Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, July 31, 2020

Last Love - A Set in Paris Short Story by Chava Rosenfarb - translated from the Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler - 2004

 Last Love - A Set in Paris Short Story by Chava Rosenfarb - translated from the Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler - 2004 

This work is included in the collection Survivors

During Paris in July 2019 I posted on a short story, “Greenhorn”,
by Chava Rosenfarb about a Holocaust survivor who spent time in 
 Paris at a displaced persons camp after liberation, later moving to Montreal where he was called a “greenhorn”.  I also posted on three stories by her friend Blume Lempel, who loved Paris but knew she had to leave to survive.  Paris played a big part in the creative life and aspirations of Ashkenazi Jews.  This year I saw this in Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson in which he explains how Chagall’s painting of Eastern European settings were transformed by Paris.  Yiddish artists were transformed by Paris while reshaping modern art.

Chava Rosenfarb 

Born - February 9, 1923 - Lódz, Poland

February 1940 - Jewish citizens are impounded in the Łódź Ghetto by the Germans.  When it was liquidated in August 1944 some 220,000 thousand had died

August 23, 1944 - Chava Rosenfarb, her younger sister and her mother were sent to Auschwitz.  As slave laborers, they built houses for Germans.  From there they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen.  The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by British and Canadian forces.  All survived.

After recovering from Typhoid, she discovered her father had died while being transported to Auschwitz. Eventually she  relocates to Belgium.  

1950 - emigrates to Canada and begins to write extensively in Yiddish.

1970 Publishes The Tree of Life - set in The Lodz Ghetto, it is considered an essential work of Holocaust Literature 

January 30, 2011 - dies in Lethbridge, Canada

“Lost Love” can only be read in the collection Survivors. The stories focus on Jews who have immigrated to Canada.

I am very glad to be  reading a work by Chava Rosenfarb for Paris in July 2020.   This story will not be accessible to many people so I am just going to brief.

The story centers on a sculpturer living in Paris.  He is involved in relationships with two women.  One is his age, late forties and one twenty years younger.  His artistic work is enhanced by the magnificent art work he sees on his walks in Paris.  The older woman has memories of lost Parisian love from many years ago.  He has a deeper love for the older woman though he rarely sleeps with her.  She has a terminal illness.  She asks him to find her a young man to have sex with.  At first he is appalled and hurt.  Then he does find her a man who agrees.  While he is having sex with her, she dies.  As you might imagine this devastated both men. The older man is so upset he moves to Montreal.

Rosenfarb, I do not as of now think she was ever in Paris after the war, beautifully describes the impact of Paris on the persons in the story.

CHAVA ROSENFARB (1923 - 2011)Prize-winning writer of fiction, poetry and drama, Chava Rosenfarb was born February 9, 1923 in Lodz, the industrial centre of Poland before the Second World War. She completed Jewish secular school and gymnasium in this community where several hundred thousand Jews lived —nearly half the population of the area. The Holocaust put an end to one of the richest centres of Judaism in all of Europe. Like many Jews of the city, Rosenfarb was incarcerated in the infamous Lodz ghetto. She survived there from 1940 to 1944, when she and her sister Henia became inmates of the concentration camps of Auschwitz, then Sasel and Bergen-Belsen. Even in the ghetto Rosenfarb wrote, and she hasn’t stopped since. Her first collection of ghetto poems, Di balade fun nekhtikn vald [The Ballad of Yesterday’s Forest] was published in London in 1947. After the liberation Rosenfarb moved to Belgium. She remained in Belgium until 1950, when she immigrated immigrated to Montreal. In Montreal, Rosenfarb obtained a diploma at the Jewish Teachers’ Seminary in 1954. Rosenfarb has produced a prolific body of writing, all of which speaks from her experience during the Holocaust. Her work has been translated into both Hebrew and English. Rosenfarb has been widely anthologized and has had her work appear in journals in Israel, England, the United States, Canada and Australia in Yiddish and in English and Hebrew translation. Among the many prizes awarded her work, she has received the I.J. Segal Prize (Montreal, 1993), the Sholom Aleichem Prize (Tel-Aviv, 1990) and the Niger Prize (Buenos Aires, 1972). She has travelled extensively, lecturing on Yiddish literature in Australia, Europe and South America as well as in Israel and the United States..  From Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers..  from Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

I Love You Now Leave Me Alone - A Short Story by Brian Kirk - June 2020

I Love You Now Leave Me Alone  - A Short Story by Brian Kirk - June 2020

You may read today’s story here.

Gateway To Brian Kirk on The Reading Life.  Be sure To read his very insightful Q and A Session.

In March 2013 for Irish Short Story Month Three I posted on a very well done story by Brian Kirk, “The Shawl”, my first encounter with his work,  that goes deeply into how money can govern  a romantic relationship.

“The Shawl" by Brian Kirk has a great deal to tell us about how money permeates our relationships and can be too important in determining self esteem if we have no  anchor in life. It is a story to which  anyone who was once riding high on what they thought was an endless wave of prosperity can directly relate.   Women may wonder what they would do if the same thing happened in their relationship and men will wonder what their partner might do. 

 Some time ago I read in a Japanese novel (I cannot recall the name of it) showing that when a man loses his money, often his relationship with the woman in his life takes a down turn or ends.   The man will quickly think, "OK I am broke so she left me".   In fact it is often the man does not have the strength or the inner resources to live with out his money propping up his ego and he behaves in a way calculated to drive the woman away so he can then tell himself that this shows she never loved him.  Of course then the woman who leaves will also wonder about her own values

It is wonderful stories like this that have kept me following Kirk’s work for seven years.

“I Love You Now Leave Me Alone” is told by a widow with grown children.  I thought the depiction of the relationships was wonderfully realized.  You see how time has changed things as the mother tries to develop here own life, no longer living really near her children.  Her children are trying to do their duty.

“One of them always calls when I’m busy. Either I’m in the bath or sitting down to a supper of smoked mackerel and brown bread when the phone bursts into life. From the moment I answer I can tell that they want to ring off. I often consider telling them it’s okay – I’m okay – that I feel the same, but I never do. They would be horrified, as much by my lack of maternal feeling as by the knowledge that I fully understand their haste to end the conversation.
‘How are you, Mom?’ they ask.
‘Fine. I’m fine,’ I say.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
‘I just worry about you, that’s all. Off on your own, miles away from everyone you know.’
‘I like being on my own.’
‘And anyway, I’m not always on my own; I have friends here too.’
‘But it’s not the same since you moved.’
‘Of course, it’s the same. I’m just further away.’
But I don’t mind the phone calls too much – they never last long. And I always make it easy for them to extricate themselves: I have something in the oven, there’s someone at the door, my show is starting on TV. To be honest, I don’t watch much TV at all. Once – just for mischief – I kept my son, Jamie, on the phone when I knew he was in a hurry to be somewhere else.
‘I suppose I should go, let you get on with things…’ he said.”

The mother senses sometimes they are in a hurry on the phone.  There is a lot of emotional chain pulling in most relationships of mothers to their adult children and Kirk depicts this perfectly.

We learn about the lives of the children.  The daughter is in a same-sex relationship which the mother totally accepts.  Her son is married with children.

The children and widows both have a hard time of it when the mother begins to date a man her age.  She doesn’t really know much about dating anymore.  She seeks but is trepidatious about intimate contact.

“I Love You Now Leave Me Alone” will delight all lovers of relationship centered source stories.  Those of us who have been in the situation of either the mother or the children will for sure be drawn to reflect on their experiences.

I hope to follow Brian Kirk’s  work for a long time.

Brian Kirk is a poet and short story writer from Dublin. His first poetry collection After The Fall was published by Salmon Poetry in 2017. His poem “Birthday” won the Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. His short fiction chapbook It’s Not Me, It’s You won the inaugural Southword Fiction Chapbook competition and was published by Southword Editions in 2019. His novel for children The Rising Son was published in 2015 He blogs at

There is a detailed bio and a list of his publications at

Mel u

Monday, July 27, 2020

Harold - The First Short Story of Shirley Hazzard. - A Parisian Couple on Vacation in Seina - First Published in The New Yorker in 1962

Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

Harold - The First Short Story of Shirley Hazzard.  - A Parisian Couple on Vacation in Seina - First Published in The New Yorker in 1962

Today’s post on one of Australia’s greatest writers is in honor of the host for Paris in July 2020 Thyme for Tea and The Australian Book Bloggers enriching the event by their participation.

“Harold” is included  in Cliff of Falls and other stories and in The Collected Short Stories of Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard

Born January 30, 1930 Sidney, Australia

1963 to 1994 - Married to Francis Steegmuller - A highly regarded Flaubert scholar (They met at a party hosted by Muriel Spark in New York City.)

The Transit of Venus - 1980 - her most famous book

The Great Fire - 2003 - Natiinal Book Award - Best Novel

Dies - December 12, 2016 - New York City

From The Paris Review - “She has written five novels (The Great Fire, 2003; The Transit of Venus, 1980; The Bay of Noon, 1970; People in Glass Houses, 1967; and The Evening of the Holiday, 1966), a collection of stories (Cliffs of Fall, 1963), a memoir (Greene on Capri, 2000), and two books of nonfiction (Countenance of Truth, 1990 and Defeat of an Ideal, 1973), all of them ablaze with technical perfection and moral poise.”.

My Research indicates she and her husband spent considerable time in Paris but I did not find the exact dates. She was deeply read in French literature.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux in Publishing (September 2020) in Publishing The Collected Short Stories of Shirley Hazzard has done a great service to lovers of very high quality Short Stories.

“Collected Stories includes both volumes of the National Book Award–winning author Shirley Hazzard’s short-story collections—Cliffs of Fall and People in Glass Houses—alongside uncollected works and two previously unpublished stories

“Including twenty-eight works of short fiction in all, Shirley Hazzard’s Collected Stories is a work of staggering breadth and talent. Taken together, Hazzard’s short stories are masterworks in telescoping focus, “at once surgical and symphonic” (The New Yorker), ranging from quotidian struggles between beauty and pragmatism to satirical sendups of international bureaucracy, from the Italian countryside to suburban Connecticut. “. From The Publisher.

“Harold” was her first published Short Story.  William Maxwell was so impressed in his acceptance letter asked her to send them all future stories.

This wonderful story centers on a French family on their annual Holiday at pensione in Siena, Italy.

“Bernard Tourner was as lean and astringent as his wife, Monique, was plump and soft—a dove in her gray dress. For many years they had come from Paris to spend their summers at this pensione, and each morning they would disappear in their little ancient car for an excursion to Arezzo or Volterra, or simply into the Chianti hills, returning as children return from a trip to the seaside, refreshed and exhausted and painfully sunburned.”

Readers of Katherine Mansfield will have fond memories brought to mind by this story of a life in a pensione, watching the interactions of the residents.  Among the other guests are an English couple, there three sons, an Italian painter as well as guests of unknown background.   The guests eat their meals in common.  It seems most are repeat guests.  This year they are joined by a woman and her son, maybe 16.  The son will play an essential part in the close of the story.

Here is The French man contrasts his country versus Italy:

““You see how it is,” said Bernard, with a faint smile. “In this country everything has been done, as it were—even this landscape has been done to the point where one becomes a detail in a canvas. And they all know too much. In Italy one is almost too much at ease, too well understood ; all summer here I feel that nothing new can happen, nothing can surprise or call our capacities into question; that none of us can add anything.” “Does this mean we shan’t see you here next year?” asked Dora, laughing because Bernard had come there for so many years..... “I simply mean that in our countries one must still be prepared for a few surprises, but here all experience is repetition, and that gives one an outrageous sense of proportion. That’s why we feel so comfortable—why we find it so attractive to come here. After all, France is certainly as beautiful as this”—Bernard included the Italian peninsula in a brief gesture.”

Hazzard brings out national identies in a very subtle way.  We see how Parisian couple view Italy and England.

This is is just a perfect story.  I see why William Maxwell wanted more of her work.

Mel u

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Madame de Treymes - A Set in Paris Novella by Edith Wharton - 1907

Madame de Treymes - A Set in Paris Novella by Edith Wharton  - 1907

Edith Wharton was or maybe I can say is, The Grande Dame of American Literature. She published 15 novels, several novellas and eighty five Short Stories as well as travel books.

Born - January 24, 1862 - New York City - her father was very wealthy, descended from early Dutch elite families who received Land grants from The Crown. 

From 1866 to 1872 her family traveled in Europe, visiting Spain, Wharton became  in French, German and Italian.

Upon return to New York, she received no formal education, she begins to read in her father’s extensive library.

In 1881, The Family moves to Europe, her father soon dies.

1883 - Wharton’s mother moves to Paris and stays there until her death in 1901

April 29, 1885 Wharton Marries Edward Robbins, a wealthy man 12 years her senior who shared her love of Europe.  They divorced in 1913 after twenty eight years.  

Between 1886 and  1897, from February to June, she and her husband travel in Europe

1905 - Published The House of Mirth

1911 - Moves Permantly to Paris.  She becomes heavily involved in war work of various sorts.  Unlike most American expats, she never flees France.  She traveled to the front lines and sent reports back to Scribner’s Magazine.  April 18, 1916, the President of France appointed her Chevalier of the  Legion of Honour, the country’s highest award, for her war efforts

After the war, she bought an 18th century house ten miles outside of Paris.  For the rest of her life she would split her time between there and the French Rivera.

1920 - The Age of Innocence is published,
she will receive a Pulitzer Prize in 1921, the first woman to be so honored 

August 11, 1937 dies on her estate at Saint-Brice-sous-.

Like a number of the works of her friend Henry James, Madame de Treymas deals with the relationships of Americans living in Europe to the French. In this work the focus is on the relationship of an American woman, Fanny de Malrive to her French Marquis husband.  Her husband has committed adultery, she wants a divorce but under French law the husband will be allowed to keep the son to pass along the title. She has fallen in love with an American John Durham.  She wants to marry him and return to America, but does not want to lose her son.

Durham meets the sister of the Marquis, Madame Threymas.  She is secretive, very intelligent and herself involved in an illicit relationship.  She suggests to Durham that if he pays her lover’s gambling debts, she can arrange a divorce in which the Marquis gives up the child.  Durham is offended by this and refuses.

In the end Durham goes back to America alone.  The American characters seem more honorable than the French, the French more worldly.

This work is available free as an E book.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Silent Tree - A Short Story by Neera Kashyap - initially published Mad in Asia Pacific - May 13, 2020

The Silent Tree - A Short Story by Neera Kashyap - initially published Mad in Asia Pacific - May 13, 2020

The Silent Tree - A Short Story by Neera Kashyap - initially published Mad in Asia Pacific - May 13, 2020

In May of this year I made my very fortunate first venture into the work of Neera Kashyap.

I loved her “Leave, Gentle Spirit”, a fascinating story narrated by an American ethnographer living in a small village in the Himalayas. Her mission there is to develop an in-depth understanding of the culture, folkways, religious beliefs and customs of women in the village, she learned to speak Hindi, widely spoken in the area.  As much as possible she lives like the women she is researching..

“Leave, Gentle Spirit" is a wonderful work, deeply informed and wise.  It deals with cultural divisions and gives us a look at life within the Himilayan region

I was delighted to learn that Neera Kashyap has several other stories published in online Journals.  

In “The Silent Tree” we are shown how the death of a husband and father impacts those who survive.  The story opens in an art class:

“Aarav hadn’t liked the art class with the elephant. Suman Ma’am had drawn one out on paper, then cut out its outline and traced it on a bar of soap. Even though Nani had said that the elephant was Ganesha — very strong and lucky for people, Aarav’s drawing had come out all wrong: the body was too thin, the trunk too short, the tail too long. Only its ear had looked good — big, shaped like a heart. Suman Ma’am had used a blunt knife to cut around the outline on the soap, then a paper clip to shave off the extra bits. Hers was a strong soap elephant that Nani would have liked. There hadn’t been enough knives to go around, so Aarav’s elephant had felt weak, more soap than elephant”.

Ever since his fsther recently died in a car accident, Aarav’s mother has been washing her hands over and over (this is a Pandemic story, people are advised to wash their hands a lot).  Aarav has come to hate the smell of soap.  Before his mother leaves for work, she checks five times to be sure the gas is shut and windows locked.  Aarav has come to hate the smell of Lysol.

As he sits in art class he comes to understand his mother’s actions:

“It must have been then that Suman Ma’am’s eyes fell on him in a long glance during art class. He felt the heat rise in the pit of his stomach and suddenly felt what Mama must feel all the time. He didn’t like the heat. It was shame heat — no, not shame heat … fear heat. He knew now and didn’t like it. He didn’t like the fear in Mama either. He suddenly knew she washed her hands to get rid of the fear. She checked on closed windows five times because she was afraid. The same with the gas — if she checked the knob five times, nobody would be gassed to death. The checking didn’t help any. Come to think of it, she did almost everything five times. She even counted five before she switched on the fan. What was it with five?”

At his suggestion, the art class students begin to fashion trees out of plasticine.  Kashyap shows us Aarav’s mother increasing emotional distress impacts him.  It is as if both are trying to erect shields to save them from death.  

The maternal grandmother lives with them.  The ending is very very moving  and real. The elderly grandmother may have saved The  Family.

“The Silent Tree” is very much a Covid 19 Pandemic story.   The News is full of death tolls, advise to wash your hands a lot, keep away from people. An atmosphere of fear is generated. The story has deep insight into a family death can have profound lingering impacts.

I hope to read much more of work of Neera Kashyap.

Neera Kashyap has worked as a newspaper journalist, as researcher and editor on environment and health, and as social and health communications specialist. She has published a book for young adults with Rupa & Co. titled Daring to Dream, 2003. Her stories for children have been included in five prize-winning anthologies published by Children’s Book Trust. As a literary writer of creative essays, poems and short fiction, her work has appeared in various online and print literary journals including Out of Print journal & Blog, Earthen Lamp Journal, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Muse India, Reading Hour and are forthcoming in Indian Literature and Papercuts. She lives in Delhi.

Mel u

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A Man in Love - a Surrealist Set in Paris Short Story by Leonora Carrington - 1938

 Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

The Reading Life Leonora Carrington Project

A Man in Love - a Surrealistic Short Story Set in Paris by Leonora Carrington - 1938

Leonora Carrington

Born - April 6, 1917 - Lancashire, England

Died - May 25, 2011 - Mexico City

(There is bio data in the Links above.)

Leonora Carrington only spent in her long life about sixteen months in Paris.  These months shaped her art and writings.  She first visited Paris at age ten, with her very wealthy family. While there she sees for the first time surrealistic art.  In 1936 while in Germany she meets and begins a romance with a famous Surrealist painter, Max Ernst.  They spend much of 1937 and part of 1938 in
Paris.  Carrington begins there her Career as a painter, highly influenced by contemporary French art.  Suurealism was considered a decadent art form by the Nazis and Ernst fled to America.  She and Ernst never saw each other again.  After much  drama, a mental break down, she got permision to move to Mexico, with a stop in New York City.
facilitated by a marriage to a Mexican diplomat.  She came to love Mexico.  Her paintings were very impacted by her encounters with Mexican traditions.

From The Website of The Tate Museum in London

“Surrealism aimed to revolutionise human experience, rejecting a rational vision of life in favour of one that asserted the value of the unconscious and dreams. The movement’s poets and artists found magic and strange beauty in the unexpected and the uncanny, the disregarded and the unconventional.”

A Man in Love, included in The Complete Short Stories of Leonora Carrington, is set in Paris, told by a woman there on a visit.  It is a very strange story, delightful and disturbing.  Seemingly tbings from a Jungian under world are narrated as just ordinary evey day events.

As the story opens I knew to expect a very entertaining few minutes.

“Walking down a narrow street one evening, I stole a melon. The fruit seller, who was lurking behind his fruit, caught me by the arm. “Miss, I’ve been waiting for a chance like this for forty years. For forty years I’ve hidden behind this pile of oranges in the hope that somebody might pinch some fruit. And the reason for that is this: I want to talk, I want to tell my story. If you don’t listen, I’ll hand you over to the police.” “I’m listening,” I told him. He took me by the arm and dragged me into the depths of his shop amongst the fruit and vegetables. We went through a door at the back and reached a room where there was a bed in which lay a woman, motionless and probably dead. It seemed to me that she must have been there a long time, for the bed was overgrown with grass.”

And from this start things get even stranger.

Everyday for forty years fruit vendor has watered his wife, not knowing whether she was dead or not.

Here is how he and his wife met

“Her father was an extraordinary man. He had a big house in the country. He was a collector of lamb cutlets. The way we met was this. I have this special little gift. It’s that I can dehydrate meat just by looking at it. Mr. Pushfoot (that was his name) heard about me. He asked me to come to his house to dehydrate meat”

They fall in love.  On what appears to be their wedding day his wife, Agnes, is very tired after a brief cruise on the Seine.  The man stop at an inn and asks for a room.

“‘Speak to the wolves. I’m not in charge here. Please let me sleep.’ “I understood that the crone was mad, and that there was no sense in going on. Agnes was still weeping. I walked around the house several times and in the end managed to open a window through which we entered. We found ourselves in a high-ceilinged kitchen, where there was a large stove, glowing red with fire. Some vegetables were cooking themselves, jumping around in boiling water; this game delighted them. We ate well and afterwards lay down to sleep on the floor. I held Agnes in my arms. We didn’t sleep
a wink. There were all sorts of things in that terrible kitchen. A great number of rats sat on the threshold of their holes and sang with shrill, disagreeable little voices. Foul smells spread and dispersed one after the other, and there were strange draughts. I think it was the draughts that finished off my poor Agnes. She was never herself again. From that day on she spoke less and less …” At that, the owner of the fruit shop was so blinded by his tears that I was able to make my escape with my melon.”

I was left baffled by this story, what deep symbolic shamanistic meaning was I missing?

The Mistress of Paris- The 19th Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret by Catherine Hewitt - 2015

The Mistress of Paris- The 19th Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret by Catherine Hewitt - 2015

Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

During Paris in July 2018 I had the pleasure of reading a very good biography of a fascinating French woman from the 19th century,
Renoir’s Dancer - The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon by Catherine Hewitt- 2018.

Starting from her early teens, an illegitimate daughter of a Parisian laundress, she progressed from prostitute, to artist’s model, mistress of Renoir and other famous artists, to a highly regarded painter. Hewitt explained her career marvelously.

This year I am very glad to have the  opportunity to read a second biography by Catherine Hewitt.

The Mistress of Paris- The 19th Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret

 Émilie-Louise Delabigne, known as countess Valtesse de La Bigne is  a classic rags to riches story.

Born 1848 - Paris

Died July 29, 1910 - Villa-de-Avray, France

Her father was an abusive alchoholic,  her mother a laundress who was also a prostitute.  At age 13, while working in a sweet shop in Paris, she was raped by an older man.

Hewitt shows us how pervasive prostitution was in Paris in 1860s. In addition to women registered with the Police there were many thousands of part time anateurs supplementing the meager income of their families.  Many were following the  only profession open to young women besides household helper, laundry person or miliner.  In then very Catholic France, a woman was supposed to be a virgin until married and a man to be experienced. Hewitt details the various sorts or levels of prostitutes.

At the bottom were street walkers, often having  sex in doorways.
Valtesse started out one step above this as a lorette.  Lorettes were mistresses of trade men and had regular clients.  She did when
Short of money, walk the streets.  The wealthier
 a woman’s regular clients were, the higher her status.  Hewitt’s biograohy is an account of how Valtesse used her striking redhaired Beauty, high intelligence and drive to become the most highly compensated courtesan in France.Valtesse seems to have consistently charged her clients for sex.  She never wanted just to be a kept woman. She never fell in love after her affair with the father of her children.  She never had a pimp of any sort. At her highest fame, she was given a Chateau for a night. Others paid her huge slums just to see her naked.

Émilie-Louise Delabigne took the pseudonym "Valtesse" due to its similarity to "Votre Altesse”, meaning “your highness”.

At age 20 she fell in Love with an army Officer with whom she had two daughters.  He promised to marry her but never did. She never loved again.  She placed the girls with her mother and supported them fjnancally.

Hewitt shows us the  eventual disaster this produced.  Valtesse found out her mother was pushing her daughter, one died very young, into prostitution at 16, planning to keep her earnings.  This resulted in a court fight for custody, Valtesse won.  Her mother later ran into a long time maid of Valtesse in the streets and assulted her.

Valtesse moved upward rapidly, she was evidently very skilled at sex and stroking  the egos of men.  An overweight sixty year old was made to feel like her greatest lover as she swooned in delight for two minutes.

She  did while getting rich still entertain some old clients for low fees,  saying if she is just doing nothing why not.

High level courtesans were celebrities.  Hewitt tells us about some of the other famous courtesans of the period.  She became a friend and bedmate of numerous top artists Valtesse.  Edward Manet among others painted her.

Hewitt shows us How Valtesse educated herself through her clients, from artists she became an expert in contemporary art, she was painted numerous times.  From politicians she learned about national and international affairs.  She became the mistress of a famous composer and playright, Jacques Offenbach.  Through him she began to dine in the best resturants in Paris.  From this she met Flaubert, Zola, and Guy de Maupassant.  Both Flaubert and de Maupassant were frequent visitors to brothels and clients of prostitutes.  Neither could afford Valtesse.

I was fascinated to learn of her relationship to Emile Zola.  Zola wanted to include a novel about prostitution in Paris in his cycle of novels,  Les Rougon-Marquart, about a French family  in Second Empire France.  Zola had no first hand knowledge of prostitution and Valtesse shared her life story with him.  L’Assomoir was loosely based on her younger days and the  central Character in Nana was based on her.  Nana was a huge best seller.  Valtesse was wriiten up in the press as the model for Nana.  Valtesse became ever more famous, higher priced and richer and richer.  A Polish prince built a magnificient chateau for which she stocked with works of famous artists, most of whom she had slept with.  She bankrupted Charles Guillaume Frédéric Boson de Talleyrand-Périgord (16 May 1832 – 21 February 1910), prince of Sagan by insisting he buy her a very expensive town House in the most elite part of Paris.  When the son of Alexander Dumas asked for sex, she told him he could not afford her and laughed in his face.

Napolean the Third  made her a comtesse.  Her advise was listened to by high ranking poiticians.

Hewitt presents a very vivid picture of the time.  She shows us The great draw Paris for country girls, how the railroads changed French Society.

As Valtesse aged she worried about losing her looks and her clients to younger girls.  She, using her  very high intelligence  saved a lot of money.  She sold The very expensive townhouse.She became  a mentor to up and coming courtesans.  Perhaps, as Hewitt shows, she did have some same sex encounters . She wrote a novel based on her life,  hiding very little.

In her final years she ran a kind of School for aspiring courtesans.

She died at sixty two when a blood vessel burst.

The Mistress of Paris- The 19th Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret by Catherine Hewitt - 2015 is a first rate work of narrative non-fiction.  Readers of Balzac and Zola will, I think, love this book.

“Catherine Hewitt’s academic career began with a passion for 19th-century French art, literature and social history.

Having been awarded a first-class honours degree in BA French from Royal Holloway, University of London, she went on to attend the prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art where she took a Masters in the History of 19th-Century French Art and was awarded a distinction. In 2012, she completed her PhD on The Formation of the Family in 19th-Century French Literature and Art, with joint supervision from Royal Holloway and the Courtauld Institute. Throughout her academic career, she has regularly presented papers at conferences, published work in academic journals and was awarded numerous university prizes.” Further details can be found on her web site

Mel u
Oleander Bousweau

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Two Short Stories Dealing with what France meant to the English after World War Two - by Elizabeth Taylor

Two Short Stories Dealing with what France meant to the English after World War Two - by Elizabeth Taylor

“Oh, don’t bring me books about France,’ she said one morning to Mrs Dring. ‘I can’t bear anything about France. It’s worse than China. Why can’t people write books about their own country? Showing off.’ “ - from Simone by Elizabeth Taylor

Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

My readings so far for Paris in July 2020

1. Forain” - a set in Paris Short Story by Mavis Gallant
2. “Winter Rain” - a Short story by Alice Adams about an American woman living in Paris after World War Two
3. Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson
4. Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
5. “Sisters” by Elizabeth Taylor.
6. Madame de Mauves - a set in Paris Novella by Henry James - 1874
7. The Queen of Paris- A Coco Chanel Novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen - 2020
8. Government Endommagé - A Short Story about an English couple on vacation in France -  by Elixabeth Taylor - 1950
9. Hotel de Commerce -  English newly weds on honey moon in France - A Short Story by Elizabeth Taylor -

Hôtel du Commerce - first published in The Cornhill Magazine, Winter 1965/66

Government Endommagé was first published in The New Yorker October 17, 1950

Both works are included in The Complete Short Stories of Elizabeth Taylor

July 3, 1912 - Reading, England

November 19, 1975 -Penn, England

As far as I can see, Elizabeth Taylor (she was a bit embarrassed by her namesake and many in first hearing of her fiction say to themselves “I did not know she was a writer also”) never left England.

Hótel de Commerce takes place in Chartes, France, about fifty miles southwest of Paris.  It is home to the famous Chartes, Cathedral. An English couple are there on their honeymoon.  As name suggests, the hotel is a dreary kind of place.  The man was in France during the war and speaks French a bit.  In talking about an Elizabeth Taylor story, it is hard to resist quoting:

“So much about honeymoons was absurd – even little reminders like this one. And there had been awkwardnesses they could never have foreseen – especially that of having to make their way in a foreign language. (Lune de miel seemed utterly improbable to her.) She did not know how to ask a maid to wash a blouse, although she had pages of irregular verbs somewhere in her head, and odd words, from lists she had learnt as a child – the Parts of the Body, the Trees of the Forest, the Days of the Week – would often spring gratifyingly to her rescue.”

His wife seems a bit disappointed in The Cathedral, the husband sees town as full of Tourist traps.

Back in hotel, the walls are thin.  They overhear the couple next door having a terrible fight.  Any one married for a while both cringe at the story and smile maybe sardinically at next days result.  Hótel Commerce is really a good deeply insightful gem.

Gravement Endommagé gives us another English married couple, Richard and Louise.  Unlike the couple in the prior story, they are long past the honeymoon stage.  They are on Holiday in France, a trip they both hope will revitalize their marriage.

“The holiday was really to set things to rights between them. Lately, trivial bickering had hardened into direct animosity. Relatives put this down to, on his part, overwork, and, on hers, fatigue from the war, during which she had lived, after their London house was bombed, in a remote village with the children. She had nothing to say of those years but that they were not funny. She clung to the children and they to her.”

When we meet them, they took the boat over, they are driving into Paris.

Here is a painfully real matrimonial conversation:

“‘But if we are pushed for time … Why kill ourselves? … After all, this is a holiday … I do remember … There is a place I stayed at that time … When I first knew you …’ Only parts of what he said reached her. The rest was blown away. ‘You are deliberately going slow,’ she said. ‘I think more of my car than to drive it fast along these roads.’ ‘You think more of your car than of your wife.’ He had no answer. He could not say that at least his car never betrayed him, let him down, embarrassed him, because it constantly did and might again at any moment.”

In these stories we get a glimpse of how The post World War Two English Middle Class viewed France.

I have now read one novel and four Short stories by Elizabeth Taylor.  She published 12 novels.  I now have six of her novels as well as the Short Story collection.  I hope to read through this in 2020, none of the novels are very long.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Queen of Paris- A Novel of Coco Chanel by Pamela Binnings Ewen - 2020

The Queen of Paris- A Novel of Coco Chanel by Pamela Binnings Ewen - 2020

Paris in July - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

My readings so far for Paris in July 2020

1. Forain” - a set in Paris Short Story by Mavis Gallant
2. “Winter Rain” - a Short story by Alice Adams about an American woman living in Paris after World War Two
3. Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson
4. Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
5. “Sisters” by Elizabeth Taylor.
6. Madame de Mauves - a set in Paris Novella by Henry James - 1874
7. The Queen of Paris- A Coco Chanel Novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen - 2020

During  Paris in July 2015  I read and was fascinated by Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick.  For sure Coco Chanel (1883 to 1971)  is one of if not the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. Worldwide her influence on fashion is tremendous.  When I started reading Garelick's superb biography I knew very little about Coco Chanel.    Upon reaching the end I felt I had been taken deeply into the psyche and life of an incredibly creative woman, a business genius who created from nothing a fashion and perfume empire worth billions of dollars, a woman who began life as an orphan and ended it atop the fashion universe.  I also saw a complex, deeply troubled and very much a flawed woman.  I admired her to a degree but found her often very selfish, insecure and I find her anti-Semiticism despicable.  I am convinced by the information in this book that Chanel did not just collaborate with the Nazis but tried to use the antiJewish laws they put in place to cheat the Jewish family that bought ninety percent of the rights to her famous perfume, Chanel # 5 from her.

After finishing Gatelick's biography I did not really have any plans to read another biography of Coco Chanel.  I was, however, offered a copy of Coco Chanel A Lifs by Justine Picarde for the one day only price of $1.95 so I bought it.  Picarde's book begins with a glowing description of the beautiful highly refined full of very expensive pieces found at The House de Chanel at 31 Rue Cabon in Paris.  In including in the beautiful objects are a collection of books that Chanel is represented as having read.

"Two walls are lined with leather-bound books: antique editions of Plutarch, Euripides and Homer; the memoirs of Casanova and the essays of Montaigne; The Confessions of St Augustine and The Dialogues of Plato; the complete works of Maupassant and Molière in French, Shelley and Shakespeare in English"

There is one problem with this, Chanel read none of these books, they obviously were purchased just for appearance no doubt by an agent told to get some classic books.  Chanel as detailed by Garelick did not and probably could not have read such works.  The entire book is just a love letter to Coco, ignoring all her glaringly negative characteristics.  No mention is made of her early occasional work as a prostitute or her relentless gold digging, her willingness to sell herself, her fawning over rich men, her petty cruelty at times to employees.   Picarde does not deal clearly with the issue of Coco Chanel and the Nazis, missing entirely how the whole fashion ethos of Coco, including her famous emblem, can be seen as in sympathy with much of Nazi ideology.  There is no denying her romance with a Nazj officer, a baron, thirteen years her junior and her fraternizing with Nazis at The Ritz.  I would personally guess the German Baron was told to romance Chanel to see what use could be made of her.

Picarde's book is close to cloying.  It also provides little information on how Chanel developed her business empire.  She was a genius at marketing, using herself as an icon.
Coco Chanel changed the way women wanted to look.  She was a design genius, there is no denying this.

I cannot, I admit, get past an image of the beautiful impeccably groomed no doubt an admirer of the work of Coco, Iréne Némirovsky being put on a train to Auschwitz with other French Jews and Coco Chanel dancing in the Ritz, liking this idea.

Recently i was offered a Kindle edition of a just published historical novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen, The Queen of Paris- A Novel of Coco Chanel for $0.99.  It has very good reviews so I thought Paris in July 2020 might be a good time to renew my acquaintance with Coco Chanel.

Coco Chanel

Born August 19, 1883 - Saumur, France.

1913 - opens her first boutique.

1935 - has over 4000 employees, almost all women

1939 - closes her shops

During the World War Two years she lives in Paris in the very elite Ritz Hotel, headquarters for the Gestapo.  Coco worked as an espionage agent for the Germans.  She was instructed to use her contacts to spy on the British government and induce Spain to enter the war on the side of German.  In the novel, Coco is portrayed as being blackmailed by the Nazis.  Her nephew, who might have been her son, was in a German POW camp, ill with TB.  Ewen shows us details of her fight to keep control of her trademark brand, Chanel Number 5 Perfume, worth a great fortune.  In Ewen’s portrayal, she was told that if she cooperated her nephew would be released and she would maintain ownership of her perfume.

Even presents Coco as not wantiing  to do this but felt she had to.  She had an affair with a German count who was involved with the Gestapo.  Other works I have read on Chanel suggest no reluctance on her part.  Ewen  treats her anti-semeticism in detail.

During World War Two Coco lived in the very elite Hotel Ritz in
Paris, headquarters for the Gestapo.  When Paris was liberated she feared she would be treated as a collaborator, which for sure she was.

1945 moves to Switzerland, still very rich.

She returns to Paris for a fashion Show in 1954 but received a cold reception.

She began selling her fashions and perfume in The USA, she made billions.
Ewen gives us a close look at her numerous romances with rich married men.  She was always a mistress, never a wife. She liked her men tall, thin, rich and with a title.  Maybe The nephew who she supported long after war was the son of Coco and one of her wealthy partners.  Coco grew up in an Orphan’s home, put there by her father when her mother died.  Binnings lets us see how her early  years impacted her life.  She wanted above all to rise up to a rich elegant life.

She began her working life as a seamstress, a rich boyfriend set her up in a hat shop, from this humble start she changed permanently fashion styles world wide

Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

Coco’s taste in everything was impeccable except maybe her fondness for the Nazis.  She was not like many female collaborators who slept with Germans to feed their children, Coco was in accord with their Ideology. She was not very political and may not have understood the full extent of the Holocaust but my take is that if she did it would not have mattered to her.  She had a high ranking Nazi lover, a Baron, of course.  Much younger than her and perhaps he was advised to get involved with her by the SS.  She also liked the uniforms, the emblems and the principal that the common people must serve the elite.  She tried to use anti-Jewish laws to cheat her Jewish financiers but they out smarted her.  Coco worshipped powerful men and the Nazis played into this.  She never met Hitler, if she had done so I am sure it would have been overwhelming for Coco.  She met and socialized with other top Nazis who turned the Ritz Hotel into a very high class Nazi barracks.  Coco kept living there.  There seems no reason to think she passed important information to the Germans but she did tell them all she knew about Winston Churchill who was a close friend of one of her long term lovers, the Duke of Westminister.  She probably had no information of real military value. She was possibly to be used as a go between in the never to happen surrender of England.  Much of her value to the Nazis was symbolic.

I enjoyed The Queen of Paris.  I am not totally convinced by Ewen’s version of Coco Chanel.  She had a dark side and to me Ewen’s portrait is a big shallow. First read Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick, a truly great book.

Mel u

Friday, July 17, 2020

Madame de Mauves - A Set in Paris novella by Henry James - originally published in The Galaxy Magazine in 1874

Madame de Mauves - A Set in Paris novella by Henry James - originally published in The Galaxy magazine in 1874

Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

Beauty is a Sleeping Caf’s Post on Madame de Mauves

  1. “Forain” - a set in Paris Short Story by Mavis Gallant
    2. “Winter Rain” - a Short story by Alice Adams about an American woman living in Paris after World War Two
    3. Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson
    4. Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
    5. “Sisters” by Elizabeth Taylor
    6. Ambition and Desire:The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams
Born April 15, 1843 - New York, New York

From 1855 to 1860 The James Family traveled in Europe,where his father had business interests.  For at least two years he lived in Paris.  He became fluent in French.

1869 to 1870. Travels on his own in Europe. He  worked for a brief period as the Paris Correspondent for The New York Tribune.

In 1869 he moves to London, he will become an English citizen.  In 1875 he moves to Paris for a year.  In Paris he meets Zola, Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant.among others.

1884- he visits Paris again, deeping his literary contacts

1885 returns to London

Dies February 1916 (aged 72); London

Paris was very important to Henry James.  His work often deals with the contrast of Americans to Europeans.  Paris was above all else representative of the depth of European culture versus the newness of America.Americans were seen as naive, Parisians as decadent.  To me his The Ambassadors (1903) is the quintessential American in  Paris novel.

A  pedagoical sterotype of James is that his early works are much easier to read than works of his later years.  Madame de Mauves is an early work. The story centers on the marriage of a morally upright faithful to her vows American woman to a French man who has no respect for the marriage, making no effort to hide  his affairs. She is rich and he married her for her money. He is the Comte de Mauves, a count.  Many an American heiress were drawn into European marriages by titles.

The central character, Longmore, an American man on a long visit to Paris, is introduced to Madame de Mauves, the American woman, by her close Parisian friend.

She tells Longmore that Madame de Mauves badly needs a friend, a confidant.  They gradually develop a close relationship.  Longmore falls in love with her but she makes it clear she wants only friendship.   Gradually he gets to know her husband,the Comte de Mauves and his sister, the crass widow Madame de Clairin.  They encourage him to have an affair with Madame de Mauves, which would allow her husband under conventions of Paris high society, free to have affairs.

He declines to pursue this option.  He returns to New York City and meanwhile husband falls in  love with his wife and deeply regrets The pain he has caused her.

There is a shocking turn of events at the close.

Read through the lenses of forty more years of very prolific works and a knowledge of his life, one can see this as an early study of unconsumated relationships of men to women they loved, or could have loved had they been able to let go.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams - 2014

Ambition and Desire:  The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams - 2014

Paris in July 2020 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

My readings so far for Paris in July 2020

1. Forain” - a set in Paris Short Story by Mavis Gallant
2. “Winter Rain” - a Short story by Alice Adams about an American woman living in Paris after World War Two
3. Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson
4. Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
5. “Sisters” by Elizabeth Taylor
6. Ambition and Desire:The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams

Josephine Bonaparte

Born June 23, 1863 - Les Trois-Ílets, Martingue
Her Birth name was Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie. She was born into a wealthy sugar cane plantation family that suffered large financial devastation during a hurricane.

0ctober 1779 - moves to Paris with her father.

1779 to 1794 - Married to Alexandre de Beauharnais at age 16(he was guilinotined during The Reign of Terror.  She was imprisoned for several months, if not for death of Robespierre and end of The Reign of Terror she would probsbly have been executed.  Changes in law allowed her to regain ownership of her late husband’s property.

He was chosen for his wealth and was a chronic womanizer and a frequenter of brothels not even pretending to respect his marriage.

They had two children Hortense and Eugene.  Hortense married Napoleon’s brother.

1796 to 1809 - Married to Napoleon Bonaparte.  Napoleon was six years younger.  She had until meeting him used “Rose” as her first name but Napoleon preferred “Josephine” so she used that The rest of her Life. I learned that Napoleon’s mother and two sisters disapproved of  and resented her.

1804 - crowned Empress of France

Naploeon divorced her in 1810 using as his public excuse her failure to have a child.  In fact he lost much of his love for her when he learned of her affair with a junior French Hussar Officer.  As Williams makes very clear Josephine never loved Napoleon nearly as much as he her, certainly she loved his wealth far more than his person.  Her lover became wealthy through shady business deals in which Josephine had a part.

In her time as Empress Josephine devoted much energy to collecting art while living in the historic Palais du Luxembourg.

She had little formal education but was very intelligent and becamd an expert on European art.  I was very surprised to learn she imported all sorts of plants not native to France into the palace grounds and became something of an authority on botany.

 As Williams explains in very interesting detail through her children Josephine became an ancestor of Napoleon III (his grandmother), great grandmother of Kings of Denmark and Sweden.  The royal families of Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands are also part of her lineage. I learned Napoleon had numerous what seem like near parasitic relatives who sought to become rich through The association.  Napoleon is presented as very subject to influence by flattery,  which he craved.

Died May 29, 1814, in The outskirts of Paris

Napoleon and Josephine are one of the most famous couples in French and in fact World history.  My guess is most see Josephine as a French Caribbean femme fatale living of her looks, advancing through several wealthy men, until she hit The Jackpot and parlayed her charm and insight into men to become the first Empress of France.  Women from The French island colonies were regarded  as sexually skilled.

“Most of all, Napoleon and Josephine’s romance is celebratated as one for the ages, a coup de foudre both mysterious and passionate. Although they were married only fourteen years, they shaped each other’s legacies, and theirs is one of the great love stories of history. Napoleon needed Josephine to spin him from general to politician, to smooth his way, to charm his opposition. She threw in her lot with him, gambling that he would lift himself beyond mere military glory. She won her bet, and yet it came at a price. Marriage to him was exhausting, and she had to pretend she was someone she was not for much of her life.”  From The Eplilogue

for bio detail and information on her other books.

In telling Life story of Josephine Kate Williams paints a vivid picture of an era.  I greatly enjoyed this book an endorse it to all with an interest in French history.

Mel u