Thursday, 29 March 2012

Dirk Bogarde, writing in the rain


It rains. God! How it rains…a flat grey light, a mist hanging down to the grass like Miss Haversham’s Wedding dress…ragged, tattered, drifting…still. Swallowing all before and behind it…dense. Miserable. […] Too wet to pick olives…or prune the vine or start tidying up the geraniums in the pots…too wet to haul a mower over the terraces…walls suddenly sag, and tumble into the sodden grass, spewing tones of earth and stones into sullen heaps…lying like giant marbles lost from a far-away Giant’s game…abandoned. Forgotten.
                     
                                   from Ever, Dirk: The Bogarde Letters
                                   edited by John Coldstream

Waspish, brilliantly descriptive, searingly honest and affectionate to his friends, the film star Dirk Bogarde wrote thousands of letters from his home near Grasse in Provence. In this one to the writer Penelope Mortimer dated 11th February 1972, you can feel his fleeting despondency through the scene he recreates, a small drama with an artist’s touch.

For the millions of fans who knew him as a British box office idol of the 1950s, and later as a charismatic actor in darker movies by Joseph Losey and continental art films made by Visconti and Fassbinder, Dirk Bogarde was a revelation as a writer. He wrote, as he seemed to do everything in his career, with great charm and aplomb, and a self-deprecating edginess that couldn’t quite disguise the depth of his natural talent.


The letters contained in John Coldstream’s volume were the pressure release from his many volumes of entertaining and enlightening memoirs, and several novels. Once Bogarde started writing, the words flowed. “It is an astonishing thing to me to find that I am really not a bit happy unless I am writing. Even a letter will do,” Bogarde wrote to his editor Norah Smallwood, whose instincts on hearing him speak in a television interview in the 1980s led to his first book.

What I really like about his writing is encapsulated in this tiny extract about rain in Provence. The details are so vivid you feel you are looking out of his window with him, and the simile of Miss Haversham’s wedding dress is a gloriously gloomy, not to say gothic, touch of humour. ‘Of course I know I’m going over the top about this,’ it conveys, ‘but at this very moment I’m feeling depressed and doom-laden and I want you to know it!’

In his Introduction, Coldstream – who has also written the definitive biography of Dirk Bogarde – makes no bones about his subject’s cheerful disregard for spelling and literary convention. But actually, what Bogarde does completely naturally here is to use the convention of Pathetic Fallacy, where the weather and the natural world reflect a human situation and state of mind.

Perhaps he was feeling “abandoned” and “forgotten” in the sense that he had moved to his restored farmhouse on a hill only a couple of years before when film work had dried up in England. As it turned out, the days of fan frenzies might have been over - especially during the making of the lightweight but phenomenally successful Doctor in the House films – but he had been acclaimed for recent serious roles, notably Von Aschenbach in Visconti’s version of Death in Venice.

Le Haut Clermont, Bogarde's home

The thrill of reading these letters (and an extraordinary privilege it is to do so, when you think about it) is the uplifting stream of consciousness they contain. Many are to other famous people. Much of the detail is fascinating, fleshing out the back story to what has previously only been a public façade. There are private insights and confirmations that we can all share similar reactions to the world. In short, this is the kind of writing that reminds you what it’s all about: empathy and reaching out to communicate.  

Sir Dirk Bogarde (1921 – 1999)


9 comments:

Elizabeth Young said...

Thank you Deborah for sharing this glorious vignette into the life of Dirk Bogarde. I had absolutely no idea he was a writer or that he lived in France in later years. I absolutely love the paragraph about rain, so descriptive and written with a touch of melancholy like the rain and the writer. Enjoyed this a lot today!

Gill Edwards said...

I am a huge fan of Dirk Bogarde and have read all his books. Its nice to see someone appreciating his work so long after he died.

Angela Bell said...

Dirk Bogarde,a beautiful looking man and talented. I must read theses letters.I always felt he was a tortured person.He was gay and had some terrible war memories.
I remember his books coming outin the libraries I worked in ,always a waiting list!

aguja said...

Love his writing style and empathise with the desire to write - anything. Your review here, and on facebook, inspire me to buy this book. Fantastic photographs, too.

Vanessa said...

He was so beautiful - too beautiful. But he could not only act he could also write. What a tortured soul.

KalpanaS said...

I liked :
-the literary reference - here’s a writer not afraid of the Woolf!
- ‘prune the vine’ which juxtaposes something old but still juicy- vintage wine?
- the words : ‘sag’, spewing’ ‘sullen’,’abonded’ ‘forgotten’ quickly convey the mood
I like your post:
Just enough to give a flavour of Dirk Bogarde as actor and writer
The summing up in your words captures the essence:
‘The thrill of reading these letters (and an extraordinary privilege it is to do so, when you think about it) is the uplifting stream of consciousness they contain.’
‘There are private insights and confirmations that we can all share similar reactions to the world. In short, this is the kind of writing that reminds you what it’s all about: empathy and reaching out to communicate.’

Puzzled by:

‘The letters contained in John Coldstream’s volume were the pressure release from his many volumes of entertaining and enlightening memoirs, and several novels.’

Press release or ‘Pressure release’
[the latter does seem apt in describing the piece of writing and the personality of the actor/writer!]


Thanks for this post which I found very useful for my creative writing journey. And thanks for reading my attempts - your comments and feedback mean much to an aspiring author!

KalpanaS @ http://nowritehere.blogspot.com/2012/03/in-her-elements-short-sketch.html

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Thanks to you all. DB was a fascinating and complex character. To Kalpana, I meant pressure release as in "pressure valve" to relieve a build-up - I thought at the time it was a little clumsy but that people would probably know what I meant. Maybe not!

Cottage Garden said...

Dirk Bogard's letters are now on my 'must read' list!

I read his books years ago and was completely fascinated by his life and writing.

Thanks for a wonderful post Deborah.

Jeanne
x

BLANCHE said...

HE GOES ON BEING ONE OF THE MOST HANDSOME, CHARMING, TALENTED MAN, FOR SURE!!!! AND I DIDN´T EVEN KNOW HE WAS ALSO A WRITER.
HIS "LETTERS" ARE IN MY LIST NOW.


BLANCHE

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