How many of you have heard of Ethel Mannin (1900-84)? She wrote over a hundred books, including novels, political reflections, autobiographical memoirs and travel-writing, but she has received precious little attention since her death. To my knowledge, in the past fifteen years, writing about her has been limited to two short studies, a publication of an extract, and the posting of two PDFs (see Notes at the end of this article). Why hasn’t some post-grad seized the opportunity to study Mannin? Too much reading already? She seems perfect for an independent publisher like Persephone Books to pick up and reissue. But perhaps she is too radical, or there are myriad complex copyright issues to be resolved.
“So many books have been written with Paris as a character and there are so many clichés about its seductive beauty, as a writer you need to find your Paris and step away from the great dark magnet that it is. Often the dark Paris is what is most interesting.” Alicia Drake
The vision of Paris as an intellectual’s city with writers and artists chain-smoking on café terraces, arguing about literature, art and Existentialism has been consigned to the attic by most contemporary novelists at work today who are worth reading. Tatiana de Rosnay and Alicia Drake are two such writers whose vision of the City of Light is anything but a picture postcard. They graced the stage at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington.
There is, of course, some superb non fiction on offer which gives a genuine, riveting, and rather more leftfield take beyond the usual stereotypical reads – my favourite being the memoirs of late, great John Calder who I was lucky enough to know. The Garden of Eros: The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-war Literary Scene is essential reading for anyone curious about visionary entrepreneurs operating in the publishing industry of yesteryear, and the Paris-London-New York golden triangle.
A forgotten Paris is described by the late Lesley Blanch in her memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life (Virago) in which she describes Russian Paris of the 1920s with theatre director, Theodore Komisarjevsky, and the beleaguered capital in 1945 when she was there with her younger husband Romain Gary, ambitious and unknown. “Romain developed a hunger for the atmosphere of the studios where a circle of newer artists worked. Long evenings would be spent trudging along the icy ill-lit streets and interminable boulevards. Public transport was scarce, very few people had cars then, and we had no money for taxis, which were rare.“ Continue reading Spotlight | Tatiana de Rosnay, Alicia Drake & Daughters of Simone de Beauvoir | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019
The Governesses by Anne Serre | Translated by Mark Hutchinson | Les Fugitives
Published 25 March, 2019 | PB 120 pages ISBN 978-978-0993009396
“Experience had shown you, however, that no pact lasts forever. You knew that the members of the household would once again be shuffled together like playing cards, and that when the next hand was dealt the alliances would fall out differently.”
The Governesses is a most unusual erotic fable about sex and power, illusion and eroticism, beautifully translated from the French into supremely elegant, languid prose. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Alain Fournier and Julien Green.
Inès, Laura and Eléonore are governesses, responsible for four boys. The “mistresses of games and pleasure” they radiate a wild and frisky innocence, and have the run of the upstairs salons in the country house of Monsieur Austeur and his wife, Julie. “The excessive silence of the households they wait upon” may be “conducive to reading thinking and raising little boys who are champion hoop rollers, and to the elderly gentleman’s repose, and the waning love of Monsieur and Madame Auster,” but it is stultifying. Their employers’ home is “a boundless void.” The young women have nowhere to go, and there are no distractions. Continue reading Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives
“My book is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category,” Lesley Blanch wrote about Journey into the Mind’s Eye, a book that remains as singularly adventurous and intoxicating now as when it first came out in 1968.
Russia seized Lesley Blanch when she was still a child. A mysterious traveler — swathed in Siberian furs, bearing Fabergé eggs and icons as gifts along with Russian fairy tales and fairy tales of Russia — came to visit her parents and left her starry-eyed. Years later the same man returned to sweep her off her feet. Her love affair with ‘the Traveller’, as she calls him, transformed her life and fueled an abiding fascination with Russia and Russian culture, one that would lead her to dingy apartments reeking of cabbage soup and piroshki on the outskirts of Paris in the 1960s, and to Siberia and beyond. Continue reading Media Release | New York Review of Books Classics 10-07-2018 | Journey into the Mind’s Eye, Lesley Blanch
Everywhere in Arab lands from Jordan to the Saudi-Arabian ports along the Red Sea and the lavish Gulf Emirates, food is very highly spiced — but it is a quite different gamut of spices to those of India — or so it has always seemed to me. In each town, or village souk, the spice booths are fascinating and magnetic — my first port of call. Mysterious powdered substances overflow big sacks and are scooped out by the pound, unlike the midget-stoppered jars of this and that to which we are accustomed. Nor do these great open landslides of spices, dusty brown, violet, yellow, green or orange, seem to lose their potency, thus exposed. In Oman, along the enchanting waterfront of Muscat, the lacy white-fretted balconies of the old houses and all the alleyways swim in heady odours wafted from the nearby spice bazaar. In the blue bay, sheltered by a sharp-cragged coastline, amongst all the turmoil of a modern port there are still some of those curiously formed high-pooped wooden craft such as the baghala or gangha, age-old pride of the Omani shipbuilders at Sohar. Such craft will have returned from Zanzibar — the spice island o f legend — with an entire cargo of cloves. Such is the demand, hereabouts. Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Arabian Aromas (1989)