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





Sunday, July 24, 2016

"The Czarist Emigres" by Joseph Roth (first published September 23, 1926, included in Hotel Days Wanderings Between the Wars, Edited And translated by Michael Hoffman, 2015)






My post also includes scenes from a movie perfect for Paris in July



Joseph Roth was born in Brody, now in the Ukraine, in 1894.  It was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

He left his beloved Vienna on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became chancellor of Germany, moving to Paris.  Paris was his home for the remaining six years of his life.  He died in Paris May 27, 1939

His most famous work is The Radetzky March.  The Legend of the Holy Drinker, is, as far as i know, his only work of fiction set in Paris.  

For a time he was the best paid journalist in Europe.  Reading his journalism it is a pleasure and an honor to encounter such extreme intelligence and perceptivity.  His personal life can only be described as a "mess".  

I could not let Paris in July come to an end without posting on one of his articles about Paris.


In "The Czarist Emigres" Roth evokes the romantic figures of White Russians living in Paris, Grand Dukes driving taxis, counts working as waiters.  Roth knows that White Russians were lalmost all very anti semetic.  Here are Roth's beautifully expressed thoughts

"We were armed with the old literary formula reflexively applied for every transgression and excess: “the Russian soul”. Europe was familiar with music-hall Cossacks, the operatic excesses of Russian peasant weddings, Russian singers and their balalaikas. It never understood (not even after the Russians turned up on our doorstep) how French romanciers—the most conservative in the world—and sentimental Dostoyevsky readers had deformed the Russian to a kitschy figure compounded of divinity and bestiality, alcohol and philosophy, samovar cosiness and the barren steppes of Asia. ....

The longer the emigration went on, the more our Russians resembled the notion we had of them. They flattered us by assimilating themselves to it. Their feeling of playing a part maybe soothed their misery. They bore it more easily once it was appreciated as literature. The Russian count as Paris cabbie takes his fares straight into a storybook. His fate itself may be ghastly. But it is at least literary. The anonymous life of the émigrés became a public production. And then they began to make an exhibition of themselves. Hundreds of them founded theatres, choirs, dance groups, balalaika orchestras."

A perfect movie to accompany this is Ninotchka, made in 1939.  Three Russian envoys have been send to Paris to sell Crown Jewels.  They get distracted by the opulence of capitalistic Paris and a special envoy is sent to follow up on the sale.  Niniotchka is one of my favorite movies.  I must have seen it at least six times.  It is hilarious, poignant, the settings and clothes are marvelous.  It has all the Russian cliche figures Roth mentioned.  It premiered the year Roth died so I doubt he saw it.




Here are a few scene shots







     Greta researching some legal matters.

Do you have a favorite set in Paris movie?

Mel u

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Gigi by Colette (1944). - Copiously Illustrated Post



If Paris is the city of love, then Colette (Sidione-Gabreelle Colette 1873 to 1954) is her high priestess.  For many their image of Paris derives from memories of the movie, Gigi, made from her probably most famous work.  Living to almost eighty, she produced eighty volumes of writings of all sorts.  When she passed in 1954 she was given the first ever state funeral for a French woman.  


 Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman. A truly great biography, must reading for all Francophiles

Gigi is set in the demimonde world of early twentieth century Paris.  "The Demimonde World" refers not to straightforward prostitutes but to women supported by wealthy, often older, married men. Gigi is a girl of sixteen, two years younger than my youngest daughter, who is being trained by her two aunts, both made comfortable by a life in this world, to be a suitable companion for a Baron.  It is a world of glamour and sophistication.  The very real power of Gigi is in the conversations of the aunts with Gigi, their instructions.  When Gigi asks about marriage, she is told "women in our family do not marry".  Her mother is an actress, the theater as Colette knew very well, as closely tied to the demimonde world and was often seen as a place to exhibit your charms.  The role of the mother in the story is very interesting.

 (The hit movie is a visual treat but far different from the original)

Gigi has an admirer very interested in her. Gigi knows what she will soon be expected to do, her aunts are counting on her earnings.  The demimonde world was rife with gossip.  One of the aunts iclose friends had just overdosed on laudanum in an effort to win back Gigi's admiror who had gotten bored with her.  Gigi knows once she has slept with a man of the sort one finds in her world, imagine an aging born to money Maurice Chevalier or a younger Loius Jordan who plays Gigi first lover in the movie, he may begin to lose interest in her.  Thus her aunts coach her how to accurate valuable jewels.



Some will see the sexual pursuit of sixteen year old girls by fifty plus year old wealthy men as nearly crossing into pedeophilia.  

The ending is very interesting.  Gigi has learned her lessons well




So far for July in Paris I have read

1.  The Dogs and the Wolves by Iréne Nemirovsky 

2.  Mavis Gallant -  Two Set in Paris works, a short story and a note book entry

3.  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

4.  The Little Paris Book Store by Nina George

5.  "The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme

6.  "Love Under the Roof" by Emile Zola

7.  "The Purse" by Honore de Balzac 

8.  Favored Stranger:  Gertrude Stein and Family by Leslie Warren



Mel u

Friday, July 22, 2016

"One Day Less" - A Short Story by Clarice Lispector (1968?)


From The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector. (2015)

"I doubt that death will come. Death? Could it be that the days so long will end? That’s how I daydream, calm, still. Could it be that death is a ruse? A trick of life? Is it persecution? And that’s how it is"



"One Day Less" is one of the very last short stories of the great Clarice Lispector.  It is a story about a thirty year old woman, her parents passed and left her enough money to get by without working. She describes herself as "fat".  She is a virgin.  She has a maid who does the household duties. She has nothing really at all to do, her only interest in life, and that is low key, is that a man she recently met will ask her to tea.

One afternoon  her phone rings and it is an obviously elderly lady asking for "Flavia".  The woman does not believe it when told she has the wrong number.  She is told that this has been the woman's number for thirty years.  They engage in conversation and the caller ends up inviting her over to play cards.  The lady of the house says her father did not allow card playing.  The story ends.

This is a story about boredom, about what happens when you have no inner resources, nothing to do and all day to do it.  It is a very sad story.

Mel u

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Favored Strangers Gertrude Stein and Her Famiily by Linda Wagner-Martin(1995)


Gertrude Stein was born in Alleghaney, Pennsylvania, USA 1874, she died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France in 1946

In 1903 she and her brothers moved to Paris.  France, mostly Paris, was to be her home for the rest of her life.

Her best known literary work was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933




To most, including me before I read Linda Wagner-Martin's excellent biography, Gertrude Stein is known as the host for decades of literary and artistic salons, held at her Paris homes and for her role as a cultural icon  in the LGBT culture for her long term relationship to Alice B. Toklas.  I am pretty sure they are, in the literary world, the most famous lesbian couple of all time.


          
          ( Stein on the left)

Stein was born into an affluent Jewish-American family.  Her father had extensive real estate holdings.  At one point, when the family lived in California, he was the director of The San Fransisco Street Car Lines.

(Try to imagine Gertrude and Alice hanging on a strap on a street car without smiling.) 

Upon the passing of both parents, Gertrude moved to Paris, along with her brother Michael, who managed the family trust, and her brother Leo with whom she lived from 1903 to 1914.


    Stein and her brothers, Michael and Leo.

Prior to moving to Paris Gertrude went to Radcliffe and then John Hopkins Medical school where she was a student of William James.  She faced significant predjudice  as women doctors were not quite yet accepted.  She did not graduate. It was there she first began to realize her sexual identity.  

From 1903 to 1914 Leo and Gsrtrude used income from the trust fund to buy works of upcoming artists.  Her taste in art was either brilliant or very lucky as she bought large amounts of early works by Picasso, Renoir and other artists who would become world class.  This wonderful art collection became the functional draw for her famous studios.  Greats of world literature like the Americans Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson were  in regular attendance.  Wagner-Martin goes into lots of interesting detail about Gertrude's occasionally problematic relationship with Hemingway.  She also had a second monthly  salon focusing on the Paris art community.  



     A small portion of her art collection


In time the trust income of Gertrude declined and she partially supported herself by selling of paintings for many times more than she paid for them.  Assembled today, her collection would be worth billions of dollars just for the Picasso's.



     Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso

Gertrude wrote a number of literary works and the author goes into a lot of detail about her financial dealings.  Much space is devoted to her relationship with Alice Tolkas, which lasted over thirty years.

During World War Two Gertrude and Alice left Paris for the countryside in what would be Vichy France. As a Jew and a homosexual Gertrude was at considerable risk from the Nazis.  The author suggests she survived through a personal friendship with a high ranking Vichy contact and her status as a famous American writer.  The account of the struggles to survive of Gertrude and Alice during the war years was very moving. 

Favored Strangers- Gertrude Stein and her Family is a very interesting well done literary biography.

I was given a copy by the publisher.






So far for July in Paris I have read

1.  The Dogs and the Wolves by Iréne Nemirovsky 

2.  Mavis Gallant -  Two Set in Paris works, a short story and a note book entry

3.  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

4.  The Little Paris Book Store by Nina George

5.  "The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme

6.  "Love Under the Roof" by Emile Zola

7.  "The Purse" by Honore de Balzac 

Mel u

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"The Purse" - A Short Story by Honore de Balzac (1832, a component of the Comedie Humaine, translated by Clara Bell)



Question. Who do you think is the greatest literary chronicler of Paris? 

Balzac's Comedie Humaine is my biggest life time reading project, so far.  There are 41 novels, twenty novellas and twenty short stories.  So far I have completed 78 of the 91 works.  Balzac intended it to be a complete portrait of French life.   The works in the cycle include novels always listed in the top hundred of the world to works only those doing a read through would attempt.  Balzac loved Paris and portrayed the city in great detail.  Some say no city anywhere ever had a better chronicler than Balzac.  Balzac very much was concerned with economics, the cost of things,  



I hope to complete my read through by Paris in July 2017. 

I should note that reading the full Comedie  Hunaine is not a "crazy" project.  Many book bloggers I follow could complete it in three or four months.  I strongly endorse this as a life time project to all serious literary autodidacts.


 "The Purse, reading time around twenty minutes, is a very good short story, with all the typical, for better or not. elements of Balzac.  The lead character is a painter.  One day he takes a bad fall in his studio and is found and helped by an older lady and her much younger female companion.  He develops an acquaintance with them and is invited to their fourth floor apartment.  Balzac does his usual masterful job of describing their enviorment, their furniture and such.  He vividly describes both women.  He becomes a frequent visitor and discovers every night an elderly Baron comes to play cards with the older lady.  He always loses forty francs.  He begins to wonder if this is his way of paying for something.  He is troubled as he has fallen in love with the girl. Instant love is a common feature in Balzac.  Some very interesting and at first mysterious events occur but I will leave them untold.










So far for July in Paris I have read

1.  The Dogs and the Wolves by Iréne Nemirovsky 

2.  Mavis Gallant -  Two Set in Paris works, a short story and a note book entry

3.  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

4.  The Little Paris Book Store by Nina George

5.  "The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme

6.  "Love Under the Roof" by Emile Zola

7.  "The Purse" by Honore de Balzac 

Mel u

"Love Under the Roof" - A Short Story From the Parisian Sketches of Emile Zola- Plus my Ideas on the best set in Paris Zola novels




So far for July in Paris I have read

1.  The Dogs and the Wolves by Iréne Nemirovsky 

2.  Mavis Gallant -  Two Set in Paris works, a short story and a note book entry

3.  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

4.  The Little Paris Book Store by Nina George

5.  "The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme

I could not let Paris in July end with posting on Emile Zola, one of the greatest French writers.

This post Includes my suggestions as to the best set in Paris novels in the Les Rougon-Macquart Cycle.


Last year I completed a read of the twenty novels in Emile Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart Cycle.  It follows the lives of two interrelated families in France from 1855 to 1870.  Some of the works in the cycle are among the greatest of all French novels, others take a bit of will to complete.  As I read on, I found a very sentimental attitude toward virginal young women.  Zola's treatment of love before sex and marriage enters the picture is highly romantic.  I highly recommend reading the full cycle in publication order to all serious literary autodidacts.  

I could not participate in Paris in July without including a work set in Paris by Zola but  before I do That I want to list my favorite set in Paris novels in the Les Rougon-Macquart Cycle.

My Suggestions For Set in Paris Novels by Emile Zola

1.  Nana.  Centers on a Parisian prostitute.  A harshly realistic look at the demimonde world.  Considered  by all one of his very best works.

2.  The Dram Shop.  Set in the slums of Paris.  We learn about the upbringing of Nana.  This works focuses on the terrible impact of alcoholism,  in spite of how it sounds, this is a very funny novel. One of my favorites.

3.  The Big Store.  Set in a giant Paris department store.  Recently made into a movie.  Business details are very well done.

4.  The Belly  of Paris.  Centered on the food market.

"Love Upon the Roof" is very typical of Zola's stories that center on young "pure" women.  The central character is twenty and is on her own in Paris.  She works as a seamstress, as Zola tells us very common occupation for single women in Paris.  Everything is beautiful in the young woman's world, she is in love.  "Love Upon the Roof" can be read in under five minutes, great it is not but it illustrates a side of Zola's worldview.  It is part of a series of four stories known as The Parisian Sketches.

Mel u

Friday, July 15, 2016

"The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme (1943,






  
During Paris in July 2015 I read my first work by Marcel Aymé, his very famous short story, "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls".  Earlier this year I read, but did not post upon, another wonderful short story from the same collection, "Sabine Wives".  His stories are not easy to classify, there are elements of Surralism and Science Fiction but over all I think most would see them as in the tradition of Magic Realism.  

"The Problem of Summer Time" is set in Paris in 1943, the city is occupied by the Germans.  Whatever his politics were, the narrator like everyone else in Paris keeps wishing time will speed forward and let these bad times be over.  One day the narrator wakes up and the Germans are gone.  It is 1959, his wife is 16 years older and he has also aged, he lives in a place he does not recognize and strangest of all he has a ten year old son and eight year old daughter he does not know anything about.  No one but him seems to notice anything odd or sense the missing years.   Soon he begins to seemingly travel back and forth between times.  He is not sure if this is real, it certainly is depicted as so, or a wish fulfillment based delusion.

This is a very well done story.  Anyone who has ever wished for something to be over can relate to the elegant narration.


Marcel Aymé (1902-67) was one of the great French writers of the twentieth century. Born in the Franche-Comté of Eastern France, he never lost touch with his rural origins, which influenced much of his work. Initially perceived as a man of the left, throughout his life Aymé espoused causes from across the political spectrum, for example apparently supporting Mussolini's colonialism in Africa whilst also campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty. He attracted much controversy for his writings for collaborationist magazines during the Second World War, and his defence of Nazi-sympathising friends including Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Robert Brasillach in the post-war years. Nevertheless Aymé retains an important place in French culture. He championed Serge Gainsbourg in his early career, writing the liner notes for his debut album Du chant à la une!. This collection of stories is particularly famous, and a dozen of his novels have been turned into films, among them the classics of French cinema La Traversée de ParisLa Vouivre and Uranus.  From Puskin Press Webpage



My posts so far for Paris in July, 2016

1.  The Dogs and the Wolves by Iréne Nemirovsky 

2.  Mavis Gallant -  Two Set in Paris works, a short story and a note book entry

3.  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

4.  The Little Paris Book Store by Nina George

5.  "The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme

There are a number of other stories in the Pushkin collection, I hope to once again post on Ayme during Paris in July 2017.

Mel us