Something to Declare: Essays on France

Overview

"Julian Barnes's long and passionate relationship with la belle France began more than forty years ago, and in these essays on the country and the culture he combines a keen appreciation, a seemingly infinite sphere of reference, and prose as stylish as classic haute couture." "Barnes's vision of France - "The Land Without Brussels Sprouts" - embraces its vanishing peasantry; its vanished hyper-literate pop singers, Georges Brassens, Boris Vian, and Jacques Brel ("[he] sang at the world as if it ... could be saved from its follies and brutalities ...
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Overview

"Julian Barnes's long and passionate relationship with la belle France began more than forty years ago, and in these essays on the country and the culture he combines a keen appreciation, a seemingly infinite sphere of reference, and prose as stylish as classic haute couture." "Barnes's vision of France - "The Land Without Brussels Sprouts" - embraces its vanishing peasantry; its vanished hyper-literate pop singers, Georges Brassens, Boris Vian, and Jacques Brel ("[he] sang at the world as if it ... could be saved from its follies and brutalities by his vocal embrace"); and the gleeful iconoclasm of its nouvelle vague cinema ("'The Underpass in Modern French Film' is a thesis waiting to be written"). He describes the elegant tour of France that Henry James and Edith Wharton made in 1907, and the orgy of drugs and suffering of the Tour de France in our own time. An unparalleled connoisseur of French writing and writers, Barnes gives us his thoughts on the prolific and priapic Simenon, on Sand, Baudelaire, and Mallarme ("If literature is a spectrum, and Hugo hogs the rainbow, then Mallarme is working in ultra-voilet")." "In several excursions into the prickly genius of Flaubert, Barnes discusses his letters; his lover Louise Colet; and his biographers (Sartre's The Family Idiot, "an intense, unfinished, three-volume growl at Flaubert, is mad, of course"). He delves into Flaubert's friendship with Turgenev; looks at the "faithful betrayal" of Claude Chabrol's film version of Madame Bovary; and reveals the importance of the pharmacist's assistant, the most major minor character in Flaubert's great novel: "If Madame Bovary were a mansion, Justin would be the handle to the back door; but great architects have the design of door-furniture in mind even as they lay out the west wing."" For lovers of France and all things French - and of Julian Barnes's singular wit and intelligence - Something to Declare is an unadulterated joy to read.
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Editorial Reviews

James Schiff
Dazzling, clever and immensely knowledgeable, Barnes is best known for his novels, including the highly inventive Flaubert's Parrot. The author's latest book documents his long love affair with France, collecting twenty years of essays on French subjects. Barnes discusses the songs of Boris Vian, Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens; the history of and controversy surrounding the Tour de France; the films of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard; and the literary lives of Charles Baudelaíre, Stéphane Mallarmé, Georges Simenon and George Sand. Many of the essays are devoted to Gustav Flaubert, whom Barnes considers "the writer's writer par excellence, the saint and martyr of literature—the creator of the modern novel with Madame Bovary." These pieces on the great nineteenth-century novelist offer ample rewards for the curious and interested. In fact, the final essay, an exquisite and precise analysis of a minor character in Madame Bovary, is one of the most engaging and useful literary pieces I've ever read. In his nonfiction as in his novels, Barnes is always a masterful host and performer, a writer with a lively mind who can be skeptical yet appreciative.
From The Critics
Dazzling, clever and immensely knowledgeable, Barnes is best known for his novels, including the highly inventive Flaubert's Parrot . The author's latest book documents his long love affair with France, collecting twenty years of essays on French subjects. Barnes discusses the songs of Boris Vian, Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens; the history of and controversy surrounding the Tour de France; the films of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard; and the literary lives of Charles Baudelaíre, Stéphane Mallarmé, Georges Simenon and George Sand. Many of the essays are devoted to Gustav Flaubert, whom Barnes considers "the writer's writer par excellence, the saint and martyr of literature—the creator of the modern novel with Madame Bovary ." These pieces on the great nineteenth-century novelist offer ample rewards for the curious and interested. In fact, the final essay, an exquisite and precise analysis of a minor character in Madame Bovary , is one of the most engaging and useful literary pieces I've ever read. In his nonfiction as in his novels, Barnes is always a masterful host and performer, a writer with a lively mind who can be skeptical yet appreciative. —James Schiff
Publishers Weekly
Novelist Barnes's latest collection of haute musings on France and things French is rather like a ride in a creaky Citro n: at first, it kicks and gurgles in a scattered path, but once it gets started, it's a charming and nostalgic way to view la belle France. Barnes, author of nine novels (Love, Etc., etc.), a book of stories and a collection of essays, offers here an amalgamation of pieces, many previously published in the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books. The collection begins with meandering yet tellingly accurate critiques of popular culture phenomena, such as the Tour de France, the films of Truffaut and Godard, and singer Jacques Brel. Barnes's assessment of culinary writer Elizabeth David's thoughts on nouvelle cuisine (it means "lighter food, less of it, costing more") are at once witty and dead-on. After sharing these lighter, whimsical thoughts, Barnes shifts into a higher gear and delves into a study of the French and Francophile literary establishment, from Edith Wharton and Ford Madox Ford to Henry James and George Sand. He saves many of the book's later chapters for his favorite subject, Gustave Flaubert. Throughout, Barnes integrates his commentary with detailed, intriguing bits of history. Devotees of Madame Bovary will thrill to read his ruminations on the masterpiece (e.g., what if it had been written for the screen rather than as a book?). Serious yet self-deprecating, Barnes's prose is perfectly tuned to its subject. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 7) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
What do you get when you combine a passion for France, a rapier wit, and an immense writing vocabulary? You get Barnes, a one-time lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, a declared Francophile, and a much-published writer of nonfiction and fiction (e.g., Staring at the Sun). This collection of essays on France includes some of Barnes's best work published in the United States (the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker) and England (Times Literary Supplement) between 1982 and 2000. A fascinating essay on the Tour de Franc, for example, includes a detailed portrait of Lance Armstrong's 2000 victory and gives insight into how the Tour has changed over time. Edith Wharton and Henry James figure prominently in an essay on travel in France at the turn of the century. Flaubert appears in several essays, reflecting Barnes's lifelong involvement in Flaubertiana: we meet his colleagues Turgenev, Baudelaire, Mallarm , and, of course, his mistress Louise Colet. Going beyond the literary, Barnes includes essays on cooking, contemporary film, and pop singers. All in all, this eclectic commentary on all things French is a very satisfying read-just keep your unabridged dictionary nearby! Definitely recommended for larger collections on French culture, civilization, and travel.-Olga B. Wise, Hewlett-Packard, Austin, TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“An exceptionally accomplished and ingenious stylist.” — The New York Review of Books

“France and England square off on almost every issue, from cuisine . . . to currency, but Barnes inhabits both worlds with ease. As a journalistic subject, France is best approached from an oblique angle, and this collection accomplishes that brilliantly. . . . . Barnes remains entertaining and insightful. This is a rich journey for the tourist, and a welcome antidote to Mayle for the French.” -- Don Gilmour, The Globe and Mail

“[Barnes is] an indefatigable sleuth . . . and a superlative reporter, not just of what he’s meant to watch, but also, like a dog picking up bat-hums in the ether, of the mental processes of reporting, whether about the Tour de France, a painting, or Flaubert’s letters . . . . He is brilliant on the writer’s craft and the experience of writing . . . . Barnes is a devotee of the absolutely accurate description . . .” -- National Post

“As an essayist, . . . he is the most congenial of hosts. Even when his subjects are grand, his way with them is entertaining: he can be pungently amusing, iconoclastic, wry or tender, but he is always rewarding.” -- Financial Times (U.K.)

“These essays are an expansive, astute and increasingly magisterial salute to French sophistication in all departments, from cinema to cycling, singing and writing above all.” -- Daily Telegraph

“. . . twenty-one energetic essays . . .” -- TLS

"It's the fiction-lovers who've had most of the treats since Barnes published his first book in 1981.... But now, with Something to Declare, the essay-lovers are back in the driver's seat -- and they have much to celebrate.... Barnes is wise to disarm his critics by quoting a remark Kingsley Amis made to a mutual friend: "I wish he'd shut up about Flaubert" -- but by the time we reach the quote, we know there is no need for Barnes to shut up about Flaubert or anyone else.... biting intelligence... Barnes has written a profoundly unstupid collection of essays about the land that makes him dream." -- The Sunday Times

"Whether he is discussing Simenon, Baudelaire or Louise Colet, Barnes illuminates their lives with brilliant metaphoric encapsulation. But it is Flaubert and his 'groaning search for perfection' who brings out the best in him.... Like all the best critics, Barnes persuades you to take his evidence and verdict on trust.... These essays remind you, as he says of Flaubert, that it is 'perfectly possible...for high intelligence, piercing insight and scrupulous concentration to be combined with extreme lucidity of expression.'" -- The Guardian

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375415135
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: 1 AMER ED
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, including A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and England, England, which was shortlisted for the 1998 Booker Prize. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in London, England.

Biography

Julian Barnes once told London's Observer that he writes fiction "to tell beautiful, exact, and well-constructed lies which enclose hard and shimmering truths." Indeed, this is what Barnes does, sometimes spiking his lies with fact -- most notably in Flaubert's Parrot, the novel that became his breakthrough book. The story of a retired doctor obsessed with the French author, it combines a literary detective story with a character study of its detective, including facts about Flaubert along the way.

Before Flaubert's Parrot propelled him into the company of Ian McEwan and Martin Amis in British authordom, Barnes had been moderately successful with the novels Metroland (which later became the 1997 movie starring Emily Watson and Christian Bale) and Before She Met Me. He was also known to Brits as a newspaper TV critic. Parrot and Barnes's subsequent "Letters from London" in The New Yorker helped expand the author's Stateside following.

"A lot of novelists set up a kind of franchise, and turn out a familiar product," friend and fellow author Jay McInerney told the Guardian in 2000. "But what I like about Jules's work is that he's like an entrepreneur who starts up a new company every time out." Among other ambitious themes, Barnes has explored the collapse of communism (The Porcupine) the Disneyfication of culture (England, England), the simple dynamics of relationships (Talking It Over and its sequel, Love, Etc.), and the connections between art, religion, and death (The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters).

Barnes has also produced collections of essays, a translation of Alphonse Daudet's In the Land of Pain, and a family memoir (Nothing to Be Frightened Of) that also serves as a meditation on mortality.

Good To Know

In 2000, a cybersquatting professor acquired the Internet rights to julianbarnes.com and several other authors' domain names; Barnes later won his name back, and the domain is now an informational site run by a fan with Barnes's permission. Barnes had protested the professor's actions, accusing him of usurpation; but his opponent might have responded by quoting from Barnes's own (albeit satirical) England, England: "Indeed, wasn't there something old-fashioned about the whole concept of ownership, or rather its acquisition by formal contract, in which title is received in exchange for consideration given?.... It would have been unfair to call Sir Jack Pitman a barbarian, though some did; but there stirred within him a longing to revisit pre-classical, pre-bureaucratic methods of acquiring ownership. Methods such as theft, conquest and pillage, for example."

Barnes wrote four mystery novels under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, all of which are now out of print; the novels starred Duffy, a bisexual ex–police officer. Kavanagh's bio read in part: "Having devoted his adolescence to truancy, venery and petty theft, he left home at seventeen and signed on as a deckhand on a Liberian tanker." Kavanagh also happens to be the last name of Barnes's agent and wife, Pat.

Barnes was a deputy literary editor under Martin Amis at the New Statesman from 1980–82 and was also a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. Amis and Barnes later had a falling-out that became fodder for the press when Amis wrote about it in his memoir, Experience; Barnes is mum on the subject, but the disagreement arose when Amis defected from Barnes's wife to another agent.

Barnes has a cameo in the film Bridget Jones's Diary as himself, but in a lesser role than he has in Helen Fielding's book. In the book, Bridget is flummoxed upon encountering Barnes and embarrasses herself; but the more recognizable Salman Rushdie was substituted for Barnes in the film version.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Dan Kavanagh
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 19, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      Leicester, England
    1. Education:
      Degree in modern languages from Magdalen College, Oxford, 1968

Read an Excerpt

Preface

I first went to France in the summer of 1959 at the age of thirteen. My pre-adolescence had been car-free and island-bound; now there stood in front of our house a gun-metal-grey Triumph Mayflower, bought secondhand, suddenly affordable thanks to a £200 grant from Great Aunt Edie. It struck me then—as any car would have done—as deeply handsome, if perhaps a little too boxy and sharp-edged for true elegance.; last year, in a poll of British autophiles, it was voted one of the ten ugliest cars ever built. Registration plate RTW1, red leather upholstery, walnut dashboard, no radio, and a blue metal RAC badge on the front. (The RAC man, portly and moustachioed, with heavy patched boots and a subservient manner, had arrived to enrol us. His first, preposterous question to my father—'Now, sir, how many cars have you got?'—passed into quiet family myth.) That cars were intended not just for safe commuting but also for perilous voyage was endorsed by the Triumph's subtitle, and further by its illustrative hubcaps: at their centre was an emblematic boss depicting, in blue and red enamel, a Mercator projection of the globe.

Our first expedition was from suburban Middlesex to provincial France. At Newhaven we watched nervously as the Mayflower was slung by crane with routine insouciance over our heads and down into the ferry's hold. The metal RAC badge at the front was now matched by a metal GB plate at the rear. My mother drove; my father map-read and performed emergency hand-signals; my brother and I sat in the back and worried. Over the next few summers we would loop our way through different regions of France, mostly avoiding large cities andalways avoiding Paris. We would visit châteaux and churches, grottoes and museums, inducing in me a lifelong phobia for the guided tour. I was the official photographer, first in black-and-white (home processed), later in colour transparency. My parents tended to feature only when the viewfinder's vista seemed dull; then, remembering the dictates of Amateur Photographer, I would summon them to provide 'foreground interest'. We picnicked at lunchtime and towards five o'clock would start looking for a small hotel; the red Michelin was our missal. In those days, as soon as you left the Channel ports behind, the roads were empty of non-French cars; when you saw another GB coming in your direction, you would wave (though never, in our family, hoot).

That first, monstrous expedition into the exotic was a gentle tour of Normady. From Dieppe we drove to Cany-Barville, of which I remember only two things: a vast and watery soup pullulating with some non-British grain or pulse; and being sent out on my first foreign morning for the newspaper. Which one did they want? Oh, just get the local one, my father replied unhelpfully. I had the normal adolescent's self-consciousness—that's to say, one that weighs like a stone-filled rucksack and feels of a different order to everyone else's. It was a heroic journey across the street and towards the shop, imperilled at every step by garlic-chewing low-lifes who drank red wine for breakfast and cut their bread - and youngsters' throats—with pocket knives. 'Le journal de la région,' I repeated mantrically to myself, 'Le journal de la région, le journal de la région.' I no longer remember if I even uttered the words, or just flung my coins at some nicotined child-molester with a cry of 'Keep the change.' All I remember is the purity of my fear, the absoluteness of my embarrassment, and the lack of vivid praise from my parents on my safe return.

From Cany-Barville to Thury-Harcourt: did all French villages have such solemn hyphenation? None of that Something-upon-Whatsit, Thingummy-in-the-Tum-Tum. Cany-Barville, Thury-Harcourt: this was different, grave. Thereafter, my memories become slighter, more banal; perhaps not even memories, but half-forgotten impressions revived by photographs. A brown-beamed coaching inn, a rough-fleeced donkey in a rough-grassed park, my first squat French château with pepperpot towers (Combourg), my first soaring ditto (Josselin). Then first viewings of Chartres, the Bayeux Tapestry and Chateaubriand’s aqueous tomb. On the tranquil roads we mingled with traffic of lustrous oddity. French cars were very unMayflowery: curved in the weirdest places, coloured according toa different palette, and often formidably eccentric — witness the Panhard. They had corrugated butchers’ vans, Deux Chevaux with canvas stacker seats, Maigret Citroëns, and later the otherworldly DS, whose initials punned on divinity.

And then there was the formidable eccentricity of the food. Their butter was wanly unsalted, blood came out of their meat, and they would put anything, absolutely anything, into soup. They grew perfectly edible tomatoes and then doused them in foul vinaigrette; ditto lettuce, ditto carrots, ditto beetroot. Normally you could detect that foul vinaigrette had been slimed over the salad; but sometimes they fooled you by slurping it into the bottom of the bowl, so that when with hopeful heart you lifted a leaf from the top... Bread was good (but see butter); chips were good (but see meat); vegetables were unpredictable. What were those things that weren’t proper runner beans but round, fat, overcooked, and — cold! There was pâté: forget it, anything could have gone into that; though not as anything as the anything that went into their gristly, warty saucissons, assembled from the disposings of an axe murderer. There was cheese. No, there were thousands of cheese, and I would eat only one of them — Gruyère. Fruit was reliable — not much they could do to ruin that; indeed, they grew very large and juicy red apples you could positively look forward to. They liked onions far too much. They brushed their teeth with garlic paste. They camouflaged quite edible meat and fish with sauces of dubious origin and name. Then there was wine, which bore a close resemblance to vinaigrette; and coffee, which I hated. Occasionally there would be a noxious, unassessable dish which explained all too well what you found and smelt behind the teak-stained door of les waters, where gigantic feet in knobbed porcelain awaited you, followed by a gigantic flush which drenched your turn-ups.


From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright 2002 by Julian Barnes
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Table of Contents

Illustrations
Preface
1 An Englishman Abroad 1
2 Spending Their Deaths on Holiday 15
3 The Promises of Their Ordination 31
4 The Land Without Brussels Sprouts 43
5 Tour de France 1907 71
6 Tour de France 2000 71
7 The Pouncer 91
8 French Letters 101
9 Flaubert's Death-Masks 135
10 Not Drowning But Waving: The Case of Louise Colet 159
11 Drinking Ink 179
12 Two Moles 195
13 Consolation v. Desolation 201
14 Tail-Flaying 219
15 The Cost of Conscientious Literature 233
16 Faithful Betrayal 249
17 Justin: A Small Major Character 267
Acknowledgements 281
Index 283
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First Chapter

Preface

I first went to France in the summer of 1959 at the age of thirteen. My pre-adolescence had been car-free and island-bound; now there stood in front of our house a gun-metal-grey Triumph Mayflower, bought secondhand, suddenly affordable thanks to a £200 grant from Great Aunt Edie. It struck me then -- as any car would have done -- as deeply handsome, if perhaps a little too boxy and sharp-edged for true elegance.; last year, in a poll of British autophiles, it was voted one of the ten ugliest cars ever built. Registration plate RTW1, red leather upholstery, walnut dashboard, no radio, and a blue metal RAC badge on the front. (The RAC man, portly and moustachioed, with heavy patched boots and a subservient manner, had arrived to enrol us. His first, preposterous question to my father -- 'Now, sir, how many cars have you got?' -- passed into quiet family myth.) That cars were intended not just for safe commuting but also for perilous voyage was endorsed by the Triumph's subtitle, and further by its illustrative hubcaps: at their centre was an emblematic boss depicting, in blue and red enamel, a Mercator projection of the globe.

Our first expedition was from suburban Middlesex to provincial France. At Newhaven we watched nervously as the Mayflower was slung by crane with routine insouciance over our heads and down into the ferry's hold. The metal RAC badge at the front was now matched by a metal GB plate at the rear. My mother drove; my father map-read and performed emergency hand-signals; my brother and I sat in the back and worried. Over the next few summers we would loop our way through different regions of France, mostly avoiding large cities and alwaysavoiding Paris. We would visit châteaux and churches, grottoes and museums, inducing in me a lifelong phobia for the guided tour. I was the official photographer, first in black-and-white (home processed), later in colour transparency. My parents tended to feature only when the viewfinder's vista seemed dull; then, remembering the dictates of Amateur Photographer, I would summon them to provide 'foreground interest'. We picnicked at lunchtime and towards five o'clock would start looking for a small hotel; the red Michelin was our missal. In those days, as soon as you left the Channel ports behind, the roads were empty of non-French cars; when you saw another GB coming in your direction, you would wave (though never, in our family, hoot).

That first, monstrous expedition into the exotic was a gentle tour of Normady. From Dieppe we drove to Cany-Barville, of which I remember only two things: a vast and watery soup pullulating with some non-British grain or pulse; and being sent out on my first foreign morning for the newspaper. Which one did they want? Oh, just get the local one, my father replied unhelpfully. I had the normal adolescent's self-consciousness -- that's to say, one that weighs like a stone-filled rucksack and feels of a different order to everyone else's. It was a heroic journey across the street and towards the shop, imperilled at every step by garlic-chewing low-lifes who drank red wine for breakfast and cut their bread - and youngsters' throats -- with pocket knives. 'Le journal de la région,' I repeated mantrically to myself, 'Le journal de la région, le journal de la région.' I no longer remember if I even uttered the words, or just flung my coins at some nicotined child-molester with a cry of 'Keep the change.' All I remember is the purity of my fear, the absoluteness of my embarrassment, and the lack of vivid praise from my parents on my safe return.

From Cany-Barville to Thury-Harcourt: did all French villages have such solemn hyphenation? None of that Something-upon-Whatsit, Thingummy-in-the-Tum-Tum. Cany-Barville, Thury-Harcourt: this was different, grave. Thereafter, my memories become slighter, more banal; perhaps not even memories, but half-forgotten impressions revived by photographs. A brown-beamed coaching inn, a rough-fleeced donkey in a rough-grassed park, my first squat French château with pepperpot towers (Combourg), my first soaring ditto (Josselin). Then first viewings of Chartres, the Bayeux Tapestry and Chateaubriand's aqueous tomb. On the tranquil roads we mingled with traffic of lustrous oddity. French cars were very unMayflowery: curved in the weirdest places, coloured according toa different palette, and often formidably eccentric — witness the Panhard. They had corrugated butchers' vans, Deux Chevaux with canvas stacker seats, Maigret Citroëns, and later the otherworldly DS, whose initials punned on divinity.

And then there was the formidable eccentricity of the food. Their butter was wanly unsalted, blood came out of their meat, and they would put anything, absolutely anything, into soup. They grew perfectly edible tomatoes and then doused them in foul vinaigrette; ditto lettuce, ditto carrots, ditto beetroot. Normally you could detect that foul vinaigrette had been slimed over the salad; but sometimes they fooled you by slurping it into the bottom of the bowl, so that when with hopeful heart you lifted a leaf from the top... Bread was good (but see butter); chips were good (but see meat); vegetables were unpredictable. What were those things that weren't proper runner beans but round, fat, overcooked, and — cold! There was pâté: forget it, anything could have gone into that; though not as anything as the anything that went into their gristly, warty saucissons, assembled from the disposings of an axe murderer. There was cheese. No, there were thousands of cheese, and I would eat only one of them — Gruyère. Fruit was reliable — not much they could do to ruin that; indeed, they grew very large and juicy red apples you could positively look forward to. They liked onions far too much. They brushed their teeth with garlic paste. They camouflaged quite edible meat and fish with sauces of dubious origin and name. Then there was wine, which bore a close resemblance to vinaigrette; and coffee, which I hated. Occasionally there would be a noxious, unassessable dish which explained all too well what you found and smelt behind the teak-stained door of les waters, where gigantic feet in knobbed porcelain awaited you, followed by a gigantic flush which drenched your turn-ups.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Julian Barnes
Editor and Translator of In the Land of Pain

Q: Charles Dickens called Alphonse Daudet “his little brother in France,” and Daudet's friends and contemporaries were Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola. Why has he become, as you call him in your introduction, “ a substantially forgotten writer nowadays,” and why is he important?
A: I think he was one of those writers, extremely popular in his day, whose work has most of its appeal to his contemporaries. Also, while he is a very good writer—novelist, playwright, journalist—he was, in the final judgment, less great than the three friends whose names you cite. He is still read—Letters from My Mill and the Tartarin books are always in print—but this vein of humorous Provencal fiction is only one side of him. The rest has more of less vanished. I think that's a bit unfair, thought I wouldn't claim that his collected works are full of forgotten masterpieces waiting to be resurrected. But In the Land of Pain—hitherto completely unknown outside France, and never before translated—is a work that falls outside any obvious category, and demands not rediscovery (since our predecessors didn't know it) but discovery.

Q:What drew you do Daudet and specifically his notes on his experience living and suffering with an incurable case of syphilis?
A: In about 1982/3 I was researching my novel Flaubert's Parrot, and came across a reference to this book with a strange title, La Doulou, in which Daudet wrote about his experiences as a tertiary syphilitic. Flaubert also had syphilis (but barely alluded to it), so I looked up the Daudet in auniversity library. I was immediately struck by its extraordinary truthfulness, lack of self-pity, precision and wry humour. In the old phrase, grace under pressure—extreme pressure. The book lodged in my mind and never really left. A couple of years ago I thought I ought to reread it, and wondered why it (still) hadn't been translated. (Well, because no one knew about it—I still haven't met anyone in England who's read it in French). So I thought I'd write one of those articles in a literary magazine saying ‘Why hasn't this small masterpiece been translated?' Then I thought, Do it yourself, matey. So I did.

Q: You also say in your introduction that if Daudet “dined in the highest company, he was also a member of a less enviable 19th century French club: that of literary syphilitics.”
What was the connection between syphilis and the literati of the time? Did other writers record their experiences?
A: A number of writers—Flaubert, Jules de Goncourt, Maupassant, Baudelaire—had syphilis; likewise others in the artistic field. But they were far from atypical; as Daudet's notes about the spas he visited in an attempt to cure his disease make plain, syphilis was common in all walks of life. We hear more about ‘artistic syphilis' because we are interested in the artist (and sometimes try to theorize about the extent to which their art is affected by the grim disease's presence in their lives); but of course for every famous writer who caught syphilis, there is usually an unfamous non-writer from whom he caught it. These we forget more easily. Few writers recorded their experiences—though Edmond de Goncourt recorded his brother Jules' suffering in his Journal. After Jules died, Edmond made a new best friend and surrogate brother in Alphonse Daudet—only to watch him go through the same terrible, inexorable suffering that he had witnessed already. Further, Daudet kept asking Goncourt about what Jules was going through at a similar stage, and measuring his progress—or regress—against that of his friend's dead brother. This generation of writers did look life, in all of its facets, full in the face.

Q: Which of Daudet's works are available in English, and what would you recommend to someone interested in reading more of his work?
A: I should imagine Letters from My Mill exists in English. But most of him is out of print. However, since he was translated and reprinted many time, the estimable abebooks.com will doubtless be able to supply anything. Sappho, The Evangelist, and Numa Roumestan are certainly worth investigating. But only after you've read In the Land of Pain, of course.

Q: What do you think Daudet's observations have to offer people suffering from chronic pain/disease today?
A: People don't die of tertiary syphilis any more in the developed world. And pain control is better nowadays. But obviously AIDS offers a parallel case—especially in its earliest, seemingly untreatable days. And diseases carrying death sentences are still with us. What is central and timeless about In the Land of Pain, what makes it speak to us directly and harrowingly, isn't the fact of syphilis but the more general encounter with pain: physical, moral, familial, social. Daudet's response to it, never boastful, never self-pitying, seems to me to be exemplary—though he would not have thought of himself as an example. I'd also say that what he has written is relevant to each of us, however young, healthy, and chaste we might be. To be born is to receive a life sentence of anything between zero and one hundred years. Daudet—when he learned that his condition could not be cured—received one of between five and fifteen years. So he faced, in a shorter period, what we all face in what we hope will be a longer one. As a courageous truth-teller who has gone before, he is worthy of our attention—and our honouring.
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