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|The French Riviera: A Literary Guide For Travellers
About The Book
|The Casino at Monte Carlo|
This book began life by my retracing the footsteps of writers whose work I most admired and whose lives and backgrounds interested me, who had made the French Riviera their home. I was drawn to the Riviera by my earliest reading of adult fiction: whether by coincidence or choice I don’t remember, but my literary preferences at the time would often light upon the likes of Scott Fitzgerald, Georges Simenon, Somerset Maugham and Guy de Maupassant. It was these authors and their contemporaries, and their stories of azure skies and sun-drenched beaches that first aroused my ambition to visit this wonderful land where, it seemed, winter never ventured and the sun always shone.
But my career took me in other directions and it was many years before I saw the Côte d’Azur – and many more before I finally came to live in south-eastern France – still remembering the writers who had first lured me here. I was fascinated to find that there were many more reminders of its literary past than I had imagined. In almost every town and village, plaques, street names, statues, tombs and monuments proclaimed with civic pride the authors who had been there before me. The Italian poet, Dante, came here in the 13th century, and described the region in his Divine Comedy. At least a dozen laureates of the Nobel Prize for Literature have lived here:. Yet, despite the fact that the region had been a Mecca for writers for more than seven centuries, I was astonished to find that no one – not even its resident writers – had attempted a literary history of the region.
I decided that this was a book that must be written. There was an added incentive: the prospect of spending the first few years of my retirement travelling the length and depth of this most beautiful and fortunate corner of Europe, recording its literary heritage. It promised to be the most exciting venture imaginable. The writers themselves, I thought, would dictate the destinations: Graham Greene in Antibes, where, despite his wealth, he roughed it for his last 26 years in a humble one-bedroom apartment; Somerset Maugham, who, by contrast, lived in a palatial mansion on Cap Ferrat in which he spent his last 40 years; Robert Louis Stevenson in Hyères; Rudyard Kipling in Cannes; H. G. Wells in Grasse; Katherine Mansfield in Bandol and Menton; and D. H. Lawrence just about everywhere along the coast until his death in Vence in 1930. I would walk where they walked, visit their former homes and surroundings, read their journals and letters, and find out what drew them to this enchanted coast, what were their impressions of it and how it influenced their lives and work. It was to be a book about writers - the places would be incidental.
But I had not anticipated how many other writers would emerge along the way – serendipitous discoveries that would often sidetrack me from my intended journey. Wherever I went in search of one writer, I would discover a dozen more. So many novelists, poets, playwrights, essayists, historians and biographers came to light that my cast of authors grew exponentially like a chain letter, until by the time I was well into my second hundred, the pressure of numbers meant that I had to start eliminating some who were less well known to Anglo-Saxon readers. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the book took on a life of its own, and before long it had transmuted from a sentimental essay into a literary Michelin guide. What had started as a personal adventure had become a quest, and the result, after several satisfying and enjoyable years, was The French Riviera: A Literary Guide, the first edition of this book. I hope it does them all justice.
Far from being the end of the journey, it turned out to be only the beginning. The book was a moveable feast: after it was published, readers began to add their own first-hand recollections of authors in the book – and even with some who were not. A man in Monaco wrote to tell me of his escape from the Riviera with W. Somerset Maugham on the Saltersgate, the last coal ship to leave the Riviera as the German troops marched in. A lady in Germany sent me underwater photographs of the wreckage of the Lockheed P38 fighter plane in which Antoine St. Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, went missing over the Mediterranean in 1944 and was thought to have been lost forever. My correspondents included writers’ former neighbours and friends; landlords and incumbents of writers’ former homes, (Jules Verne’s home on the Cap d’Antibes is now the Irish Consulate); the literary-minded postman who helped me to find H. G. Wells’s love-nest and swore me to secrecy lest it should become a shrine (my photograph of it shows an angry concierge threatening to set the dogs on me); and a lady who shared a poubelle (dustbin) with Graham Greene. Other writers became aware of the Côte d’Azur: more Nobel Prize winners, like the Irish poet Seamus Heaney and the American novelist Toni Morrison. And, inevitably, I met other expatriate authors whom I had missed the first time around, some of whom are now close friends.
The search continues: the quest has become an endless one. With this edition I hope to continue to find new links with past and present writers of the Côte d’Azur and to unlock more memories of its literary past. Perhaps one day they will find their way into yet another edition.