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August 21st, 2014 • Posted in Lourdes

Enough to make one pause

Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), the daughter of a miller, didn’t write, but will probably be written about for centuries to come. Lourdes is the leading place of pilgrimage for Catholics around the world.

The earliest writing about her of any literary merit is probably Emile Zola’s Lourdes, written in 1874. After the usual practice of meticulous observation Zola arrived at the conclusion that everyone in this pristine mountainous region was likely to see visions!

Huysmans wrote a book called The Crowds of Lourdes. Late in his life,Huysmans visited Lourdes. As a fairly recent Catholic convert, he was drawn by the area’s spirituality, while at the same time repulsed by the way Bernadette’s vision had been commercialized. The book records his time in Lourdes, his visits with doctors who verified miracles, his watching the pilgrims immerse themselves in the water and his reflections on the theology of suffering. In 1903 one Dr. Alexis Carrel wrote an account of his visit to Lourdes, in which he describes having seen a miraculous cure. It wasn’t published until 1949, well after his death. 

Despite all of the souvenir selling, which is likely to disgust the Literary Tourist, believer or not, the plethora of ‘miracles’ having occurred in the place is at least enough to make one pause. 

August 21st, 2014 • Posted in Paris

Eiffel Tower really too boring

During the time of its construction in the 1880s, three hundred writers and artists signed a petition written in pompous prose condemning this ‘hateful column of sheet metal’; they were certain it would destroy the reputation of French taste. Signatories included J.K. Huysmans, Guy de Mauspassant, Leconte de Lisle and Sully-Prudhomme.

According to the chansonniers of the time, the poets were upset because they couldn’t find a word to rhyme with ‘Eiffel’.

Over time, many of the signatories came to admire the tower, but not Maupassant; “I have left Paris,” he wrote, “for the Eiffel Tower was really to boring in the end.”

August 19th, 2014 • Posted in Dublin

Video: Jonathan Swift at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

August 16th, 2014 • Posted in Reading

Rescue Reading Gaol!


On 4 September 2013, it was announced that HM Prison Reading would close by the end of that year; the prison formally closed in November.

There have been calls for the prison building to be preserved as a tourist attraction, and Reading Council have confirmed that they intend to retain the complex.  In June it was proposed that the site be converted into a theatre venue.  Future use is still undecided, however it emerged in July that the closed prison is costing the Ministry of Justice £20,000 a month to maintain.

Here’s the constantly amazing Wikipedia on the prison’s most famous inmate:

Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville Prison and then Wandsworth Prison in London. Inmates followed a regimen of “hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed”, which wore very harshly on Wilde, accustomed as he was to many creature comforts.[138] His health declined sharply, and in November he collapsed during chapel from illness and hunger. His right ear drum was ruptured in the fall, an injury that later contributed to his death.[139][140] He spent two months in the infirmary.[139][141]

Richard B. Haldane, the Liberal MP and reformer, visited him and had him transferred in November toReading Prison, 30 miles (48 km) west of London.[142] The transfer itself was the lowest point of his incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at him on the railway platform.[139] Now known as prisoner C. 3.3 he was not, at first, even allowed paper and pen but Haldane eventually succeeded in allowing access to books and writing materials.[143] Wilde requested, among others: the Bible in French, Italian and German grammars, some Ancient Greek texts, Dante‘s Divine ComedyJoris-Karl Huysmans‘s new French novel about Christian redemption En Route, and essays by St AugustineCardinal Newman and Walter Pater.[144]

Between January and March 1897 Wilde wrote a 50,000-word letter to Lord Alfred (‘Bosie’) Douglas, which he was not allowed to send, but was permitted to take with him upon release.[145] In reflective mode, Wilde coldly examines his career to date, how he had been a colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society, his art, like his paradoxes, seeking to subvert as well as sparkle. His own estimation of himself was: one who “stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age”.[146] It was from these heights that his life with Douglas began, and Wilde examines that particularly closely, repudiating him for what Wilde finally sees as his arrogance and vanity: he had not forgotten Douglas’s remark, when he was ill, “When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting.”[147] Wilde blamed himself, though, for the ethical degradation of character that he allowed Douglas to bring about in him and took responsibility for his own fall, “I am here for having tried to put your father in prison.”[113] The first half concludes with Wilde forgiving Douglas, for his own sake as much as Douglas’s. The second half of the letter traces Wilde’s spiritual journey of redemption and fulfilment through his prison reading. He realised that his ordeal had filled his soul with the fruit of experience, however bitter it tasted at the time.”

It’s time to turn the gaol into a literary tourist destination!

August 14th, 2014 • Posted in Geneva

Princess Brouhaha – my kind of woman

Partly because he was a political refugee, Eugene Sue, famed author of The Wandering Jew  and The Mysteries of Paris came to Geneva in 1854 to live at 6 Place de la Taconnerie. With him was a young woman, Marie de Solms (born Marie Bonaparte-Wyse in Waterford, Ireland of all places) with whom he’d fallen ass over tea kettle in love. According to Jean-Daniel Candaux in A Guide to Literary Europe, she was known as ‘Princess Brouhaha,’ and Napoleon III had banished her from France for her ‘notorious misconduct.’

Dig a little deeper, and Wikipedia unearths this delicious piece of dirt: 

In the early 1850s Marie had an affair with Count Alexis de Pommereu that produced a son in 1852. In February 1853, French authorities ordered her expulsion from the Empire, after accusations that she…illegally bore the name Bonaparte and had stirred up “scandalous disorders”. There were however reports that Emperor Napoleon III had secretly paid his beautiful young cousin a number of visits, that the jealous Empress Eugenie had learned of the visits and told her husband that Marie maintained a salon of subversives, and that he had thereafter ordered her expulsion.

In August 1853 Marie settled at Aix-les-Bains in Savoy, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, where her lover (Pommereu) built her a chalet that soon became the center of a new literary salon. She went often to Turin, the kingdom’s capital, where she established yet another salon at the Hôtel Feder. She maintained friendships with Hugo, the aforementioned Sue, Dumas and others, including Lajos Kossuth, Alphonse de Lamartine, Félicité Robert de Lamennais, Henri Rochefort, Tony Revillon, and the United States minister to Sardinia, John Moncure Daniel.


She was an early woman journalist, and through Sainte-Beuve, [she]contributed to Le Constitutionnel under the pen name “Baron de Stock”. She also wrote for the Pays and the Turf. After Savoy was annexed to France (1860) as another part of the agreement between Napoleon III and Cavour, Marie went back to Paris where she played a prominent [role] in the literary and social [life] of the [day]. She gathered in her salon men of all shades of opinion. In 1863, her husband having died, she remarried the Piedmontese statesman Urbano Rattazzi, and lived with him in Italy where she was known as “Divina Fanciulla”. After his death in June 1873, Madame Rattazzi returned to Paris, and a few months later married her Spanish friend, under-secretary Don Luis de Rute y Ginez (1844–89), whom she also outlived. Marie died a widow in 1902 in Paris.

In 1881 she edited Rattazzi et son Temps, and in the last years of her life she published two volumes of her own memoirs, and edited and significantly contributed to the Nouvelle Revue Internationale.

Now that’s, as they say, my kind of woman. 

August 12th, 2014 • Posted in Louvain

Did you Know?

Today’s Louvain Univeristy Library Michielverbeek

The city of Louvain is home to the oldest university in Belgium, founded in 1425 by the Duke of Brabant, John IV. It was here that the original version of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia was first published, in 1516, and seen through the press by Erasmus, a friend of the great English martyr/philosopher. 


August 11th, 2014 • Posted in London, England

Second Orwell Society Walk in central London 27th September 2014

This from the Orwell Society:

I am pleased to announce that Orwell Society member Michael King, who is an experienced guide for tours on a number of Authors including of course, George Orwell, has offered to lead a tour in central London for Society Members at 11am on Saturday 27th September. It is not possible to include a walk encompassing all the areas he is well known for having frequented because the distances are just too long, for example between Hampstead, Canonbury Square and Lambeth.

Michael says:

George Orwell spent a considerable period of time, especially in the 1940s, living and working in London. We will explore some places, mainly in the Fitzrovia and Soho areas of London, which feature in both his life and writings. There are several restaurants where he dined and pubs which he drank in and used for scenes in his novels. Also we will see the site of The Chestnut Tree Café from Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as the former offices of the Adelphi magazine which published his early essays, and which also features in a scene in Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Other sites include the building which inspired the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen-Eighty Four and the offices of Faber and Faber, the publishers for whom T. S. Eliot rejected the manuscript of Animal Farm, as well as the flat of Sonia Brownell, that was also used in Nineteen Eight-Four. Finally we will see the wing of University College Hospital, where George Orwell died in 1950.

There are numerous places en route and also at the end of the walk for refreshments, both liquid and food. The walk will last about two and a half hours.

Key Walk details

- Meet outside Goodge Street Station at 11am.
- Cost: £10 per person, including a contribution to The Orwell Society.
- If you would like to join us, please email me Quentin Kopp at by September 13th.

August 11th, 2014 • Posted in Brussels

The Price was Right in Brussels

Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler

During the 19th and early 20th century, few European cities were as popular among British and French writers as Brussels. Comfortable and lively, it had the distinct advantage of being very attractively priced – cheap in other words. Southey, Dickens, Baudelaire, Byron and Sir Walter Scott among many others, were regular visitors. Victor Hugo stayed here during the early months of his exile from France in 1851 when the Second Empire was founded.

In 1816 Byron stayed with friends at a fashionable hotel near the Palais Royal. One hundred and eight years later in 1924 a commemorative plaque was placed on the building, at No 51 rue Ducale, stating that it was here that he composed the Third Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage  which describes the battle of Waterloo. Byron also wrote about the famous Waterloo ball, as did Thackeray, Thomas Hardy and many others; it was held close by at No. 33 rue Ducale.

Judging from Byron’s case, proximity clearly does matter when it  comes not only to literary tourism, but to creativity itself. The Waterloo battlefield is located in Belgium, about 15 km (9 miles) south of Brussels. Here’s some of the Third Canto:

And Harold stands upon this place of skulls, 
The grave of France, the deadly Waterloo; 
How in an hour the power which gave annuls 
Its gifts, transferring fame as fleeting too! 
In `pride of place’ here last the eagle flew, 
Then tore with bloody talon the rent plain, 
Pierced by the shaft of banded nations through; 160 
Ambition’s life and labours all were vain; 
He wears the shatter’d links of the world’s broken chain. 
Fit retribution! Gaul may champ the bit And foam in fetters; 
– but is Earth more free? 
Did nations combat to make One submit; 
Or league to teach all kings true sovereignty? 
What! shall reviving Thraldom again be 
The patch’d-up idol of enlighten’d days? 
Shall we, who struck the Lion down, shall we 
Pay the Wolf homage? proffering lowly gaze 170 
And servile knees to thrones? 
No; prove before ye praise! 
If not, o’er one fallen despot boast no more! 
In vain fair cheeks were furrow’d with hot tears 
For Europe’s flowers long rooted up before 
The trampler of her vineyards; in vain years 
Of death, depopulation, bondage, fears, 
Have all been borne, and broken by the accord 
Of roused-up millions: all that most endears 
Glory, is when the myrtle wreathes a sword 
Such as Harmodius drew on Athens’ tyrant lord. 180 
There was a sound of revelry by night, 
And Belgium’s capital had gather’d then 
Her Beauty and her Chivalry, and bright 
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men; 
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when 
Music arose with its voluptuous swell, 
Soft eyes look’d love to eyes which spake again, 
And all went merry as a marriage-bell; 
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell! 
Did ye not hear it? — No; ’twas but the wind 190 
Or the car rattling o’er the stony street; 
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined; 
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet 
To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet – 
But, hark! — that heavy sound breaks in once more 
As if the clouds its echo would repeat; 
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before! 
Arm! Arm! it is — it is — the cannon’s opening roar! 
Within a window’d niche of that high hall 
Sate Brunswick’s fated chieftain; he did hear 200
That sound the first amidst the festival, 
And caught its tone with Death’s prophetic ear; 
And when they smiled because he deem’d it near, 
His heart more truly knew that peal too well 
Which stretch’d his father on a bloody bier, 
And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell: 
He rush’d into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell. 
Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress, 
And cheeks all pale, which but an hour ago 210 
Blush’d at the praise of their loveliness; 
And there were sudden partings, such as press 
The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs 
Which ne’er might be repeated; who could guess 
If ever more should meet those mutual eyes, 
Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise! 
And there was mounting in hot haste: the steed, 
The mustering squadron, and the clattering car, 
Went pouring forward with impetuous speed, 
And swiftly forming in the ranks of war; 220 
And the deep thunder peal on peal afar; 
And near, the beat of the alarming drum 
Roused up the soldier ere the morning star; 
While throng’d the citizens with terror dumb, 
Or whispering, with white lips — `the foe! they come! they come!’

August 10th, 2014 • Posted in Antwerp

Printing museum escapes destruction

File:Library of Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp.jpg

Founded in the 16 century by Christophe Plantin and, after his death, owned by his son-in-law Jan Moretus, the Plantin Moretus Printing company was sold to the city of Antwerp in 1876.  Within a year  the public was able to visit the living areas and the printing presses. In 2002 the Plantin-Moretus museum was nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2005 was inscribed onto the World Heritage list.

The  Museum has an exceptional collection of typographical material, the two oldest surviving printing presses in the world, many sets of dies and matrices, and an extensive library. All sorts of typographic masterpieces originated here, including the Biblia Regia, the Bibla Polyglotta and Ortelius’s atlases. 

By some miracle the museum, located only feet from the river, twice escaped destruction.  First during the Spanish invasion of 1576, second in 1945 when V1  bomb exploded outside the building. It should be mentioned that during the autumn of 1914 the Brits dispatched troops to protect Antwerp, among them were volunteers including Rupert Brooke, Douglas Jerrold and Charles Morgan. Ford Modox Ford published a poem entitled Antwerp in 1915. You can read it here.




August 9th, 2014 • Posted in Vienna

New literary museum to open in Vienna in 2015

Vienna will finally get a museum of literature in 2015 to be located in the former k.k.Hofkammerarchiv at Johannesgasse 6. Austria is rich in  authors, poets and playwrights, and, while there are already memorials and literary showrooms in the National Library, at the new Literary Museum will present Austrian literature  in a historic literary place.  

The highlight of the new museum will be the study of Franz Grillparzer, one of the most important Austrian writers of the 19th century. Grillparzer was Director of the Hofkammerarchiv from 1832 – 1859  whose time was split between performing the duties of a k.k. Financial officer and his literary mission. Here you’ll see the standing desk where he wrote many of his works.  Spanning the centuries from the time of Joseph the Second  til today, the museum will present not only books, manuscripts, letters and photos but also unusual objects such as the wig that Egon Friedell wore for his Goethe sketch,  the walking sticks of Peter Handke…and of course, the aforementioned  Grillparzer study.