Flaming orange Pre-Raphaelite colour and black Malevitch square

Once upon a time … I blogged regularly – almost daily. Once upon a time … I could see properly. Once upon a time … there was a Little Family. Once upon a time…

I see that it has been almost six months since I wrote an entry to this blog. I would like to resume this activity to rule at least one thing from my list of “Once upon a time”. So let me explain briefly why I stopped and what has happened since November.

You may remember that my Elder Girl was diagnosed epileptic last October. In November, our doctor thought that she needed to have her treatment adapted to her condition under medical care, while I would have some respite by myself. The Girls were sent to the nearest cottage hospital for two weeks and I stayed at home.

It proved disastrous for all of us.

Was it relief, after looking after them for so long? I stayed in bed in the completely closed house, in the dark, and slept. I do not remember much. I know that I went to visit them and found Elder Girl sitting down on the floor of her bedroom with a mattress equally on the floor. It was a very dark Sunday in early December and I could not talk with the doctor or the nurse in charge of the ward. I planned to come back on the morrow. I went home and then I cannot remember anything.

Some time must have elapsed. One evening, there was loud banging on the kitchen door. I stumbled there and found the Head of the cleaning lady Agency with a Cleaning Lady. The Head seems to have decided to call the doctor in charge (ours was on holiday). I remember vaguely that I went back to bed and that I heard both Ladies doing the washing-up as our dishwasher had broken down a few weeks before. The doctor in charge came and probably made me an injection (I found the syringe later on my bedside table) and called for an ambulance.

I remember vaguely being carted from the house, telling the people around me which door should be closed last. I have no memory of the road to the main hospital, in Périgueux. I remember the lights when I arrived even more vividly because I was seeing a deep orange light in my left eye. I remember that I told this to one doctor, adding that it was gorgeously Pre-Raphaelite, and he wore a puzzled face. I remember that I waited a long time in a corridor, and then a box room, that there were analyses made and a scan test. I remember that I talked quite normally and fluently and did not understand why people seemed so eager around me. I remember there was a tight pain in my chest and then a sensation of gurgling water near my heart. I remember I was happy and at peace with myself.

Then there is a blank.

I awoke in a hospital room. I tore away the drip from my left arm and the contraption-like, ridiculous stockings into which my legs were encased. I went to the loo and a nurse came and severely reprimanded me, which I did not understand. Then there must have been a doctor and other tests. When I awoke again, the drip was there, in my left arm. I was attached to a monitoring machine. I could not move. I could not see with my left eye but black or darkness.

Little by little, I gathered that I had had a pulmonary embolism and what I thought was a severe migraine. It was nearing Christmas. I had no news from my Girls. I planned to have them with me on Christmas Day but was dissuaded of it. Christmas came and went. I had septicaemia with very high temperature. I could not read. I did not understand why it took so long to discharge me. I hated every day in hospital. I hated every night.

I had The Girls on the phone. They sounded very far away in their own private worlds and did not really understand me.

There was this disturbing black veil over the left downside of my left eye with bright flashes. The migraine was painful but did not want to explode and go away. I was given strong painkillers but with no effect.

New Year’s Day came and went. The main doctor in charge of the service where I had been transferred came back from his holidays. Things and exams were brisker. At long last I had a brain scan. And the doctor’s conclusions.

I would probably never recover the eyesight of my left eye as I had had a stroke. It was no migraine and it had happened when I was seeing this gorgeous orange Pre -Raphaelite light the night when I arrived. I had also had a heart attack. I would probably have to be careful all life long and take a heavy treatment. It had been a close brush with death. There could be others.

He was ready to send me back home but I did not feel equal to leading my old life with The Girls yet and I said so. He seemed surprised. I told him that I had been in touch with the cottage hospital where The Girls were and that I was awaited there.

Thus I was discharged and arrived at the cottage hospital on a sunny January day.

The Girls were grim at best, apathetic at worst. I was appalled at the way they were dressed. I was appalled because they did not show any sign of joy at our being reunited. I was appalled because Elder Girl did not walk anymore.  She was on the floor and was walking on all fours. She did not want to eat. I understood from the hospital doctor that she would not sleep. They were little animals.

That first evening, I said that we would have dinner all together in my room. I had to feed them, spoonful after spoonful. The whole meal. By the end of the day, which is eight o’clock pm in French hospitals, I had seen that there was a hard job before me if they were to behave normally again.

We spent a month in that cottage hospital. We could not go out because it was too cold. I was allowed to go to an ophthalmologist, and another time at home to have some cleaning-up done, trees severely pruned and the new dishwasher delivered. It was awfully cold as I guessed all fuel had been used. I emailed The Girls’ financial guardian to ask for some more to be delivered before we would come back and the boiler seen to.

While we were at the cottage hospital, it was decided that we would receive help: a nurse every morning to help the girls wash and dress, and every evening to help them go to bed. Meals would be delivered while I was not able to cook. Daily help from the Cleaning Ladies Agency would be provided, as well as driving help to go shopping as I cannot drive anymore. It seemed all miraculously too good to be true.

I enquired again and again to make sure that all these wonderful provisions would be there when we left the hospital. I was assured that everything was ready.

When we arrived at home in the first fortnight of February, no fuel had been delivered: it was icy cold inside the house. There was nothing in the fridge and only two meals had been delivered: for The Girls only. I have no recognised existence to be granted this facility. Nurses would not come morning and evening: they were over-busied. The number of hours dedicated for help to The Girls was (and still is) the same as before: four hours a week. The situation was the same as the one we had when we were all healthy.

The Girls have been traumatized by their extended stay in hospital. Elder Girl has been driven to the emergencies in Périgueux hospital twice since then. She relapsed to non-eating, non-walking, non-getting up. She is now in hospital somewhere at the other end of the département and I have both no news and no means to go there: I cannot drive and there are no trains or buses.

I am slowly drowning back into deep depression. I mostly stay in my bed, in the dark, reading and “webbing” the days and nights.

Once upon a time there was a Little Family… Then, there was Flaming orange Pre-Raphaelite colour. Now there is a black Malevitch square.

Despair

the-scream

Once, I had a voice and I screamed.

Now, I have no more time to myself. I may not come often.

It will depend on the help I shall, may or might get – or not.

My life is now fully busy with The Girls.

Elder Girl is unmanageable because of her pathologies and because she hates me as I ask her to do things she does not want to do. The Younger follows the example of The Elder.

We have no hours.

They claimed for breakfast at eight this morning and went back to sleep in my arms until half pas twelve. I was lucky they remembered they already had their breakfast otherwise we would have taken another one. I washed and dressed The Elder. I cooked their lunch. I made the beds while they were having lunch. I wrote the shopping list. I drank a protein liquid, and tried to e-mail the finance advisor and the Head of the Agency in order to have a planning for November. I was interrupted many times and yet nobody was ready when the Shopping Lady arrived.


No shopping for me as I had no time to wash and dress … and eat. I am feeling like collapsing every time I move.


I tried to find a book in a card box but almost all fell down on my foot that is now swollen and blue, and I have no idea where the book is but a good idea where there is a spider nest

.

despair-maria-konstantinowa-bashkistseff


I wish The Girls were elsewhere but far away from me. I wish I were in my own life with my own things, my own flat, my own friends, music, museums, conferences, exhibitions, books, studies – my life.


I wish I had new books – I mean books I would have never read: dove grey Persephones, green (or not) Viragos, yellow Grey Ladies, those wonderful although never seen Golden Age Mystery books from the British Library, the Fox books and magazines, Mrs Thirkell (those I have not…).


I even wish I had Margery Sharp, Ms Hocking, and all these undervalued women writers, and Daphne Du Maurier (for whom my foot is swollen).


And I wish I had a great, good, strong bottle of whisky or other alcool, and get drunk.

Now, I have no voice left, but despair.

Despair 1894 Painting by Edvard Munch; Despair 1894 Art Print for sale

 

In need of a word of comfort

I have started writing to The Little Family during the last month but I cannot end the post. Feelings are too raw and I am overtired.

Elder Girl had to be dashed to hospital after a fit where she convulsed and badly hurt her head and scalp. She had a scan, a electro-encephalogram, various tests, was examined by various doctors and a neurologist, and diagnosed epileptic, which is often the case when DownS persons are ageing and heading towards the end of their lives.

I shall not write about life at home. I shall do this another time. Later. Life is difficult, bleak. I do not know how to cope. I do not have the means to cope and help is distilled drop after drop when I shriek for it.

I am tired of advice from people who do not know what I am going through and what about what The Girls are going through. Fortunately, I have a few kind friends on Facebook who have helped me through last week ordeal. Others are living in their own  intellectual private sphere without a shred of understanding.

If you read this, would you please be kind enough to wave, say hello, show that you are here. No more. I feel alone and lonely. I try to be brave but I am NOT brave at all. I am frightened.

Thank you.

Some news from The Little Family

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It has been a long time since I posted my last words on all my blogs. I think the middle of July is the last date for “Sketches and Vignettes from la Dordogne”, when I talked about a play at the Avignon theatre festival. And it was even sooner than this for “Lights and Shades”.

I have not left off blogging. I simply had no time. I have not much time left for blogging, writing, reading, or for myself.

Elder Girl has turned 57 on the 21st of July. I know that when she was born, and later still, she was not expected to live so long. Now, people suffering from Down Syndrome have a life expectancy of an average of 60 years. When she was born, it was at best 30 years. Therefore she has surprised everybody by outliving the supposed limit of her life. Congratulations must be addressed to her parents who took care of her when she was a baby, a child and a young lady. She had breathing difficulties that were remedied to. She overcame all childish illnesses. She was made, and kept, fit. She was attended to. She was taught to drink, eat, stand upright, walk, move, read, write, count. She was given friends. She was given social relationships. She was taught a job, helping to take care of little children in a kindergarten. She has had a full life – as much as her family was able to give her and as much as she could take in.

The counterpart was all the sacrifices that were made for her. Her patents gave most of their lives to her and for her and her well-being. They both died of cancer but mostly of exhaustion from having supported her as they did. Collateral consequences were then for those who have had to support her until now.

But she has been a grand lady.

Shortly after her birthday, I was awoken by a thud on the floor of her bedroom. It had already happened that she slid from an unperfectly made bed while having a nightmare. So, I was not that surprised. However, I was not prepared for what was waiting for me. She was lying on the floor, convulsing, thrashing legs and arms, eyes rolling, scum around the mouth and tongue protruding. I briefly thought of Mother dying in my arms almost the same way, and remembered as a reflex more than as a real thought what was advised for epilepsy crises. I cannot remember how long it lasted. It seemed hours but it was certainly more a matter of minutes. Then, I put her back to bed, and rang up the doctor. 

To be qualified as epilepsy, there should be other crises. There have been none. But some days, there are small electric jolts that last a fraction of second. After each she does not remember what she was saying and doing. There have been fainting fits – one of which was vicious as she banged her head on the corner of a shelf and cut her scalp. She now forgets things: she forgets the time, she forgets what she reads, she forgets to read, she forgets the days, she forgets words. She plays endlessly with her blue pencils – blue only – and never goes anywhere without less than three or four of them in her hand. She lives according a sequence of events whatever the hour. Therefore she woke up one day at two pm, took half an hour to be ready to get up, then had breakfast, wished she had her time for hugging, took her shower, got prepared and clothed, was ready by five o’clock, did not want to listen to her radio programme as in her mind it was not the proper time, but was infinitely surprised that we had no lunch and were closing the shutters when night came. She did not understand it was dinner time, TV time and bed time. She thought she was somewhat cheated of her day.

She forgets where she is and asks to come home, hears her mother, arrived one day saying “Mother is back”, took me once for her mother’s sister (one of her aunts), does not remember where things are in the house, gets glassy eyes, falls asleep in front of TV, sleeps a lot, cannot go up some stair steps. And I might go on and on.

Getting an appointment for a cerebral scanner test and an appointment on the same day with a neurologist at the nearest hospital in Périgueux is a “tour de force”. Considering that she is not a productive person but one suffering from a mental handicap, receiving a State allowance, and being 57, our Western Liberal society is not very much interested in her. She does not produce anything and she does not consume much. What is the point of keeping her living? So tests and appointments are forever pushed back in time. There are more “important” people to see to before her.

Life at home revolves around her now and we live at her own pace. Not much time to read. No time to write or blog.

Anyway, I would be glad if you ever had experiences like mine of any advice you could give and share. Many thanks for your support and help.

gossamer-threads

For whom the bell tolls

 

Renoir – Le Moulin de la Galette

 

Time flies. Soon after France lost the final of the European football Championship, it was National Day and the yearly enjoyment in the Tour de France with its drugged cyclists – as usual. It was a cold 14 July, with clouds and bitter wind but the military parade on the Champs Elysées went on as usual, followed by the same stilted interview of the President by carefully chosen journalists, and the French went on with their holiday life.

The days when France almost stops in her yearly summer siesta were beginning, although they have not the wholehearted and childish joyous unconsciousness of the 1960s and 1970s. At least, to compensate the ever growing “no more holidays at the seaside”, there is the barbecue and the plancha, the discount supermarkets where you can buy at reduced price meat, ready-made salads and  ice-creams, and goods you may turn into junk food.

After the barbecue, there is always the possibility of the local ball (perhaps) and the fireworks (surely). Then, refreshed by such festivities, the French retire for the night and for a well-earned sleep. Another Fête nationale of which the initial meaning has long been lost.

Corot – Fireworks

But it was not to be yesterday. At eleven o’clock at night, while the fireworks were in full swing in the whole country, a lorry made its way on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. It was another terrorist attack for all we know that left eighty-four dead (among them ten children and youths), two hundred and two people suffering from injuries (among whom fifty-two people in critical condition) Several were children and families as it was a popular and all-age attraction.

The country is shocked. The President went for another speech. Emergency state has been proclaimed for three more months. The lorry driver was killed by the police during the shooting following the attack, and then was said to be Tunisian with French roots. Condolences and sympathy come from around the Earth, expressed by Heads of States, friends or total strangers. Debates are flaming: should the French stop the arrival of migrants? Should migrants be called refugees? Should France expatriate all foreigners, following the example of some fanatic Brexit proponents (including in a rash moment the new, non-elected, Prime Minister). What about the gun control (and there, a look towards the USA)? Are the terrorists French and bred on French soil? Are all Muslims terrorists? Are all French racists?

More generally and to sum up all interrogations, is the country going to the dogs?

I have no answer. Nobody has any answer. We have no global view of the entire situation, which is worldwide, political, economic, perhaps religious (if religion is not used as a tool), long-standing, part of the fall of the colonial Empires, of the resurgence of tribal wars, of new wars created by greedy countries for economic reasons in the 1980s and 1990s, for pious reasons including Western ideas of democracy and Human Rights covering starker money-bound reasons in the 2000s. Public opinions are manipulated. The peoples are lied to. Extremes are rising up their ugly and venomous heads. Reason is forgotten. Law is violated. The people are pitted against each other.

Otto Dix – La Guerre

Slowly, very slowly, the tension is growing, and as a wheel that gets idler and rolls faster and faster, we are heading towards another world war. The demographic regulation needs it. The economic regulation needs it. The financial and industrial groups and individuals wish it.

On Sunday night, I was watching the Avignon Festival’s flagship show: “Les Damnés”, a play adapted from the film by Visconti, ‘The Damned”, about the rise of Nazism and Hitler with the complicity of the industrial and financial élite festering like a hotbed of vices. A modernist staging that might have shocked “gentle people” by its crudeness that never bordered coarseness, where the Comédie française found back its vocation of beacon of culture. There was a sound in it of what is happening now that tolled like a death knell.

Visconti

 

Avignon 2016 – Les Damnés

July: The Little Family is back (for better or for worse)! Good news / bad news ?

Some news from The Little Family who is now firmly rooted in July, warmth, sunshine, early mornings (when possible), sometimes late nights if there is something from the summer music and theatre festivals on TV, fruits, vegetables like courgettesaubergines, tomatoes, peaches, apricots, nectarines, soon melons…

And soon the Great House Scouring Party on the 21st of July, the day Anne-Fleur celebrates her birthday. As you know she will be 57 and cannot remember it because she sees such discrepancy “between her age and what she feels inside” – so she told me.

Add to this the Fête nationale (we never call it Bastille Day in France) on the 14th, Anne-Fleur’s saint day on the 26th (Sainte Anne), and you may imagine what an eventful month we are living!

And we already went – no, this is not true – I went through three events this week: one good, one less good, and another that does not concern us/me directly, but that I wish to mention.

***

There has been a leak for months in the loo. It was nothing important, nevertheless the noise was irritating and we were wasting water. The plumber had been ready to intervene since February but the finance administrator had given no green light for laziness, carelessness, and slackness. In the end all these were remedied and the plumber came at the beginning of the week. It took him ten minutes and a piece of black plastic to mend the leak. He has been working for us for some time now as he is the famous boiler man as well. In fact, he is the boss of a little enterprise nearby; he comes from time to time to do an odd job and overlook what his employees have been doing.

So, this job done, he stayed for a few moments, on the little terrace of the kitchen, talking to me. And then came the genuine kind word that was THE revelation for me! “Do you remember the first time I went? You were really ill then. You looked… You looked… Well, you looked badly ill. Now, you look…” Trailing voice. I get an appraising glance. “You look normal.”

YES! For a non-professional like Dr Quack or social workers or, even, the Socializing/Shopping Lady, I look normal. I told this to a friend who said that there had never been a moment that I was not normal. If I was disabled, it was by illness, stress and strain. If I still was slightly disabled, it was as a consequence of the stress and strain. But at no time I was or am mentally handicapped or disabled.

Hooray! I am normal!

***

 BUT… Why is there always a “but”?

The Socializing/Shopping Lady is not as interested as she was before by The Little Family. She thinks that we are difficult patients. We do not want to “socialize”. We spend our time in books, classical music, magazines, quiet occupations that we may lead alone, and this is definitely not normal. We should be going out more. Why don’t I create some “social link” with The Girls going shopping with them? Why don’t we go to the gym together? Why don’t we have activities outside the house together?

I told her that we had always found our happiness in reading, writing, listening to music, not in moving much, and not in doing the activities offered by the associations of The Village. That we were Townees. That we liked quiet. And that, plainly speaking, I was very, very happy to be left in perfect solitude, three hours a week, at home, while she was taking The Girls shopping. She watched me with a look of incomprehension, commiseration, and disdain. I was saying that I could be happy without The Girls. This is heretic when you are a parent or a sibling of handicapped people. They must be the Light of your Life.

Therefore, she leaves us more and more into other hands: she is on holidays, she cannot come for such or such reasons, she is not available, etc. It seems that after some unpleasant fluctuations, we have a rather permanent Stand-In Lady who started this afternoon. As I did not know who and how she would be, I decided to go shopping with The Girls to test our Substitute Lady.

She was nice to The Girls, polite with me, and helped me, although she was clearly dejected not to  decide to which supermarket we were going, not to have to push the trolley (Anne-Fleur’s task), not to make the menus (I had made them and then the shopping list accordingly), not to choose what to buy (ditto the shopping list plus the calculator to keep an eye over the spending).

Coming back, while she was driving, she asked me: “But who is the mentally handicapped person? YOU are the one, aren’t you?” I was utterly dismayed.

Boom! Live with Down Syndrome people and YOU are the mentally handicapped one! Now I have to think very, very hard at what the plumber said. And I have to use the méthode Coué“Je suis normale, je suis normale, je suis normale…”

No, truly: I am laughing.

***

The third event happened on Thursday night.

There were semi-finals in the European Football Cup and France was playing Germany. France won the World Football Cup in 1998 with a team that was called “Black, Blanc, Beur“, which means that there were Black, of Arab origin, and White players. This had a very positive, if not lasting, effect on French society. We understood that we could be united, together, do something, and win. There was no question of skin colour or creed anymore. We were together.

Since then, there was the financial and economic crisis, the rise of the Extreme Right (Front National), the Arab Spring, DAESH, ISIS, Syria, Iraq, terrorism, attacks, racism again. Meanwhile the French team behaved like spoiled children, money came in, new generations came, and we did not even play one match in the World Cup on South Africa, on a whim. The French players went to the stadium but refused to get off the bus. We left the competition far, far before the semi-finals, at the very beginning of the competition! It has now taken years to build another team and we were not too sure of it!

Slowly, this year that France is host to the European Championship, the new French team went up, up up, match after match. Until we played Germany yesterday. It was in Marseilles, which is a difficult town with lots of problems with racism and violence. We were not too confident in a French victory and we were already congratulating ourselves that we had been so far!

And we won!

I am not much interested in sports, even less in football. The Girls do not understand the game. We watched a film against racism on another channel. When it was over, I turned to Channel 1 and we saw the French players being applauded and applauding the supporters in the stadium. I understood that we had won. It was confirmed: 2 for France and 0 for Germany. But what was beautiful was this new “Black, Blanc, Beur” team and the usually oh so racist public sharing a moment of collusion and of joy. Tomorrow – that is Saturday evening – France will play Portugal in the final. We may well lose. I hope not. It would be wonderful to live another complicity moment between the team and the country. This would soothe the rise of racism, the horror of the difference, the fear of the refugee, the idea of a Frexit. I long for another time like the one that followed the victory of 1998.

And I want to thank England. There were different teams representing the UK, England represented England. While the English were playing in Marseilles, and after, as they left the competition rather early, English supporters created and built a “synthetic” stadium in one of the multiracial, difficult, and violent suburbs of Marseilles. This will allow youths of different origins to come and play together.

The UK voted for Brexit. But who says that all British are racists? Thank you, England. Thank you, UK. This is the way we like you.

Ramblings about France and Britain from habits to literature via Brexit

I guess that for some of you the life of The Little Family, Anne-Fleur’s tears and my relations with Red Tape as a carer treated as a diary, have little or no interest. They are first written for another blog created to talk about these issues, and called “Lights and Shades”. However, readers are more used to “Sketches and Vignettes” and I have come to re-post the entries of “Lights and Shades” here, where they are read, get comments and support – two things of which we are in awful need.

But I understand that they go across regular reading of bookish ramblings, therefore here is one of these musings.

***

I was rather dejected the other day about the number of British writers I do not know or I know badly. Then the Brexit and the discussions around it before and after the referendum reminded me that I was French. I was reminded of that fact rather coarsely and crudely, sometimes with a spat of xenophobia and parochialism that I had never encountered although I had had a taste of it before.

My “real”(non virtual) English friends criticize our bread consumption but do not understand that there are days when we drink no tea at all and prefer strong Italian coffee. I have heard them laugh at the French more than once but they will not hear a word against British people. The French are plunged too much in administration, regulations and rules. The French are lazy. The French are drunkards. The French are messy. It is too hot in France. The French do not drive on the good side of the road. The French do not eat at the right hours. The French are unruly. The French are not fair players. The French politics are far from being democratic and they had Bastille Day and a revolution where they cut off everybody’s heads. The French did not have an Empire (I do not speak of the Napoleonic Empire: this was bad and a heresy) or if they had one, they did not know how to manage it. The French have no decent literature: they do not have Shakespeare. Why do the French want to speak French now that English is the global language? Instead, “we, in this country…” England, sweet England, Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen.

I agreed to all this, drank tea at ungodly hours for a French woman; ate weird things at weird hours; dutifully found that British fashion was the best; froze in British houses in Spring and even during Summer with a smile; waved to the Queen and the Royal Family; enjoyed the rain; enjoyed queuing in the rain; appreciated cricket; went to Anglican services, RSPB, RHS, and other Rs meetings where tea-urns were hissing and spitting; listened to and admired the supremacy of the Empire; vowed that without Britain, France would have been destroyed during the two last WWs because the French are poor soldiers; admitted that France should have been under the domination of England, then Great Britain and the United Kingdom instead of winning the One Hundred Years War and trying afterwards to keep her independence and even to shine under some rulers, etc.

But now I have decided to draw a line, at least, at writers, painters, musicians, artists.

France has a perfectly great literature with some geniuses. France has perfectly good painters, even geniuses. France has perfectly great musicians, even geniuses.

As to my reading British literature, I know at least as many writers as British citizens do, and probably more than many. I even know more obscure literati, literature movements and currents than the proverbial average man in the street.

And I know the same quantity of things about France and French things. At least.

So why should I complex?

End of complex.

***

Let’s ask the question the other way round. How many British people write their blogs in French, read in French, know French literature down to the equivalent of the poor D.S. Stevenson (I apologize to her fans and admirers) – and are not French Literature graduates or teachers/professors?

So why should I complex?

End of complex.

***

And, talking of poor D.S. Stevenson and revived British authors, why are they so present in the current British literary landscape? As are costume dramas with great success: think Downton Abbey, think Cranford, think Lark Rise to Candleford, think Jane Austen’s novels, think Poldark novels, think Charles Dickens’ novels, etc.

There are mostly no costume dramas in France. We are overwhelmed by US and British crime series, full of blood and violence; we have our own crime and detective series, more and more full of blood and violence; we have series with a social message – politically correct: gay and lesbian tolerance, pro-step-families, host families for children with various problems, pro-single-parent families, against racism, against anti-semitism, against anti-Muslims (before ISIS, DAESH, terrorist attacks – but they are recycled as examples of vivre ensemble / living together); we have series where we are challenged to beat our breasts for our faults before, during and after WWI and WWII and the Indochina War and the Algerian War and wars that came as consequences of decolonization – in fact, we are becoming champions of asking for mercy and asking for forgiveness; we have some so-called humorous and family series. But we have no costume dramas.

It seems that we are not raised to be proud of our country as the Britons are raised to be proud of theirs.

At the same time, we do not live in the past.

Our social structure has always been different from the British social structure. Before 1789, and before les Etats Généraux (not what is called elsewhere “the Bastille Day” – 14 juillet 1789), there were what were called three “States”: Aristocracy, Clergy, and Tiers Etat (what remained). We all know that the guillotine worked a lot throughout the Révolution, until 1794 and Robespierre’s death: that left a great void in the Aristocracy and the Clergy. But the Napoleonic period created a new aristocracy and so did all political regimes which succeeded in the 19th century – of course, they are too new to be the real aristocracy: what are two centuries and a half? A mere nothing. These people still smell of pushiness and upstart. We had to leave the system of “Etats” to adopt that of classes. But it came slowly. There was no pride in being in the bank or the trade. There were no great aristocratic landowners left. The Industrial Revolution came later than in the UK, among the convulsions of succeeding revolutions: 1815, 1830, 1848, 1851, 1871, 1875, all civil wars and international wars before the great trauma of WWI. The new élites were political, industrial, from the civil service and, later from “les Grandes Ecoles”. There is nothing there to make anyone dream.

Our Empire was different from that established by the UK. We needed soil to grow and to take off part of the burden of too much population in poor regions. We never created much counters for trade and ports where our navy could stop en route to further territories. We sent settlers who took the soil from their owners. We did not let our colonies stay countries but we mostly annexed them to France as part of France, making them “départements”. There always were frozen wars between indigenous peoples and settlers. And if the countries were annexed to France, the civil service and the civil servants were French of course.

These are two examples of the differences between the UK and France and perhaps the roots for the breast beating of the French. There is – excuse me to be so frank – no pride, no arrogance, and nowadays few regrets about our past. There is no regret for a lost Empire. There is no idyllic vision of a peaceful rural France, a pre-lapsarian France, a France where aristocrats were mooning between Paris and their country seat. Our only exaltation is that of Revolutions, perpetual search for freedom, the Republic, the surge of Labour, Socialists, the fights against the bourgeoisie. No hotbed for costume drama.

As there are few regrets for the past, there are few regrets for past writers who are considered as minor if they are not the monsters all know: Balzac, Stendhal, Hugo, Flaubert, Sand Zola, Maupassant, the little Réaliste and Naturaliste schools, Proust, Gide, Colette, Romain Rolland, Martin-du-Gard, Cocteau, Mauriac, Vian, Sartre… I am talking of novelists only here, not of poets; otherwise there would be Lamartine, Vigny, Musset, Hugo, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Aragon, Eluard, Prévert, Péguy… But who remembers today Maurois, Brasillac, Chardonne, Dorgelès, Bourget, Toulet, Morand… There is a line of political divide even among writers: some went too much in favour of conservatives. Their song of the French ground is now considered as the song of the Far Right, and this reminds us too much of Dreyfus, Collaboration, Vichy. Here we are again breast beating.

What about women in this list of writers? There is Simone de Beauvoir of whom I have not spoken. The others were authors for children and young ladies, like Charlotte M Yonge. Conservatism again. Then came the feminists. There are shelves of novels by feminist ladies that belonged to Mother. Are they any good? They were serving a cause and were relevant then. Today, they must go into limbo and wait for a possible revival. But it is too soon yet.

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Going back to my initial question:

And, talking of poor D.S. Stevenson and revived British authors, why are they so present in the current British literary landscape? As are costume dramas with great success: think Downton Abbey, think Cranford, think Lark Rise to Candleford, think Jane Austen’s novels, think Poldark novels, think Charles Dickens’ novels, etc.

I can answer in linking this with the Brexit commotion. The British past has nothing to do with the French past. The French do not turn that much to their past: they are aware of its flaws and do not dream it as something to come back to. There is only the temptation of the Far Right, with which almost all countries in the West are flirting. This is a Western temptation of “what was before that might be restored”, a supposed greatness that never truly existed for all citizens of these countries. And, for me – but I am writing on my blog and therefore may say what I wish -, it is a danger.

Now, most of my friends are interested in the revival of British or American writers who have been forgotten or left aside. I do not want to hurt them (even more as I share their enthusiasm in the re-discovery of these authors) but looking back to give a second life to these writers does participate of the mourning of the past. I find it, when it becomes almost obsessive, rather unhealthy.

Unless it serves as a ground to build a future.

P.S. Of course, I count on my readers’ sense of humour: a lot of what is written here about non-French people (as well as things and issues) is done tongue in cheek

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