—They order, said I, this matter better in France.—That is the famous opening paragraph of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, published in 1768. As Virginia Woolf said of its great predecessor Tristram Shandy, it takes “liberties with grammar and syntax and sense and propriety”. She might have added, “and punctuation”. Here are the last two paragraphs (I have proofread this twice: it is what he wrote and what OUP published in 1965):
—But the fille de chamber hearing there were words between us, and fearing that hostilities would ensue in course, had crept silently out of her closet, and it being totally dark, had stolen so close to our beds, that she had got herself into the narrow passage which separated them, and had advanc’d so far up as to be in a line betwixt her mistress and me—
So that when I stretch’d out my hand, I caught hold of the fille de chambre’sWonderful. The book starts in the middle of a scene and ends in the middle of another one, with no full stop. As Woolf said, in it “We are as close to life as we can be.” This was first published 244 years ago, and still reads as modern and funny.
I once worked with a writer friend on his new comic novel which had an unreliable narrator, and for the voice to ring true it was important that the grammar and syntax be loose. Took us a couple of months. The publisher sent it to an old-school editor who missed the point by a country mile so strapped the manuscript into the Procrustean bed of conventional usage and “corrected” every flaw we had deliberately inserted. And thereby killed the narrator’s voice, the comedy and the novel. Sometimes being right is wrong.
Where was I, as Sterne might say? Ah yes, how they order matters better in France. Farming, not so much, but most other things – especially politicians’ private lives. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
Francois Hollande “shared” his mistress Valerie Trierweiler with a minister from Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in a Jules et Jim-style relationship, a new biography on France’s first lady claims.
La Frondeuse (The Troublemaker), says Ms Trierweiler, 47, had an affair with Patrick Devedjian, 68, a former economics minister, in the early 2000s, but that the Socialist Mr Hollande, 58, muscled in when the right-winger failed to commit himself further to the relationship.
There followed a period “a bit like Jules et Jim”, said the co-author Christophe Jakubyszyn, a close friend of the first lady, referring to the 1962 Francois Truffaut film in which Jeanne Moreau is in a love triangle with two men and all three live in the same house.
“Patrick Devedjian hesitated so much that Valerie Trierweiler allowed herself to be courted by a second man of another political persuasion: Francois Hollande,” he said.
“Little by little, the relationship with Hollande took precedence over the other, notably after an ultimatum in 2003 which Devedjian failed to respect. But he suffered a lot from the break-up. It was a bit like Jules et Jim. Both men still have a lot of respect for each other,” he said.It gets better:
All three had other partners at the time.Formidable! But wait, there’s more:
In another extract of La Frondeuse, out today, Ms Trierweiler is cited as claiming she was “chatted up” by Mr Sarkozy “while he was holding his ex-wife’s Cecila’s hand” at an Elysee garden party in the same period.
“You are so beautiful,” he is said to have whispered to Ms Trierweiler, then a political journalist. She responded with a “withering look”.
Clearly annoyed at the rebuff, he is said to have told other journalists: “Who does she think she is? Am I not good enough for her?”Come on, Wellington and Canberra – lift your game.
And here is Doris Day – still with us at 88 – with “Sentimental Journey”: