THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY
Founded 8th May 1999
NEWSLETTER No. 25
22nd July 2007
I am delighted to welcome as our latest member David Richardson of Bramley in Surrey. David has already purchased a copy of The Collected Poemsand back numbers of the Journal.
My plea to the few members who had not renewed their 2007-8 subscription fell mostly on stony ground. The £5.00 can’t be the problem - held at that level for the eighth year running, thanks to a few generous members who send an extra donation with their subscription. All paid up subscribers will receive the Journal with the Newsletter. If you have received only the latter, please stay with us or let me know that you do not wish to continue membership.
Back numbers of the Journal
I sold several copies as a result of mentioning this in the last Journal. I still have plenty left of Volumes 2 and 6, costing £1 each inclusive of postage, but all the others are now out of print.
Amphora - A Collection of Prose and Verse chosen by the Editor of the Bibelot [Thomas Bird Mosher].
This lovely little book, published in a limited edition of only 925 copies printed on Van Gelder hand-made paper in October 1912, with the type destroyed after printing, would have passed me by if one bookseller had not chosen to include JMF’s name in a list of authors used in the compilation. As soon as it arrived from Washington DC, I turned to page 43 where the poem entitled “What matter though my room be small...” lay in wait. Mosher’s Index merely quoted the opening words or lines of the selection, and the title did not ring a bell with me. In fact, JMF readers of the Collected Poems will know the poem as “Theocritus in Fleet Street” (p. 33), which had been first published in The Spectator on 29 June, 1895. The mild disappointment felt when I realised it was not an unknown poem quickly changed to pleasure as I re-read the piece.
Moonfleet in the Dodo Press
I mentioned in the May Newsletter that I had sent off for another paperback edition of The Lost Stradi- varius, published by the Dodo Press. It proved to be of a decent standard, with very clear text and pleasantly wide margins. Since then I have also purchased Moonfleet in the same series [ISBN 1 4065 1667 8]. Dodo Press specialises in the publication and distribution of rare and out-of-print books, so it is to be hoped that they will turn their attention to The Nebuly Coat next (although Steve Savage Publishers brought out a fine edition in 2006).
JMF in translation
For those of you who want to flex your language skills, I thought you might be interested in the following list of JMF’s work in other tongues. Moonfleet, as one would expect, is the most popular.
Lo Stradivario perduto [Marsilio Editori Spa]
Le Stradivarius perdu [Joëlle Losfeld, 1993]
El Stradivarius perdido [Valdemar, 2000]
Le diamant de barbenoire [Flammarion Paris, 1952]
Moonfleet: Die Abenteuer des John Trenchard [Verlag Aschendorff, 1953]
El Diamante [Ediciones Destino, 1953]
Svartskäggs hemlighet [Stockholm, 1953]
Moonfleet - Hebrew [Kitri, Tel Aviv, 1978]
Moonfleet - French [Presses Pocket, Phébus, 1989]
Moonfleet - Dutch [Altiora Averbode, 1993]
Moonfleet - Spanish [Plaza & Janés, 2000]
Moonfleet - Spanish [Anaya, 2001]
Le blason de Lord Blandamer - [Joëlle Losfeld, 1994 ]
Le Mariage d'une nuit d'été ;: Suivi de Charalampia : contes [Joëlle Losfeld, 1995 ]
Jon Whiteley, Senior Assistant Keeper
For some years I have been meaning to write to Jon Whiteley, who played the part of John Trenchard in Fritz Lang’s 1955 cinematic version of Moonfleet. A half century on, he is Dr. Jon Whiteley, Senior Assistant Keeper in the Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The Museum’s website lists his particular areas of expertise as: German, Dutch and Flemish paintings and drawings by artists born before 1875; French paintings by artists born 1775-1875; Russian paintings and drawings; furniture; musical instruments. Scholarly interests: French art. Museum spoliation specialist. His recent/pending publications on the collections include: Handbook on Hill Collection of Musical Instruments (in preparation) and Catalogue of Later French Paintings in the Ashmolean. An exchange of letters occurred in mid June, in which Jon wrote “I, too, like Meade Falkner’s stories although it is many years since I last read one - this was The Lost Stradivarius which I read coincidentally while staying in Burford over a weekend”. He agreed that “there is little similarity between the book and film” but, rightly, went on to say that he had “nothing against the script - it has a rich, tongue in cheek sense of adventure of its own which the actors caught to perfection”. I am hoping to keep in touch with Dr. Whiteley - he might even sign my film lobby cards one day!
Falkner enthusiasts must regret that, although the 9 - or 11 - DVD sets of the (mostly) wonderful films Michael Powell made with Emeric Pressburger are a bargain, neither version contains The Small Back Room (1949). What is Falkner’s connection?
Powell wrote in Million-Dollar Movie, his second volume of memoirs, published posthumously in 1992: “Do you know Chesil Bank? It is one of the wonders of the world... it is a gigantic shingle beach, created by the tides eternally working against the granite wall of Portland Bill. The Bill shelters Weymouth Bay from the south-westerly drift that sweeps up the English Channel. Imagine a dead sea-bird, a cormorant, three or four miles long, lying stretched on the surface of the sea, the long bill pointing towards France. That is the Bill. It has created the marvel of Chesil Beach on the seaward side. This beach, about eight miles long and as thin as the new moon, is not the coast of Dorset - it is the Bank. The coastline crouches behind the wall of the Bank, and is separated from it by great lagoons of brackish water called the Fleet. Only one novelist that I know has ever dramatised this dramatic piece of England - Meade Falkner in his romance Moonfleet.”
Widely read, Michael Powell had a deep understanding of England, and wrote well. “To see these two sea barriers, the Bill and the Bank, in a sou’westerly gale is an awesome sight. There is nothing nearer to break the force of the Atlantic rollers than Finistère in France, finis terae of the Romans - the end of The Known World. As the waves break upon the immovable Bill they shoot a hundred feet into the air and cut off Portland Town from Weymouth. All this energy has to go somewhere, and failing to break the Bill and flood and destroy the town of Weymouth, the flowing tide sweeps around the throat of the Bill and pounds the stones of Chesil Beach. If you stand at the Weymouth end of the Bank, you stand amongst huge round boulders, taller than a man, worn smooth with the ceaseless pounding of the sea. There is a continual grinding and crunching noise caused by these giant pebbles shifting. Stand at the other end of the Bank where it ends at Abbotsbury, site of a famous Swannery, and here the pebbles are no bigger than your thumbnail. But they are the same pebbles, grinding and ceaselesly smoothing, turning, obeying the will of the tides.”
In filming The Small Back Room, Powell knew that here was something incomparably more dramatic as a climax than the sandy beach of Nigel Balchin’s novel; something more engaging than the familiar subject of wartime London, the stuff of a seventeen-minute cinematic sequence to rival the Odessa steps. He pictured the curve of the Beach, “the waves listlessly breaking on the beach and grinding the pebbles as the undertow retreated, the sinister shape of the bomb, upright in the pebbles like a giant thermos flask, the Bank itself, where every footstep sent a thousand pebbles rolling. I saw St. Catherine’s Chapel on its terraced hill, the only remnant of the great monastery of Abbotsbury. I saw in one composite picture eternal England, with the sea never sleeping, the little group in khaki of the Bomb Disposal Squad, and the tall figure of Colonel Strang against the beautiful lines of. St. Catherine’s Chapel.” It is splendid, but neither that nor Moonfleet was mentioned in reviews of Ian McEwan’s recent On Chesil Beach which has, apparently, sent readers to lug home souvenirs - ruining it. Set between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP, the novella’s account of Edward and Florence’s fraught wedding night at a hotel there (which, McEwan points out, does not exist) is buttressed by thoughts of those graduated pebbles; eternity contrasts with a quotidian existence of A Taste of Honey and images of handsome JFK while Macmillan plays a peculiarly crucial part in the bedroom. Too lucid, it is caught between a short story and a novel, the Beach scarcely figuring; not resonant, it does not have Falkner and Powell’s psychological undertow, their grasp of the meaning of an England encapsulated in that glorious, troubling coast.
As Michael Powell suggested, the Beach could spur another novelist. Although Moonfleet has become known as a children's book, its prose has a deep, allusive texture, and the narrative compression towards the end is far better than the hasty summary of subsequent decades by Ian McEwan. As for The Small Back Room, that no longer surfaces on a Channel Four which, a national joke, has replaced anything black and white or subtitled with Big Brother witterings. The out-of-print DVD fetches £35. How would Powell and Pressburger have adapted The Nebuly Coat or The Lost Stradivarius? Their A Canterbury Tale suggests that these would have been masterpieces - and, among the women who pass through Powell’s memoirs, an extra from an early quota quickie makes for a engaging vignette than Dorset-marooned Florence thirty years on: Paddy “was a pleasantly naughty and sexy girl, with a lively sense of humour and was a virgin. When she lost it on the floor in front of my gas-fire, I remember her saying, after stretching herself, ‘Is that all?’ - which is as good a comment on the sexual act as any I can remember.”
Robin Davies wrote to say it is a great pity that no publisher will take in hand the reprinting of JMF’s short (anonymous) guide- book to Bath [Bath: In History and Social Tradition by An Appreciative Visitor - John Murray, 1918]. Although 86 pages long, each page of text is only 5” by 2½” and could easily be reset on computer. Robin suggests it could be republished with A Midsummer Night’s Marriage and Charalampia in, possibly, a print-to-order edition. What do other members think?
Surfing the Internet (as one does), I came across two more sites which dwelt, albeit briefly, on JMF. Storybook England [ www.storybookengland.com/authors ] has two paragraphs - “for classic smugglers adventure look no further than Moonfleet... this gripping story.... get your boots on and walk along some of Chesil Beach....” (but don’t pinch the pebbles!).
Calculo [ www.dprophet.com/calculo ] also concentrates on Moonfleet and is likewise aimed at youngsters. It has a quote from Alex Granger “Calculo Extraordinaire”, who reviews Moonfleet in glowing terms: “When I first read it, I declared this story as the best story I have ever read. I even had dreams about it!... Do read this excellent novel by Falkner, and feel the same magic and even have dreams about this wonderful story!” We will, Alex, we will.
Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne
Derbyshire. DE73 8BX