In the popular imagination, Africa is one great big game reserve where man can hunt to his heart’s content, relishing the thrill of the dangerous chase. Theodore Roosevelt, and Ernest Hemingway (that hackneyed darling of writing course instructors), recounted testosterone-fuelled tales of derring-do as they pursued their prey across the vast “uncivilized” plains of Africa. Roosevelt returned to the US with thousands of specimens – lions, elephants, rhinoceros – duly donated to the Smithsonian Institution. Disney’s film The Lion King is the second-highest-grossing Disney film of all time. It depicts all kinds of animals frolicking across great, untamed African landscapes devoid of human beings – whereas the reality is more likely to be that Africa becomes a great landscape empty of animals.
Green Lion is a deftly-executed novel about man and beast and extinction; about bereavement, animal magic and the human desire for connection. It opens with the mauling of volunteer zoo keeper, Mark Carolissen, who ends up in hospital in a coma. He was looking after a rare black-maned Cape Lion, Dmitri, kept in kept in captivity for breeding with lioness, Sekhmet. Visitors gawp in thrilling terror at the kings of the animal world, safe behind glass. Continue reading Review | Green Lion, Henrietta Rose-Innes | Book of the Week
In his planning notes for Nana, the character of which was based on four notorious, pampered prostitutes, Zola describes his novel as being about “a whole society chasing after sex. A pack of hounds following a bitch . . . The poem of male desire.*” Nana rises from being a streetwalker to high-class cocotte; her golden tresses and “deadly smile of the man-eater” holding Le Tout Paris in thrall. Zola’s descriptions of her delirious expenditure, rising debts and magnificent, glitzy Hotel Particulier, “which seemed to have been built over an abyss that swallowed up men — along with their worldly possessions, their fortunes, their very names — without leaving even a handful of dust behind them,” foreshadow her vile death rotting in a state of stinking pustulence from smallpox during the last years of the French Second Empire. When it was published the novel was an instant hit, selling nearly 55,000 copies.
In his study of prostitution in Paris published in 1842 — Streetwalkers, Lorettes and Courtesans (Filles, Lorettes et Courtisanes) — Alexandre Dumas shows how going to work on the streets near La Bourse or rue Saint Honoré; on the Grands Boulevards; or in a brothel was more profitable for a lower-class girl than factory work, or shoplifting. Many sold themselves to support their families. Others were servants sacked by their employers, or arrived in the big city from the country having fallen pregnant.
Continue reading Spotlight | Sex in the nineteenth-century city | Paris, London and the demi-monde