M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Night Crimes" by Emmanuel Bove (From the collection Henry Duchemin and his Shadow) For Paris in July # 6

We have been Colette's guest at an elegant Parisian restaurant, we partied with Coco Chanel at The Ritz, and we spent some time with White Russian Aristocrats, guided by Iréne Némirovsky.  Today Emmanuel Bove (1898 to 1942, born and died in Paris)! will escort us through the very poorest sections of Paris, in places even Balzac left out of the Human Comedy.  Some have called Bove "The Poet of the Parisian Skid Row".






Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years,is one of my favorite book blog events.  It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.

Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.

1.  "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

12.  The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith

13.  "A Piece of Bread" by Francois Coppee 

14.  The Wine of Solitude by Iréne Némirovsky- White Russians move to Paris 

15.  Pynchon and Paris - 

I was very 
kindly recently given by The New York Review of Books a review copy of a collection of five short stories by Emmanuel Bove.  Bove's father was a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant.  Bove was a critic, novelist, and a short story writer.  Colette, I was delighted to learn, help him get noticed.  He was born and he died in Paris.




The lead story, "Night Crimes" is set on Christmas Eve.  We don't know the year but the main character is a veteran of World War One.  He lives alone, from a small pension, in a very low end rooming house in a very poor part of Paris.  He has no woman, children, and he does not like his only "friend".  He decides to walk the streets of his neighborhood.  Needless to say it is filled with people that would be pushed away from one of Coco's boutiques by the guards and who would have totally freighted residents of Gueramantes Way.  He turns down the cheapest of street walkers, not from scruples but from lack of money.  He strikes up a conversation with a man who tells him if he kills someone for him. he will become rich.   Of course he is skeptical but he thinks what do I really have to lose?



The close of the story I loved.  It caught me totally off guard.  

For sure I will read the remaining stories in the collection.




Emmanuel Bove was one of the most original writers to come out of twentieth-century France and a popular success in his day. Discovered by Colette, who arranged for the publication of his first novel, My Friends, Bove enjoyed a busy literary career, until the German occupation silenced him. During his lifetime, Bove’s novels and stories were admired by Rainer Maria Rilke, the surrealists, Albert Camus, and Samuel Beckett, who said of him that “more than anyone else he has an instinct for the essential detail.”  From the webpage of The New York Review of Books





Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"The Other Wife" by Colette (1932). - A Post for Paris in July # 6

If Paris is the City of Love, then Colette is the High Priestess 

      
                                                                          1873 to 1954
"For her, as for Epicurus, hedonism was something much more purposeful and, one could say, more ethical than a greed for sensation. It was the expression of an active faith—a credo without a god, a devil, or an afterlife, but with the power of all true faith to inspire ecstasy, and reverence for creation, and to console."  Judith Thurman






Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years,is one of my favorite book blog events.  It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.

Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.

1.  "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

12.  The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith

13.  "A Piece of Bread" by Francois Coppee 

14.  The Wine of Solitude by Iréne Némirovsky- White Russians move to Paris 

15.  Pynchon and Paris - 

If Paris is the city of love, then Colette is the High Priestess.  Many draw their image or fantasy of Paris from the movie based on her most famous work, Gigi.  I did not want Paris in July # 6 end without paying homage to Colette.  She was a tremendous cat lover, among many other things. I love her short stories.



"The Other Wife" is a small gem of a story.  A man and woman are dining at an elegant restaurant.  The man sees his prior wife, who his current wife has never seen, at the next table. Of course a small drama ensues. The story is a miniature masterwork of acute observation and just a lot of fun to read.  




In the long ago, Clifton Fadiman helped steer me to the reading life.  I was delighted to find he loved Colette.  

       "The day Colette (1873-1954) died, the worst thunderstorm in sixty-seven years hit Paris. Her last conscious act was to gesture toward the lightning and cry out, “Look! Look!” The words suggest the essence of her genius. 
       At eighty-one Colette was a legendary figure. A Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, president of the Goncourt Academy, she would, to crown her career, receive a state funeral—unexampled honors for a French woman. A veteran of three marriages (the last a happy one), music hall performer, journalist, autobiographer, novelist, short story writer, deeply versed in the natural world of plants, flowers and animals, a connoisseur of more than a single variety of love, in the best sense a woman of the world, she ranked as one of the most vivid personalities of her time. During the final years of a long, crowded life, unable to stir from her Palais-Royal apartment, she reigned, surrounded by her beloved cats, as an object of wonder and pilgrimage. 
       Few have treated more revealingly at least one great theme, that of sexual love. She was most comfortable with the novella 
(Chéri, La Fin de Chéri, Gigi, Mitsou), but she excelled also in a kind of post-Maupassant short story, tender, sensual, witty, completely French, completely feminine. 
       “The Other Wife” is a deft, wry trifle, a small triumph of observation (“Look! Look!”). As with an O. Henry story, everything erupts in the last few words, indeed in the very last word. But her sensibility works on a plane quite different from his."

       —Clifton Fadiman


Mel u


Paris and Pynchon - A Look at the Paris References in Gravity's Rainbow - A Post for Paris in July # 6






Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years,is one of my favorite book blog events.  It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.

Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.

1.  "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

12.  The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith

13.  "A Piece of Bread" by Francois Coppee 

14.  The Wine of Solitude by Iréne Némirovsky- White Russians move to Paris 


Yesterday something drove me to search for refrences to Paris in Gravity's Rainbow (1973, by Thomas Pynchon).  I first read it only a few weeks after it was published.  I was completely mesmerized  by it and I think I read it ten times through on first encounter.  This is, of course, as much a comment about my state of mind in 1973 than the book.  Since then I have read it through maybe ten times more.  It is to me the great American novel.  I put it in my list of ten greatest novels of all time.  Sometimes now I just read it at random as a saner person might a holy text.  

Set in post World War Two Europe late 1945, I wanted to see how the narrative treats Paris.  The central character Slothrop is an American but their are important English, Russian, and German characters also.  One thing I was delighted to find was a clear Coco Chanel allusion I never picked up on before.  I will not try to draw any big conclusions in this post, just present maybe for myself alone, what I found.  Some of the material I will quote is  X rated.

Page 74

The first reference to Paris is innocuous.  It refers to something that happened at a psychological warfare station in England on the cliffs looking out toward France.

"Then at the fall of Paris, a radio transmitting station was set up on the cliff, antennas aimed at the Continent, themselves heavily guarded and their landlines back mysteriously over the downs to the house patrolled night and day by dogs specially betrayed, belted, starved into reflex leaps to kill, at any human approach. Had one of the Very High gone higher—that is, dotty? Was Our Side seeking to demoralize the German Beast by broadcasting to him random thoughts of the mad, naming for him, also in the tradition of Constable Stuggles that famous day, the deep, the scarcely seen? The answer is yes, all of the above, and more."

The fall of Paris seems to indicate at least the fall of the European tradition of high culture.  Germans in Paris were mad men, beasts.    Paris is depicted as the very epicenter of European culture.

As readers of GR know as you go on the book gets stranger, the narrative more dense and it begins to  lend it self to be read as a Kabalistic text.

Page 178.

This section is a reverie of Jeremy.  He and Roger were rivals for the beautiful Jessica.  It is set in England.  Roger was the lover Jessica could accept during the war, Jeremy is meant to be her post war husband.  Jeremy embodies her with a reference to Paris.

"They are insane. Jeremy will take her like the Angel itself, in his joyless weasel-worded come-along, and Roger will be forgotten, an amusing maniac, but with no place in the rationalized power-ritual that will be the coming peace. She will take her husband’s orders, she will become a domestic bureaucrat, a junior partner, and remember Roger, if at all, as a mistake thank God she didn’t make. . . . Oh, he feels a raving fit coming on—how the bloody hell can he survive without her? She is the British warm that protects his stooping shoulders, and the wintering sparrow he holds inside his hands. She is his deepest innocence in spaces of bough and hay before wishes weregiven a separate name to warn that they might not come true, and his lithe Parisian daughter of joy, beneath the eternal mirror, forswearing perfumes, capeskin to the armpits, all that is too easy, for his impoverishment and more worthy love."

Jeremy reduces Paris to a fantasy city of perfume and luxury clothes and seems to regard it as a childlike city of Joy in comparison to the mature world of sanity and good sense of England.  London the father, Paris the child, but a child one can possess sexualiy. 

Paris clearly has a sexual connotation to most male characters. Paris needs to be protected from those who would despoil it.

Page 246


I take this short reference to suggest Parisians are incompetent at the work of war, best left to English speakers.  (ETO means European Theater of Operations)

"Caserne Martier in Paris, the worst stockade in the ETO."

Page 287

"Marvel hitched a lift on a P-47 out of Paris, far as Kessel"

Major Marvey was the director of an American intelligence unit, now head quartered in Paris.  Paris is the hub from which Europe will be recivilized..

Page 289

I take this as a reference to cafe culture, a romantic view of Paris as seen by the American central character, Slothrop

"Slothrop hears a girl singing. Accompanying herself on a balalaika. One of those sad little Parisian-sounding tunes in 3/4: Love never goes away, Never completely dies, Always some souvenir Takes us by sad surprise.

Page 361

The Schwarzkommandos were a troop of African pigmies the Germans imported to fight the allies and as possible suicide pilots for a new rocket.  They took up little weight and spaced so the Germans saw them as useful.  I see this passage as another Anglo/American slight at the cognitive limitations of the French who now that the war is over have returned to Cartesian logic.

"
Schwarzkommando struggle knee-deep in mud, engaged entirely with the salvage, with the moment. The A4 they’re about to uncover was used in the last desperate battle for Berlin—an abortive firing, a warhead that didn’t explode. Around its grave they’re driving in planks for shoring, sending back mud in buckets and wood casks along a human chain to be dumped on shore, near where their rifles and kits are stacked. “So Marvy was right. They didn’t disarm you guys.” “They didn’t know where to find us. We were a surprise. There are even now powerful factions in Paris who don’t believe we exist."

Page 393 - A Coco Chanel refrences!! - she invented the little black dress.  To me Coco would be a perfect character for GR.

"A woman in a black Parisian frock, with a purple-and-yellow iris at her breast. Even damped by the velvet, Slothrop can feel the shaking of her hand. He stares into eyes rimmed soft as black ash, separate grains of powder on her face clear as pores the powder missed or was taken from by tears. This is how he comes to meet Margherita Erdmann, his lightless summer hearth, his safe-passage into memories of the Inflationszeit stained with dread—his child and his helpless Lisaura."

This is how Coco entrapped hyper wealthy men in her younger days, decadence, exquisite beauty combined with a mask of a woman in need of male protection who will offer sex in gratitude or payment but a woman you know you will one day lose to a richer man.

Paris is then seen as a very sophisticated expensive woman (I almost typed another expression) who can make us think she is leading us back to post war days but is really only taking us deeper into the war.  I am reaching on this but for sure this is a Coco reference.

Page 467 - extreme sexual references in the quote 

This depicts an orgy aboard the ship Anubis (a book of the dead reference). It embarked from Paris.  My a further Coco coincident, she help keep the Russian Imperial Ballet (the source of many mistresses of the rich and powerful) going with her sponsership.



"a major of the Yugoslav artillery in dress uniform, who kneels with nose and tongue well between the bruised buttocks of a long-legged ballerina from Paris, holding up her silk skirt for him with docile fingertips while her companion, a tall Swiss divorcée in tight-laced leather corselette and black Russian boots, undoes the top of her friend’s gown and skillfully begins to lash at her bared breasts with the stems of half a dozen roses, red as the beads of blood which spring up and soon are shaking off the ends of her stiff nipples to splash into the eager mouth of another Wend who’s being jerked off by a retired Dutch banker sitting on the deck, shoes and socks just removed by two adorable schoolgirls, twin sisters in fact, in identical dresses of flowered voile, with each of the banker’s big toes inserted now into a downy little furrow as they lie forward along his legs their anal openings the cocks of the two waiters who have but lately been, if you recall, eating that juicy blonde in that velvet dress back down the Oder River a ways. . . ."

I take the school girl's reference as also a Paris allusion to catholic school girls.  The velvet dress was black, Coco often made velvet black dresses.  

Paris is seen as a place of great sexual possibilities.  Anything goes.  

Page 469 - more extreme sexual refrences and I see another Coco allusion 

"Bianca’s little feet shifting in a nervous dance and scarlet nails digging sharp as needles underneath her stocking tops and into her legs as he goes planting hickeys, red nebulae across her sensitive spaces. She smells like soap, flowers, sweat, cunt. Her long hair falls to the level of Slothrop’s eyes, fine and black, the split ends whispering across the small of her white back in and out of invisibility, like rain . . . she has turned, and sinks to her knees to undo his pleated trousers. Leaning, brushing hair back behind her ears, the little girl takes the head of Slothrop’s cock into her rouged mouth. Her eyes glitter through fern lashes, baby rodent hands race his body unbuttoning, caressing. Such a slender child: her throat swallowing, strummed to a moan as he grabs her hair, twists it . . .
away and stand up, high-heeled Parisian slippers planted to either side of him, swaying, hair softly waving forward to frame her face, repeated by the corset darkly framing her pubic mound and belly. Raising bare arms, little Bianca lifts her long hair, tosses her little head to let the mane shiver down her back, needle-tipped fingers drifting then down slowly, making him wait, down over the satin, all the shiny hooks and laces, to her thighs. Then her face, round with baby-fat, enormous night-shadowed eyes comes swooping in as she kneels, guides his penis into her and settles slow, excruciating till he fills her, stuffs her full. . . ."

This is Gigi, from Colette, gone very bad dressed by Coco (they were in fact close)..  Bianca is a changing character, of course she evokes Dante, she maybe a quite young girl or an intelligence operative dressed to look like one and play on the fantasies of men.  

Page 570.  This is the last Paris reference in GR.  

"Materializing from their own weird office silence, the coppers show up now, two black ’n’ white charabancs full of bluegreen uniforms, white armbands, little bucket hats with starburst insignia, truncheons already unsheathed, black dildos in nervous hands, wobbling, ready for action. The eddies in the crowd break up fast, jewelry ringing to the pavement, cigarettes scattered and squashed under the feet of stampeding civilians, among the instant litter of watches, war medals, silkstuffs, rolls of bills, pinkskinned potatoes all their eyes staring in alarm, elbow-length kid gloves twisted up fingers clutching at sky, smashed light bulbs, Parisian slippers."

A charabanc is a, in French, open top kind  of bus.   This is the second reference  to Parisian slippers in GR.   This has to also be viewed  as a Coco influenced scene.

There are four other refrences to Paris in GR but they are just in passing references. 

What do we then see Paris as representing in the world of Gravity's Rainbow?  it is not a flattering portrait but I will leave any interested parties to draw their own conclusions.

Mel u







Monday, July 27, 2015

The Wine of Solitude by Iréne Némirovsky (1935, translated by Sandra Smith, 2011) A Post for Paris in July # 6)

My great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this book 


French Dining in The Trinoma Mall in Quezon City




Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years,is one of my favorite book blog events.  It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.

Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.

1.  "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

12.  The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith

13.  "A Peice of Bread" by Francois Coppee 



In the spirit of Paris in July # 6. I wrote this post in The French Baker Cafe in Trinoma Mall in Quezon City.  The mall is huge on top of huge with I guess 100 dining options.  My favorite casual place is The French Baker Cafe. The staff are very nice and the food is decent.  It has macaroons and artesian bread but nothing too fancy.. You can get a decent lunch for under $5.00.   I also saw a pastry shop with a French name which I have not seen before.  



The Wine of Solitude is considered the most autobiographical of the novels of Iréne Némirovsky.  It begins in a city in the Ukraine, probably Kiev where Némirovsky was born in 1903 and lived with her parents until the family moved to Paris. Her father was a wealthy banker with close ties to Tsarist powers so it as deemed prudent to leave the country.  Most of the novel deals with the female lead character adjusting to changes she does not quite understand and her perpetual difficulties with her mother, a recurring theme in Némirovsky's work.  She has a teenage romance but it could be better developed.  She blames her mother for the family having to move, they first go to Finland, stay there a year or so then about seventy five percent through the novel the wind up in Paris.

The Wine of Solitude is, as I see it now, a work for Némirovsky lovers, I count myself one now.

I am in possession of four other works by Némirovsky as I hope to read them soon.

Mel u

"A Slap in the Face" by Horacio Quiroga (1916, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden)





Spanish Literature Month (now extended through September) is an annual event hosted by Richard of Caravana de Recverdos and Stu of Winstondad's Blog.  Any work originally in Spanish can be posted on for the event.  There are lots of suggestions and links to participant posts on the link above.




The First South American Master of the Short Story

Horacio Quiroga (1878 to 1937-Salto, Uruguay) is considered the first modern South American short story writer.    He called Edgar Allen Poe his greatest teacher (and he lead a life at least as tragic as Poe's).    He has been called "The Edgar Allen Poe of the Amazon" as he is most famous for his horror stories set in the jungles of the Amazon.   His stories are about people at the end of their rope, people driven mad by the isolation of the jungle,  the borders between hallucinations and reality and above all, death.   

Quiroga's father accidentally shot himself  before he was three months old.   Quiroga accidentally killed his best friend while cleaning a gun.    His best friend, also an author, shot himself after a bad review.   He had several very doomed from the start love affairs and marriages    When he was 22 his step father shot himself.   

At about twenty two Quiroga  discovered Edgar Allen Poe and knew he must become  a short story writer.   He also wrote several novels but his 200 or so short stories are his legacy to the world.   At about this same time he went along as official photographer on a trip with the famous Argentine poet, Leopoldo  Lugones, to  visit Jesuit missions in the Amazon region.    Quiroga fell in love with the jungle areas of the Amazon.   He was enthralled by the lush danger, the feeling of unlimited fecundity, the strangeness to him of the native people, and one must admit the cheapness with which land could then be bought there.   He set up a farm there and did many experimental things no one else had tried before.   Most of them were failures (I sense he was best at starting things!) but they show he had a great practical intelligence not just literary.   (There is a very interesting article HERE that details his numerous romances)


I have posted in the past on five of his short stories.  Probably the most convenient way to read his stories in English is in the two volumes of his short stories published by the University of Texas Press.

"A Slap in the Face" is set in a logging camp in the Amazon.  The workers travel by boat to the remote camps. They are not allowed any alcohol, especially their home brewed sugar based drink, as they lose control and can become violent.  The labor bosses pay for their passage and pay them for their two months work at the end of the period.  They transport them home and most workers spend all their money in a few days drinking and whoring.  Or their wives take all their money.  The cycle begins and they soon are back on the boat to the camp.  One of the workers on the boat is returning from a camp where the owner had banned him for drunkeness.

The bosses are very abusuve, seeing the Indian workers as little more than slaves and use a whip on slackers.  The banned worker  dares to speak back when he is cursed at as a lazy stupid drunken Indian.  The foreman slaps him in the face.  The man raises his machete to his boss who then points his pistol at him.  The worker uses his machete to take the gun out of the bosses hand, taking some of his fingers at the same time.  A life time of suppressing rage overwhelmes the worker.  He grabs the whip and begins to beat his oppressor.  

The descriptions of the beatings are very graphic.  The worker places the boss on a raft.  He whips him  repeatedly, stripping his clothes and skin and leaving a bloody mess.  He then launches the raft on a course headed for a fall, with the unconscious foreman headed for sure death.  The worker laughed and says he has been slapped for the last time. 

I will leave the close untold.

"A Slap in the Face" was an expose of the abuses heaped on Indian loggers.  

I hope to read more of the short stories of Horacio Quiroga soon.  

Spanish literature month has been extended through September so maybe I can post again.

Mel u




Sunday, July 26, 2015

"A Piece of Bread" by Francois Coppee (1887, A Story of the Franco-Prussian War) - A Post for Paris in July # 6










Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years,is one of my favorite book blog events.  It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.

Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.

1.  "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

12.  The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith

This morning I found a free Kindle book on Amazon, international Short Stories:  French, complied by Francis Reynolds, published in 1910.  It includes stories by 13 French writers I had not previously been aware of and also short stories by  big name writers.  I love discovering new to me writers so I was very happy to find this free book.  There is no translator credit given, as was often the case 100 plus years ago.

Francois Coppee (1849 to 1908) lived all his life in Paris.  There is not a lot of information available on him online besides the Wikepedia article.  He was a poet, playwright, literary critic and wrote a number of short stories.  His work is characterized as "emotional and patriotic".  "A Piece of Bread" certainly fits this description.  It was fun to read, the ending might move you or you might say, "oh come on" but for sure it is worth the few minutes it will take you to read it.


As the story opens a very wealthy young aristocrat, the Duke de Hardimin, has taken one of his prize racing horse to bath in the hopefully health restoring waters of a famous spa.  I take this as kind of a slam on the indulgences of the spoiled rich.  The story is set during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870 to 1871.  The Duke hears of a French battle defeat and enlists in the army as a common soldier.  He is on his way to join his assigned unit.  

We next meet him on a march.  He take a piece of French Army bread from his backpack.  It is not up to his standards so he throws it in the dirt. A fellow soldier eagerly picks it up. The man tells the Duke all his life he has been hungry and probably always will.  The Duke eagerly shares his food with the stranger and these two Frenchman from very different backgrounds become friends.  One night all the men in the unit are asleep.  The officer in charge announces half the men must stand guard as there may be  Germans in the area.  He calls out the names of the men to stand guard.  The Duke, sho still sleeps, is on the list and his friend is not.  The friend volunteers to take the place of the Duke.  Soon all the men are told to retreat.  The Duke does not see his friend in the returning guards and asks where he was.  He learns his friend was shot in the head and died.

Coppee returns the Duke to Paris.  He and a wealthy friend are going for a stroll.  I will let Coppee close the story. 

""we will go home on foot—I need the air." "Just as you please, I am willing, although the walking may be bad." They dismissed their coupés, turned up the collars of their overcoats, and set off toward the Madeleine. Suddenly an object rolled before the duke which he had struck with the toe of his boot; it was a large piece of bread spattered with mud. Then to his amazement, Monsieur de Saulnes saw the Due de Hardimont pick up the piece of bread, wipe it carefully with his handkerchief embroidered with his armorial bearings, and place on a bench, in full view under the gaslight. "What did you do that for?" asked the count, laughing heartily, "are you crazy?" "It is in memory of a poor fellow who died for me," replied the duke in a voice which trembled slightly, "do not laugh, my friend, it offends me."


I enjoyed reading this story and think most others will.  

Mel de ú