The new Julian Barnes: With Bohème against Brexit
“Extreme nationalism, anti-Semitism and great xenophobia prevailed at the end of the 19th century, so the times were just as terrible as today,” said Julian Barnes in the Guardian interview. By chance, however, Barnes came across a man who opposed nationalist currents.
Pozzi, a sensible person in a crazy time …
… writes Julian Barnes about his Samuel Pozzi in “The Man in the Red Skirt”.
Mind journey to the Belle Époque
Unlike in his previous book “The Noise of Time” about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, this time Julian Barnes does not present a novel, but an essay that strolls through the time with relish.
“There are longer passages with quotations and then again Barnes reflections on the subject and this constant change of style makes for a lot of variety,” says Gertraude Krüger, who has been translating Barnes books into German for more than thirty years.
But who was this Samuel Pozzi? As a Frenchman of Italian descent, he made a career as a doctor in Paris and treated the celebrities of his time. Among them was the ‘divine Sarah’, the actress Sarah Bernhardt, with whom he began an affair. One of many affairs Pozzi had during his life. Which didn’t detract from his reputation as a doctor and scientist. His textbook on gynecology was recognized worldwide as a basic work. There, in the introduction, Julian Barnes found a sentence that won him over to Pozzi:
Chauvinism is a manifestation of ignorance.
With this attitude Samuel Pozzi was the perfect companion for Julian Barnes on his excursion to the Belle Époque.
What can we know
Barnes paints the image of the epoch like a kaleidoscope, alternating between the political and the private, between art and scandals, and in this way gropes his way to an understanding of the thought world of that time, accurate in detail and true to life.
“What can we know? Is a central question for Barnes, and where there are no sources, he says quite openly, and the sentence can be found several times in the book: We don’t know,” says translator Gertraude Krüger.
KIEPENHEUER & WITSCH
Julian Barnes describes the political events, such as how the Dreyfus Process divided France, or how England and France stood on the brink of war. In the same way, it penetrates the mentality of society and shows its violent and neurotic side by means of the escalating number of duels. The future Secretary of War George Clemenceau fought no less than twenty-two duels in his life, we learn there.
The life of the bohemian
The cultural life of the time is also very central to Barnes. Oscar Wilde or Marcel Proust appear and you can read about the bohemians’ immense lust for disguise, which staged itself in front of the camera in oriental, Japanese or Renaissance robes. It was also the Boheme that ensured a lively exchange between Paris and London, while the conservative forces fueled the reservations.
“I have a very strong feeling that the events surrounding Brexit were the trigger for Barnes’ preoccupation with the Belle Époque. Because he repeatedly emphasizes how important the cultural relations were back then, between France and England, but also between England and the rest of Europe, “says translator Gertraude Krüger.
The strolling look
With Samuel Pozzi, Julian Barnes has found a brilliant linchpin, because Pozzi went hunting with the French President and went on an art shopping tour to London with his dandy friends. With Pozzi, Barnes can let his gaze wander in all directions, and that makes “The Man in the Red Skirt” an incredibly dazzling portrait of the time.
Julian Barnes, “The Man in the Red Skirt”, Kiepenheuer & Witsch