Anatole France (born François-Anatole Thibault) was born in Paris on 16 April 1844 and became a French poet, journalist, and novelist. Ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters. He was a member of the Académie Francaise and in 1921 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in recognition of his literary achievements.
France is also widely believed to be the model for narrator Marcel’s literary idol Bergotte in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
The son of a bookseller, France spent most of his life around books. His father’s bookstore, called the Librairie France, specialized in books and papers on the French Revolution and was frequented by many notable writers and scholars of the day.
France took an important part in the Dreyfus Affair. He signed Emile Zola’s manifesto supporting Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer who had been falsely convicted of espionage. France wrote about the affair in his 1901 novel Monsieur Bergeret.
In 1922 France’s entire works were put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Prohibited Books Index) of the Roman Catholic Church. He regarded this as a “distinction”. This Index was abolished in 1966.
On 11 October 1924, after visiting The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon, Anatole France died. He is buried in the Neuilly-sur Seine cemetery near Paris.
After his death France was the object of written attacks, including a particularly venomous one from the Nazi collaborator, Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, and detractors decided he was a vulgar and derivative writer. However, the English writer George Orwell was an admirer and defended him, declaring that he remained very readable, and that “it is unquestionable that he was attacked partly from political motives”.
Sixth most requested poem on Radio 4’s Poetry Please is Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. I tend to think of Arnold as a rather fusty Victorian, but this poem is modern in its tone and it reverberates in the mind with a tangible sadness. You can find a bargain price edition of Dover Beach and Other Poems at The Glass Key in Montmorillon.
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Seventh most requested poem on Radio 4’s Poetry Please is Sonnet CXVI: Let me not to the Marriage of True Minds by William Shakespeare – or perhaps, as James Joyce would have it, William Rutlandbaconsouthamptonshakespeare (or some other poet by the same name). You can, of course, buy the sonnets, or the complete works of Shakespeare at The Glass Key in Montmorillon.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
I would like to take this opportunity to make mention of the website of the Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org) where you can find not only the text of all ten of the chosen poems, but a splendidly wide range of poems all available to you on-line. You can, of course, find a great selection of poetry books at The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon.
Eighth in the series of most requested poems for the Poetry Please programme on Radio 4 is The Listeners by Walter de la Mare:
‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head: –
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
It is 95 years to the day since the aviator and fighter pilot Roland Garros was shot down from the skies above Montmorillon in France. Garros was born in Réunion in 1888 and started his aviation career in 1909. By 1911 he had graduated to flying Blériot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of machine, including the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race and the Circuit of Europe (Paris-London-Paris), in which he came second. In September he established a new world altitude record of 5,610 m (18,410 ft). In 1913 he gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia. The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of World War I.
Garros distinguished himself by achieving the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller. In 1915 Garros crash landed behind the German lines and he became a prisoner of war. He finally managed to escape from a POW camp in Germany in February 1918, after several attempts, and rejoined the French army. In late September 1918 he visited Montmorillon whilst on leave and purchased a book on real tennis from The Glass Key bookshop. On 5 October 1918 he was shot down and killed a month before the end of the war and one day before his 30th birthday.
Robert Greene (baptized 11 July 1558, died 3 September 1592) was an English author popular in his day, and now best known for a posthumous pamphlet attributed to him, Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance. The pamphlet is most famous for a passage which appears to allude to William Shakespeare, who was then starting out on his career as an actor and playwright.
Greene is said to have been born in Norwich. He attended Cambridge, receiving a B.A. in 1580, and an M.A. in 1583 before moving to London, where he arguably became the first professional author in England.
Greene published in many genres including romances, plays and autobiography. In 1592 he visited Montmorillon in France where he is known to have called at the Glass Key bookshop. He died in Montmorillon ‘of a surfeit of pickle herring and Rhenish wine’ according to Gabriel Harvey who announced his death in a letter to Christopher Bird dated 5 September.
Greene’s colourful and irresponsible character has led some to speculate that he may have served as the model for Shakespeare’s Falstaff.