Lesley Blanch Archive | Istanbul, “the eye, the tongue, the light of the Orient”

Lesley Blanch (1904-2007), a Londoner by birth, spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly. She was an astute observer of places and people; their quirks, habits and passions. This article about Istanbul in Turkey, which she loved, was found among her papers. It was written some time in 1954-5.

Although so many conquerors have eyed Istanbul longingly, it has, oddly enough, never really attracted that more modest stratum of humanity, the tourist, until today. Now with that inexplicable urge which makes fashion, it has suddenly become the lodestar of the adventurous, “To the walls of Constantinople!” once the Crusaders’ cry, might now be theirs. Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Istanbul, “the eye, the tongue, the light of the Orient”

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

BookBlast® @bookblast presents the first of its monthly Top 10 reads, showcasing the internationalist diversity of indie publishers. There’s something for everyone – enjoy!

FANTASY & SHAMANISM

Lin Man-Chiu | The Ventriloquist’s Daughter (trs. Helen Wang) | Young adult fiction, Balestier Press ISBN 1911221050 buy here | Review, Global Literature in Libraries Initiative | @BalestierPress @HelenWangLondon

Move over Hollywood and all those creepy doll horror movies! This sours-weet story is compellingly weird and shamanic. When Luir’s mother dies, her father, a thwarted artist working as a doctor in the family hospital, is overcome with grief. He goes abroad to study and promises he will bring home a doll for his six-year-old daughter, Luir, who is left in the care of her grandparents. But the doll brought home from Peru by daddy is a menacing presence in the house, causing strife within the family.

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter was longlisted for the 2014 Found in Translation Award.

TARANTINO ON THE PAGE

Quentin Mouron | Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine (trs. Donald Wilson) | Crime fiction, Bitter Lemon Press ISBN 1908524836 buy here | Review, Crime Time | @bitterlemonpub @QuentinMouron1

This fast-paced and entertaining thriller is cocaine-fuelled Tarantino on the page. “Gomez lifts the top of the sheet. McCarthy is dumbfounded. He has seen dead bodies in Watertown before – the tragic residue of drunken brawls outside bars or nightclubs, victims of muggings committed by drug-starved addicts or illegals awaiting deportation; he has also had to deal with the settling of scores between motorcycle gangs; he even saw the lifeless corpse of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, before the Feds took it away. Bodies with their throats cut like Jimmy’s aren’t rare. Yet this is the first time he has been confronted with a corpse with the eyes slashed, the tongue cut out, and the cheeks gashed up to the ears.”

Swiss poet, novelist and journalist, Quentin Mouron won the prix Alpes-Jura for his novel Au point d’effusion des égouts in 2011.

Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

Media Release | The Bohemian Life of Lesley Blanch | Waterstones, Piccadilly, London W1

Join us for an evening celebrating Trailblazing Women of the 20th Century @WaterstonesPicc on publication of the Virago paperback of Lesley Blanch’s posthumous memoirs, On The Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life.

Georgia de Chamberet & Anne Sebba will discuss the bohemian life of Lesley Blanch at Waterstones, Piccadilly, London W1, Thursday 12 January, 7pm.

This event is free, but please reserve your place by email:  piccadilly@waterstones.com

Editor, translator and literary consultant, Georgia de Chamberet founded BookBlast™ writing agency in 1997. She is Lesley Blanch’s god-daughter.

Daily Telegraph: This volume, edited with affection and grace by de Chamberet, is a deliciously readable monument to a writer who combined a steely resilience and capacity for hard work with an elegant frivolity and a voracious appetite for love, beauty and adventure.

Continue reading Media Release | The Bohemian Life of Lesley Blanch | Waterstones, Piccadilly, London W1

Lesley Blanch Archive | Seaworthy and Semi-seagoing, British Vogue, 1943

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

This is the story of The Women ― today, as Clare Boothe Luce never imagined them yesterday. An all-star, all-women cast, it’s true, but there the resemblance ceases. These women are playing their parts in a world drama, but they remain limelight dodgers. And the scene is no demi-paradise of beauty parlours but the wild hills and lochs of Western Scotland.

Here, in pitching little boats, cutting through the mists and gales, on the big depot ship, swarming up and down plunging rope ladders, balanced, cat-like, to walk along the perilous jutting booms, picked Wrens undergo their boats-crew training. Or work as visual signallers, or service the torpedoes and depth charges aboard the motor torpedo boats and corvettes in the clanging uproar and grime of the Naval bases. One and all disprove the old wives’ or rather the old-fashioned husbands’ tale that woman’s place is the home, that women can’t get on together.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Seaworthy and Semi-seagoing, British Vogue, 1943

Spotlight | Sex in the nineteenth-century city | Paris, London and the demi-monde

In his planning notes for Nana, the character of which was based on four notorious, pampered prostitutes, Zola describes his novel as being about “a whole society chasing after sex. A pack of hounds following a bitch . . .  The poem of male desire.*”  Nana rises from being a streetwalker to high-class cocotte; her golden tresses and “deadly smile of the man-eater” holding Le Tout Paris in thrall. Zola’s descriptions of her delirious expenditure, rising debts and magnificent, glitzy Hotel Particulier, “which seemed to have been built over an abyss that swallowed up men — along with their worldly possessions, their fortunes, their very names — without leaving even a handful of dust behind them,” foreshadow her vile death rotting in a state of stinking pustulence from smallpox during the last years of the French Second Empire. When it was published the novel was an instant hit, selling nearly 55,000 copies.

In his study of prostitution in Paris published in 1842 — Streetwalkers, Lorettes and Courtesans (Filles, Lorettes et Courtisanes) — Alexandre Dumas shows how going to work on the streets near La Bourse or rue Saint Honoré; on the Grands Boulevards; or in a brothel was more profitable for a lower-class girl than factory work, or shoplifting. Many sold themselves to support their families. Others were servants sacked by their employers, or arrived in the big city from the country having fallen pregnant.
Continue reading Spotlight | Sex in the nineteenth-century city | Paris, London and the demi-monde

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) influenced and inspired generations of writers, readers and critics. Her lifelong passion was for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. At heart a nomad, she spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly.
She left England in 1946, never to return, except as a visitor. Her marriage to Romain Gary, the French novelist and diplomat, afforded her many years of happy wanderings. After their divorce, in 1963, Blanch was seldom at her Paris home longer than to repack.
Her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life are published by Virago, Little Brown.

Where would you like to live?
It must be a warm country. If I really want to be coldly factual I must try to live where I can be looked after, but that’s a very dull answer only come on me now when I’m approaching one hundred. I should like to live in the Levant, somewhere in a Moslem country; the Moslems respect age. I loved Afghanistan passionately, but not the way it is now. I read, over and over again, the place names, just to get back there.

What is your idea of happiness on earth?
I want a garden and animal companionship and music.

What faults do you find most forgivable?
Temper. Rudeness. I forgive them very quickly. I don’t bear much malice because I’m too bored with it. Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Spotlight | The Russians are Coming? They’re already here! | G de Chamberet

Russia: friend or frenemy? The Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s direct military involvement in the Syrian Civil War are generally reported with an anti-Russian bias. Britain’s phobia has its roots in the 19th century and fear of Russia’s rising power. Today, still, Russia asserting its national interests is presented as an act of blatant aggression. A Cold War mentality lives on. Yet Western militaristic aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are portrayed as noble moral endeavours, bringing democracy to the unenlightened.

Colin Thubron opens Among the Russians (Picador 1995) with the words: “I had been afraid of Russia ever since I could remember. When I was a boy its mass dominated the map which covered the classroom wall; it was tinted a wan green, I recall, and was distorted by Mercator’s projection so that its tundras suffocated half the world.” Continue reading Spotlight | The Russians are Coming? They’re already here! | G de Chamberet

Spotlight | The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch @MsRachelCooke

The stereotypical view of the fifties woman is reflected in vintage postcards on sale at stalls in Portobello Market, featuring colourful ads for hoovers, OMO, ‘Empire’ baby pants, or Kenwood chef food processors alongside an immaculately dressed housewife with perfect hair and varnished nails beaming a pillarbox-red lipsticked smile as she does the chores.

Rachel Cooke’s book, Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, flies in the face of the clichéd view of the fifties housewife stuck at home ― an appendage to her husband. It may have been the case in American suburbia of the time, but in Britain women had got through the war without their husbands, brothers or fathers. Some had joined the ATS, or WAAF, or WRNS and drove ambulances, or worked in a government ministry. Others ended up at Bletchley Park. When Elisa Segrave came upon her late mother’s diaries, she discovered that her mother had excelled at her work as an indexer in Hut 3, then in Hut 3N, at Bletchley Park, from 1941-43; and was promoted to 4th Naval Duty Officer during Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa. She had several jobs in Bomber Command and later saw its effects in the ruined towns of Germany where she had her last job in the WAAF. On her days off she travelled in a weapon carrier with her American boyfriend. The Girl From Station X is an illuminating read.

The war had a liberating effect: women were hardly about to exchange their newfound freedom in peacetime for baking cakes and a life cushioned by nappies. Cooke stressed how the old and the new were pulling against each other in fifties Britain, which was on the cusp of modernity ― heralding the sixties. Women were expected to settle down, marry and have kids, yet having had a taste of freedom,  they wanted to do their own thing and be independent. The way women today juggle home and career and feel guilty about it was not the case then, when women just went for it and did not consider the consequences. The term ‘latchkey kid’ dates from the fifties. Continue reading Spotlight | The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch @MsRachelCooke

Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

Born in France, Pierre Loti loved the East. No one could understand his desire to exchange the greyness of France for ‘the far horizons of a sailor’s life’ better than Lesley Blanch, author of such celebrated evocations of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia as The Wilder Shores of Love, The Sabres of Paradise and Journey into the Mind’s Eye. In this haunting biography she shows herself a sympathetic historian, consulting manuscript letters and diaries as well as Loti’s innumerable publications. Her book is a labour of love, an enquiry into a very complex man, as well as one brilliant escapist writing about another. Who, then, was Pierre Loti?

Loti-Viaud
Loti in yet another change of costume. Syrian or Algerian, the bedouin or the Effendi … all were escapes into another life.

Loti was born in 1850 as Julien Viaud, son of a respectable Protestant family living in the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic Ocean. His father was an official in the Mairie. In 1867 he entered the French navy, in which he would continue to serve until 1910. This extremely unconventional man proved a good officer. Most of his superiors appreciated his ‘agreeable character, very good education’, and later his literary fame, though some fellow officers noticed a cold manner.

The French navy was sufficiently broad-minded to employ an officer who wore rouge, dyed his hair and adopted disguises. More unsettling even than dressing as an acrobat, a Turk or a Bedu, Loti often wore the uniform of a rating rather than an officer. Moreover his friendships with handsome sailors, (Julien, Leo, Samuel, many others}, which such clothes facilitated, were no secret. As his daughter-in-law told Lesley Blanch: ‘Loti loved both men and women passionately and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that too.’

Continue reading Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch Archive | Panto

Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Quartet, 9780704374348, hb illus £25, 1 June 2017)
On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Virago, 9780349005461, pb illus £10.99, 12 January 2017)

It’s always On the Road to the Middle of Next Week: unless it’s Nowhere in Particular, with Past Events casting their Shadows before. It’s the Enchanted Cavern, the Flying Palace, the Wicked Wood, the Widow Twankey’s Kitchen, or the Fairies’ Home in the Heart of the Rose . . . It’s the Pork-Butcher’s Shop, It’s the Magic Transformation Scene, It’s the Harlequinade — in short, it’s the Christmas Pantomime.

And how we dote on every frantic antic; every time-honoured traditional rumbustious caper. This is our show, as national as a Union Jack. What do we care for progress or probability? We have always liked to see the broker’s men smashing up the Throne Room of the Golden Palace. We still like to see Dame Suet, in elastic-sided boots, at the Ball. Or the Widow Twankey, in emeralds and ermine, (after her boy Aladdin struck it lucky), yet still washing out his pants with maternal zeal and mountains of soap suds. We shall always want our Principal Boy to be a buxom blonde with plenty to her. We don’t care if she and her hips are forty, and look it. She’s Prince Charming to us. We love the pneumatic glossy curves of her tights. We wait for the moment when she’s slain the Dragon of Wantage, armed only with ostrich plumes and a top B flat, and comes downstage to give us a fruity rendering of “Half a Pint of Mild and Bitter”.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Panto