Hungry French culture vultures feed on Eng Lit - World - News - The Independent

Hungry French culture vultures feed on Eng Lit

ON A stage in Paris last week, an actor held up a canvas showing the heads of two men. Then he showed another to which a third face was added. After that he produced an X-ray revealing sketches under the oils of a fourth man and, subtly hidden, of a fifth man.

It was impossible to know if many of the members of the audience understood what Philippe Clevenot, playing Sir Anthony Blunt, was getting at. Or if they had understood the message conveyed by the Harry Lime theme 30 minutes previously. And what would Bud Flanagan singing 'Run, Rabbit, Run' at the play's end mean to a Parisian?

Yet the diptych of Alan Bennett's works, with the French title Espions et Celibataires (Spies and Bachelors), revolving around a story every Briton brought up in the 1950s and 1960s knows by heart, has been running at Paris's Theatre National de Chaillot to enthusiastic reviews.

The most memorable scene for the French is where a rather dotty but witty Queen expounds on art with the Master of her paintings. She describes a picture of the Annunciation she once saw in Venice as depicting a 'Virgin who looks as though she's just won the lotto and is requesting anonymity'.

The first half of Spies and Bachelors is An Englishman Abroad, devised for television. It shows a scruffy Guy Burgess drinking with the actress Coral Browne, and singing Offenbach duets with his accordion-playing Russian boyfriend perched on his knee. The second half, with Blunt in London and at times undergoing interrogation - 'Giotto had no perspective and neither did you' - is A Problem of Attribution.

It is difficult to imagine a more English play. Liberation suggested that Bennett wrote it with 'perhaps the desire to settle a score with Cambridge, where he studied thanks to a scholarship'.

Bennett's play represents a small part of the impact of what the French would call 'Anglo- Saxon' culture in modern France. By far the most popular film of recent months was Four Weddings and a Funeral. 'It doesn't take you anywhere, it's just fun,' said a 25-year-old Parisian. The Remains of the Day also played to full houses.

If the French are horrified by many aspects of Britain, traditions and the past fascinate them. At Paris's Carnavalet Museum, an exhibition is devoted to 'The English in Paris in the 19th Century' with paintings or caricatures by or of Britons living in France.

In the world of books, Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark was the bestseller for the three months ending 30 September. 'Part of the reason is that there is a feeling that the French novel is dead and that the only original novels are coming from across the Atlantic,' said Jean-Michel Demetz, a cultural journalist at L'Express magazine.

Another forthcoming event will be the publication of a critique of American literature by Pascal Guignard, whose recent novel The American Occupation describes the Americanisation of French life in the 1950s when US soldiers were based on French soil. In French bookshops, US and British authors have as prominent a place as their native counterparts.

There is a phenomenal amount of translation from English into French, some of it ambitious. A S Byatt's Possession appeared in French translation last year complete with its screeds of 19th-century-style poetry; that prompted Liberation to run a detailed review of the book and a lengthy interview with the author.

The translations are not just of modern books. Anthony Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds appeared in a 1992 series called 'The Great Translations'.

'The French are reading English classics but they are not reading their own,' said Mr Demetz. 'They think they read them as children and that's enough, but it's not the same.'

Questioned about the merits of Trollope, one Parisian woman said she admired the sheer story-telling capacity. That is a common remark about a number of cross-Channel authors, such as the Brontes, Jane Austen or David Lodge.

Without the heavy-duty philosophy of many French writers, they manage to entertain and still get a message across.

'In France,' said Bruno Bayen, the French director of Spies and Bachelors, 'we always think that a conversation must reach a conclusion. They (the British) go for immediate pleasure even if it doesn't get anywhere. What Burgess in Moscow wanted to hear was London gossip. We often tend too much when we speak of modern times to be dramatic when it's good to smile.'

French playwrights, he said, could try to emulate the Bennett play in writing about mysteries in the lives of the late communist philosopher Louis Althusser or Jacques Verges, the lawyer who defended the Nazi Klaus Barbie and now represents terrorist Ilich 'Carlos' Ramirez Sanchez, 'but we do not have that imagination in France.'

(Photograph omitted)

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week