Wednesday 31 August 2011

Circle of life: The professor, the painter, the musician and me

Yet another of life’s mysterious circles. My life always seems to abound in connections and coincidences, and here is the latest. My New York publishers (rather rashly) sent a review copy of The Lantern to the eminent author, art historian and literary critic Mary Ann Caws, who is currently Distinguished Professor of English, French and Comparative Literature at the Graduate School of City University in New York.

Well, not only did she like it, but I am honoured and delighted that she wrote the following review which generously highlights points of comparison between her work as a translator and summer life in Provence, and Eve’s story in the novel. She also asked me a few questions, and posted the interview on her blog, New York, Provence, Poetry (click here).

It turns out that she too knows the artist Julian Merrow-Smith, whose marvellous, luminous paintings have often adorned these pages, and his wife Ruth Phillips, the ‘cellist and writer. So, as I never need much excuse to include a Merrow-Smith picture and direct you to his Shifting Light daily painting blog (click here), the illustrations on this post are from his recent archive: High Lavender and Lavender Field in the Drôme.

Here is Mary Ann’s review:

"I have just finished an advance copy of Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern, about the Luberon and Cassis, near me in my summers and both etched in my mind and writings -- and the too-good-to-be-trueness of a relationship -- and essentially about the haunting of a place and a self by a memory, or several. Living my summers, as I do, in a It Had To Be Fixed house, that is, my cabanon that has seen 300 years of life, and death, and horses and peasants and, now, us, every page spoke to me of much. The descriptions are, each one, themselves a haunting -- the smell of lavender and of almond biscuits, the taste of the various winds in their howling and their gentleness, the sight of the squirrel-like loirs or dormice scuttling about and dislodging the tiles on the roof.

The narrator, one of the heroines, if you see it like that, is a translator (me too), and so her sense of words is terribly acute-- perhaps that explains the haunting quality of not just the lavender scent so permeating throughout,but of the exactness of the language bringing it all into presence. It is particularly moving for me on two accounts: because I live there in  my summers, and know every inch of that sight and smell. The second is that my great friends, the cellist Ruth Phillips (daughter of another friend, Tom Phillips, painter, translator, knower of many things) and her husband, the painter Julian Merrow-Smith, have both produced recently two volumes equally baked in Provence, the Provence to which I am  so passionately committed, and they are present in my reading and seeing of anything about this countryside and mindscape. Julian's paintings, one done each day and many appearing in his Postcard from Provence, and Ruth's Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard (both published by the Red Ochre Press at the Hameau des Cougieux in Bedoin -- a village exactly 7 kilometers from my cabanon) are with me now in New York, preserving what I most love about the Vaucluse. Keeping its scent and its sight: although The Lantern turns about a blind woman, who becomes the "nose" of a perfume establishment which has the whiff of present-day L'Occitane...I can smell her creation, "Lavande de Nuit" now, even here. It will last the winter."

Mary Ann Caws (born 1933) is an American author, art historian and literary critic.
She is currently a Distinguished Professor of English, French and Comparative Literature at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. She is an expert on Surrealism and modern English and French literature, having written biographies of Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James. She works on the interrelations of visual art and literary texts, has written biographies of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, edited the diaries, letters, and source material of Joseph Cornell. She has also written on André Breton, Robert Desnos, René Char, Yves Bonnefoy, Robert Motherwell, and Edmond Jabès. She served as the senior editor for the HarperCollins World Reader, and edited anthologies on Manifestos - Isms, Surrealism, Twentieth Century French Literature. Among others, she has translated Stéphane Mallarmé, Tristan Tzara, Pierre Reverdy, André Breton, Paul Éluard, Robert Desnos, and René Char.
Among the positions she has held are President, Association for Study of Dada and Surrealism, 1971-75 and President, Modern Language Association of America, 1983, Academy of Literary Studies, 1984-5, and the American Comparative Literature Association, 1989-91.
In October 2004, she published her autobiography, To the Boathouse: a Memoir (University Alabama Press), and in November 2008, a cookbook memoir: "Provencal Cooking: Savoring the Simple Life in France" (Pegasus Books).
If you would like to find out more about the Surrealist Movement, there is an excellent introduction here on


Anonymous said...

Tout un monde d'artistes! Chacun l'est à sa manière. C'est d'ailleurs formidable quand on peut mêler les différents talents!

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Yesterday, I went into my local indie bookstore, and guess what was the first thing I saw? "The Lantern."

So, I just wanted you to know that your novel presently is displayed in a prominent position in a bookstore in a suburb of Chicago.

One never knows how far-reaching one's work can be, as illustrated by Ms. Caws' wonderful piece about "The Lantern."


Why this blog? said...

Thats wonderful, how exciting for you. Since discovering your blog and books I too have come to adore Julian Merrow-Smith's artwork. Your words and his images are just sublime together, and altho i have only been as far as Paris I feel as if i know Provence really well now.

Muriel said...

What a great review! It's a small world, after all...I was wondering how you came to like Provence that much!

Pet said...

What a beautiful review have you got. I would be thrilled with anything like that. Congratulations and good luck with your book. It couldn't start better.
PS. I will note all this places for my next time in the Luberon.

Unknown said...

How lovely! I always like to hear good news and you have a lot of very good news to report at the moment. Those pictures are gorgeous. I'm so glad Mary Ann Caws enjoyed the book.

James Kiester said...

It's a small world hun. :-)

Lisa Erin said...

How wonderful! I'm currently in the process (of reading your book), and it has drawn me completely in. :)

Elizabeth Young said...

I believe that when we're doing what we're supposed to, things do come together in ways we never could have imagined and there is a 'rightness' in what we touch. You have a wonderful appreciation for what life has given you also that is rare, and this alone brings marvellous rewards. So happy for you Deborah, this was meant to be!

aguja said...

This is fantastic, Deborah! How lovely that Mary Ann Caws has written a review and that there are other connections following form the connection with her. Life is often that way. I was particularly interested in her reference to Eve being a translator. I had not thought of it in that way, just revelled in the accuracy of the words and the writing as a whole. It adds another dimension.
May your success continue!
I am in Ireland next week, so I shall look to see how you are displayed in Dublin.

Jenny Woolf said...

Fantastic! what a great review - and interesting coincidence.

Samantha Sotto said...

That's wonderful!!! Lovely and WELL DESERVED review :)

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Thank you all! It certainly is a small world, encapsulated here in your comments, from sightings (real and potential) of The Lantern in Chicago and Dublin, to Sam walking a few inches off the ground in the Philippines as her "Before Ever After" is everywhere in the shops.

DMS said...

Congratulations! What a wonderful review. A friend of mine loves books about France- I will pass on your blog and book title to her!

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