Happy Bastille Day!

There’s more to France than prison breaks and revolutions. Some recent French books from NYRB Classics:

Henri Duchemin and His Shadows by Emmanuel Bove, translated by Alyson Waters:

   “You must be bored, Monsieur.”
   “Oh, I am, but don’t be offended. If you knew how I’m suffering. I’d like so much to open my heart. I’m a stranger in your eyes. Be patient. I shall teach you the story of my life. It’s a very sad story.”
   He was so happy to be speaking that he seemed younger. He was sure he would be liked and this gave him confidence. He was about to go on when the woman burst out laughing:
    “Don’t be ridiculous. If you’re so unhappy, just kill yourself.”

Fear: A Novel of World War I by Gabriel Chevalier, translated by Malcolm Imrie

   We were shaken out of this torpor by a world in flames. We had just marched over the crest of a hill, and suddenly there before us lay the front line, roaring with all its mouths of fire, blazing like some infernal factory where monstrous crucibles melted human flesh into a bloody lava. We shuddered at the thought that we were nothing but more coal to be shovelled into the furnace, that were soldiers down there fighting against the storm of steel, the red hurricane that burned the sky and shook the earth to its foundations.

“Reply to Albert Camus” from We Have Only This Life to Live: The Selected Essays of Jean-Paul Sartre 1939-1975, translated by Chris Turner:

   We are on a journey, we have to choose: the project brings its own enlightenment and gives the situation its meaning, but, by the same token, it is merely one particular way of transcending that situation—of understanding it. Our project is ourselves: in the light of it, our relation to the world becomes clearer; the goals and the tools appear that reflect back to us both the world’s hostility and our own aim.

And some poetry

Sonnet 7 from Louis Labé’s Love Sonnets & Elegies, translated by Richard Sieburth

All living things are seen to die
When body & subtle soul break apart:
I am the body, you my better part:
Where are you gone, my soul, my true ally?

Don’t abandon me here, an unsouled wreck.
You’d come back to save me? It’s far too late.
Don’t expose your body to such a fate:
Give it back its half that inspired respect.

But promise, Friend, that when we meet again,
Love shall no longer prove to be or bane:
Let the encounter be not hard on me,

Treat me kindly: be ever so gentle,
Remind me again of all your beauty, 
Once so cruel to me, now so simple.

“Goodbye” by Pierre Reverdy, translated by Geoffrey O’Brien

        The glow farther than the head
                                       The heart’s leap
On the slope where the air rolls its voice
                       the spoke of the wheel
                       the sun in the rut

                       At the crossroads
                       near the hill
                                     a prayer
A few words unheard
                  Closer to the sky
         And in his footsteps
                              the last square of light

Image: Isaac Cruikshank, The genius of France extirpating despotism tyranny & oppression from the face of the earth, Or the royal warriors defeated, 1792. via, Library of Congress. Hi-res here.

The Gradual Abolition Off The Slave Trade. or Leaving Of Sugar By Degrees, by Isaac Cruikshank, published by S. W. Fores, 1792.

Modernist says: “A satirical print which lampoons William Wilberforce’s failed second petition to parliament to abolish the slave trade and the compromise by Home Secretary Henry Dundas for "gradual abolition”, intended to delay abolition indefinitely. The process of abolition is compared to weening off sugar in tea. From the point of view of the reader, King George III and Queen Charlotte are opposite. Mrs Schwellenburg, the Keeper of the Robes is to the Queen’s left, two princesses, Elizabeth and Charlotte, are to the King’s right.

Each character describes their own level of indulgence for sweetener in varyingly mawkish ways. Elizabeth claims “I cant leave of a good thing so soon, I am sure of late I have been very moderate, but I must have a bit now & then." while George states ”Poo Poo Poo, leave it off at once, you know I have never Drank any since I was married Lizie.“ Charlotte however distances herself entirely from the indulgence, tearfully proclaiming ”for my Part I’d rather Want alltogether than have a small Peice.

The Queen is the most heavily caricatured, she holds scales reminiscent of guinea measuring scales and places more and more sugar cubes upon them. She cackles to Mrs Schwallenburg ”Now my Dear’s only an ickle Bit, do but tink on de Negro girl dat Captain Kimber treated so cruelly ha, Madam Swelly & Rum too.“ who replies ”Oh to be sure I was taken but an ickle at a time, an ickle and often you know & as for de Rum I dont care about it. good Coniac will make shift aha!!

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Vauxhall, 1813

A satirical illustration by Cruikshank entitled ‘Vauxhall Fete’ celebrating the achievements of Wellington.

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens was a popular 'Theme Park’ for London for two hundred years from the middle of the 17th century.

The collaboration of Jonathan Tyers, the owner and the painter William Hogarth contributed to its success following its reopening in June 1732, gaining it popularity with the aristocracy and royalty of the day.

Hand tinted print of an engraving by Cruikshank, published by Town Talk, 1st August 1813.

Covering 12 acres of tree lined walks and supper-boxes, performances included fireworks displays, concerts, ballets and masquerades.

Before 1750 the only access was via the river and Vauxhall Stairs.

It started to decline in popularity from the 1830s and opened for the last time in July 1859. The site was subsequently developed for housing and is now marked by Tyers Street and Spring Gardens.

(via Ideal Homes: A History of London’s South-East Suburbs)