal dinner and a dance at Rutherfurd House and she is badly in need of Nicole’s help. Unfortunately, Nicole has a cold, is in bed and cannot go. Barbara will.

To say more, would be to spoil your pleasure of reading the novel. The plot would be unmasked and what is a comedy of manner without the plot?

But this is more than a “gentle comedy of manner”. It has been written in 1926, in the aftermath of the Great War and its consequences are pregnant here. Not only because of the deaths, widowhoods, lack of young men, but also because of the changes that are happening in society. Soon, the aristocracy will not have enough money to keep its great places, industrials will take their place (sometimes in the best of cases will return to suburbia…), middle classes will grow; servants will want to work in shops or factories. The whole fabric of life is changing and no one knows where his or her proper place stands.

Nicole and a hint of the end of the novel

Therefore, under the cover of a delicate and very conventional novel, O. Douglas shows realities as in Andersen’s tale. Where is The Proper place? In the new established order? In the old one? Should we go back to the old or stay in the new, as with the piper of the tale? This novel belongs to the long string of re-discovered fiction written by neglected women, in between Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, who wrote so eloquently and with such insight of the everyday life.
It has also questioned me about my proper place. In terms of geography and activities, do I belong to Paris and my former life or to the country, The Village and The Little Family? In terms of activites, do I belong to the life I had dreamt of intellectuals and senior civil servants or in the tasks of a housekeeper and loving “Big Sister”? In terms of social activities, are the days of visiting the less fortunate than me over? Has the State taken all this and is there no more Caritas to be?

I think that all readers may question their lives when the book is closed and rests in their lap. And it needs re-reading and thinking again about each of us and the society, the world we are creating.

Special thanks to Greyladies, the publishing house in Edinburgh to rehabilitate and give us such gems.

The Fife at sunrise

14 juillet : Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Yesterday was our National Day in France. I have learnt from my English speaking friends that it is called abroad “Bastille Day” but for us, the 14 juillet is the Fête nationale and it is more linked with France as a State and Republic with its main values: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” than with the Bastille and the Revolution.

Perhaps because the Revolution is a very confused time. There was the King, Louis XVI, and the Queen, Marie-Antoinette, and the evil aristocracy from which we were soon relieved; there was the clergy and the Church which were distinct and intermingled at the same time and from which we wanted and did not want to be relieved; there was the enthusiasm of the beginnings, the wars, the civil war, the guillotine, the horrors of the end … and when was the end? With the death of Robespierre? What happened afterwards? There is a blank of a few years from which springs fully armured so to speak, Napoleon and the Empire and Waterloo and then the return of the Kings and more unsettled periods and revolutions with the rise of the bourgeoisie  and the industrialisation, the pauperisation of the poor and capitalism, and another Empire and war with the Prussians in 1870 and the Commune and another five years blank and then, at last la République.

Almost one century, from 1789 until 1875 to give birth to our State, to Democracy, to the République. Followed with feuds in families, in communities, with wars, with colonialism and decolonialism and post-colonialism and still capitalism and profit. With the turmoil of economic changes. This is difficult but this argues well in favour of a Fête nationale, national festivities, not of a “Bastille Day”.

One of my great-grand-fathers used to say that summer began on 14 July and ended on 15 August. He was right: this is the high season for heat, holidays (since 1936), for the reaping of the agricultural products, for the sun and water, for the children plays.

So on this first day of summer according to my great-grand-father, I went early shopping for fresh bread and croissants that are the symbol of extra-ordinary days, ice cream and strawberries. The Litle Family was left at home as  they were still half asleep and would have enough work waking and setting the breakfast table!

Tuesday is market day in The Village and Fête nationale or not Fête nationale, market there is. It is established on both sides of the church, leaving the main square to the ministrations of the employés municipaux, the Village employees and roadmen who water the flowers, sweep the square, empty the rubbish, and prepare the seats and places of the officials in front of the War Memorial.

At nine thirty, the bells were ringing the great peal of bells “saved” for Christmas and Easter services, Whitsunday and  Assuption Day. Peace is definitely set between Church and Republic when it comes to the 14 juillet! It was also ringing for a special service for those who wanted to assist and participate.

But before ebeleven o’clock, most of the feminine population is busy on the market square and in the shops – even in the beloved and / or hated Intermarche supermarket.

 In any case, going to the market after eleven o’clock is considered slothful and is left to the tourists: it is too hot, the best produces are sold and gone, and every housewife is back at home behind half closed shutters, cooking lunch and attending to her duties.

At eleven o’clock, on the 14 July, the main square in front of the church at one end and at the opposite end in front of the monument aux morts (the War Memorial), is empty and waiting for the officials, the Veterans of the last wars (WWII, Indochine and Algérie) with their flags, the fanfare (brass band), and the population almost reduced to the tourists (as an attraction) and the men. We are in the South-West and men are still uppermost in this kind of celebrations linked in the collective imagination to war and death.

 The florist who has been bought the sheaf with the ribbon with the three colours (blue, white and red) is giving a last spray of water to the flowers that will soon wilt under the sun of July and giving it (with the invoice) to the councilwoman who will then transfer it to the Mayor.

And soon all is ready.

The Mayor is here.

 The Town councillors are here. The gendarmes are here. The firemen are here. The veterans and their flags are here. The headmasters and headmistresses of the schools are here. All the people who count in the life of The Village are here.

The brass band plays a little military march. The Mayor says a few words about the République une et indivisible (one and indivisible: this is important in our way to think of it and of the State – fundamental nowadays), reminds the audience that our main values are la Liberté, l’Egalité et la Fraternité and that our glorious history is the fruit of our ancestors’ sacrifices until death. The sheaf of flowers is passed to him. He sets it down right in the middle before the War Memorial, The band plays la sonnerie aux morts and links it immediately with la Marseillaise, the flags and the heads bow in a silence pregnant and rustling of memories of the past.

And now to serious matters! Once again, do not forget that we are in the South-West of France and that it is the middle of July. Therefore, first, the apéritif. Everybody is invited and may join: it is free and offered by the Town Council. Pastis, Pinault, a little of Bergerac moelleux … and orange juice for teetoallers, soda for the youngsters who know absolutely nothing about wine and gastronomy!

Second, le déjeuner. The lunch is paid in advance by those who want to participate and trestles have been dressed quickly under la halle (the main covered area for the market). This meal has been called le repas des sans-culottes (the sansculotte meal) in honour of the people during the Revolution who had no Court dress and were wearing trousers instead of breeches. And le déjeuner is composed of the delicacies of the area.

Foie gras, oignons confits, grapes, figues fraîches et pain de seigle

Confit de canard, pommes de terre sarladaises aux cèpes

Strawberries from le Village!

Never tell people that it is not the best cuisine in the world! That would be sacrilegious. All contemplation and pious memories are now shed and sent over windmills. There is but the clatter of forks and knives and the wagging of tongues with roars of laughter. Any anthropologist (even those of Barbara Pym) would consider this as a ritual communion during which the groupreasserts itself and proves its unity. This would look to comics writers (think of Astérix) as the famous banquet of the Gauls, never truly vanquished by Caesar. It is all this and an occasion for people to meet, relax, have fun and revel. The lunch will last long in the afternoon with coffee and pousse-café (liquors). And gossip, jokes, banter as well as deals over which no solution seemed to have never been found.

Little by little, reluctantly, people will leave and go back home to rest, talk more or go through a belated siesta in the shade of trees or inside the cool houses all closed against the heat.

Time for a light and latish souper and then back to Le Village. There is the ball and fireworks to go through!

Adverts have been displayed for some time in the shops or on the boards.

Time for family dance first.

And at eleven o’clock, fireworks over the River.

 Dance will last late in the night while the temperature will cool and the youngsters will take over with more “modern” music and noise, the more mature citizens coming to their senses after the fun of the day to shake their heads over the follies of contemporary youth.

And what of The Little family during these festivities? A day of quiet and rest. A more soigné luncheon after the breakfast with croissants. Lemon and meringue ice cream some time after lunch. Very light dinner and TV as usual. But while the fireworks were lighting the sky and cracking away, the New Provincial Lady was fighting a very obstinate little bird who had invaded one of the girls’ bedroom and did not want to be induced to fly through the open window to join his family. Nothing was able to deter him and he was left the room  to himself why the girl went to sleep in the big bed of the New Provincial Lady after a gallant battle!

This morning, the bird had flown and peace has been re-established at home while another hot sunny day began its blazing course over busy people. Good bye 14 juillet! And yet, if not Bastille Day for the French, you stay all year round with us, on the pediment of the mairie and as the values thanks to which we lead our peaceful lives in le Village.

 Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité