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Top-Drawer in Geneva

Michael Wood, 30 November 1995

Belle du Seigneur 
by Albert Cohen, translated by David Coward.
Viking, 974 pp., £20, November 1995, 9780670821877
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... lovely Ariane Deume, née Ariane Cassandre Corisande d’Auble, ‘very top-drawer in Geneva’ as David Coward nicely renders ‘ce qui se fait de mieux à Genève’. The two horses suggest Solal hopes to abduct the girl right now, but he has other tricks up his sleeve, in spite of his bare breast. He appears to be thinking of killing himself, and he ...

‘Monocled Baron Charged’

David Coward: Vichy’s commissioner for Jewish affairs, 8 June 2006

Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland 
by Carmen Callil.
Cape, 614 pp., £20, April 2006, 0 224 07810 0
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... for attention, an embittered soldier who resented the profiteers who stayed at home, a chancer, a coward prepared to bully the weak to make his small self seem larger. In 1978, three years before he died, he gave an interview to L’Express, which Callil translates. In it he denies the Holocaust, saying that all the evidence for it is Jewish propaganda and ...

Love is always young and happy

David Coward: Molière, 5 April 2001

Molière: A Theatrical Life 
by Virginia Scott.
Cambridge, 333 pp., £35, October 2000, 0 521 78281 3
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... One day in about 1820, so the story goes, a peasant appeared at the Bibliothèque Nationale with a cart drawn by a mule. In the cart, he said, were ‘tous les papiers de Molière’ and they were for sale. But the Library was closed and the concierge told him to come back another day. He never did and ‘Molière’s papers’ were doubtless offloaded as wrapping for fish and onions for the grocers of Paris ...

To the Manure Born

David Coward: An uncompromising champion of the French republic, 21 July 2005

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant 
by Jean-Marie Déguignet, translated by Linda Asher.
Seven Stories, 432 pp., £17.99, November 2004, 1 58322 616 8
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... Jean-Marie Déguignet was born near Quimper, in Brittany, in 1834, the fifth of ten children born to an illiterate tenant farmer. A succession of bad harvests drove the family off the land into the town and at six, Jean-Marie was sent out to beg. He survived fevers, the potato famine of 1845, and a near-fatal accident which happened when he was ‘no taller than a riding-boot ...

Ten Billion Letters

David Coward: Artilleur Pireaud writes home, 21 June 2007

Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War 
by Martha Hanna.
Harvard, 341 pp., £17.95, November 2006, 0 674 02318 8
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... In August 1914, France mobilised jubilantly. ‘La Patrie’ was in danger and men and women of all classes and stations rallied to its defence. Florid voices on the clerical, aristocratic, conservative right defined patriotism grandly, as a mystical religion rooted in the land. Others, more worldly but no less exalted, were clear that patriotism was a hard-won secular tradition under constant threat from socialism, collectivism, anarchism, internationalism, individualism and now, most urgently, from the latest migration of Teutonic barbarism ...
The Figaro Plays 
by Pierre de Beaumarchais, translated by John Wells.
Dent, 290 pp., £20, December 1997, 0 460 87923 5
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... Was the creator of Figaro on the side of the angels or simply president of Beaumarchais Enterprises? In his lifetime, he was an upstart in the eyes of the great and the good, and governments suspected his motives. The middle classes envied his wealth and rejoiced at his failures, but saw him as the embodiment of successful enterprise and the defender of their cause ...

Having Fun

David Coward: Alexandre Dumas, 17 April 2003

Viva Garibaldi! Une Odyssée en 1860 
by Alexandre Dumas.
Fayard, 610 pp., €23, February 2002, 2 213 61230 7
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... Alexandre Dumas was a force of nature. The 650 or so books he published might not seem an extraordinary tally for such as Barbara Cartland, who could dictate six thousand words between lunch and tea, or Georges Simenon, who rarely spent more than a fortnight on a novel. But Dumas was not merely a novelist: he also wrote plays, travel books, memoirs, histories, accounts of great crimes plus a mass of ‘occasional’ writings which include his vast Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine ...

Bon Garçon

David Coward: La Fontaine’s fables, 7 February 2002

Complete Tales in Verse 
by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by Guido Waldman.
Carcanet, 334 pp., £14.95, October 2000, 9781857544824
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The Fables of La Fontaine: Wisdom Brought down to Earth 
by Andrew Calder.
Droz, 234 pp., £36.95, September 2001, 2 600 00464 5
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The Craft of La Fontaine 
by Maya Slater.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 255 pp., $43.50, May 2001, 0 8386 3920 8
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... La Fontaine’s permanent place in the schoolroom has made him the most widely read of all French writers. Children take his menagerie of talking flora and fauna in their stride. Grown-ups, however, worry about his howlers (grasshoppers don’t eat worms) and mutter about the ambiguity of his moral lessons. Lamartine winced at his cynical promotion of self-interest, and for Rousseau the method employed by the fox to relieve the crow of its cheese was as much an advertisement for flattery as a warning against flatterers ...

Maigret’s Room

John Lanchester: The Home Life of Inspector Maigret, 4 June 2020

... The Case of Peter the Lett. In 1963 it was newly translated as Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett. David Bellos’s recent translation is the first with the confidence to call the book in English what it is called in French: Pietr the Latvian. Similarly, the second Maigret, another of my favourites, Le Charretier de ‘la Providence’, also from 1931, has ...
Cross Channel 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 211 pp., £13.99, January 1996, 0 224 04301 3
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... yet contains no lees. In going through some reviews of Barnes’s earlier novels, I noticed that David Coward called Flaubert’s Parrot ‘a Modernist text with a 19th-century heart’. By contrast Malcolm Bradbury, in The Modern British Novel, claims that – with its game with notions of the real and the fictional, its making its own rules and its ...

Men, Women and English Girls

Lyndall Gordon, 24 January 1980

Looking for Laforgue 
by David Arkell.
Carcanet, 248 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 85635 285 3
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A Night of Serious Drinking 
by René Daumal, translated by David Coward.
Routledge, 150 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7100 0325 0
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... David Arkell calls his biography Looking for Laforgue and he has undoubtedly found him. Without attempting what is popularly labelled ‘official’ biography, Arkell’s informal portrait is so convincing that it is hard to see an official biography adding more than superfluous detail. He brings us close to the living temper of a poet who is still fairly unknown to English-speakers but who, through his impact on T ...

Be flippant

David Edgar: Noël Coward’s Return, 9 December 1999

1956 and All That 
by Dan Reballato.
Routledge, 265 pp., £40, February 1999, 0 415 18938 1
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Collected Plays: Six 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 415 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73410 2
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Collected Plays: Seven 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 381 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73410 2
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Collected Revue Sketches and Parodies 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 282 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73390 4
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Noël CowardA Life in Quotes 
edited by Barry Day.
Metro, 116 pp., £9.99, November 1999, 9781900512848
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Noël CowardThe Complete Lyrics 
Methuen, 352 pp., £30, December 1998, 0 413 73230 4Show More
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... In the film about Noël Coward that Adam Low made for Arena in 1998, there is a shot of Arnold Wesker watching a recording of a Royal Court fundraising gala in which Coward is marvellous but clearly miserable as the restaurant owner in an extract from Wesker’s The Kitchen. Less emblematic but equally germane is the story, told in Philip Hoare’s 1995 biography, of Coward’s visit to the Court to see David Storey’s grittily realistic Rugby League play The Changing Room ...
Noël CowardA Biography 
by Philip Hoare.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 605 pp., £25, November 1995, 1 85619 265 2
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... It makes an undistinguished stopover, but has one claim to notice: it is where, in 1930, Noël Coward holed up, suffering from flu and, with only a pad of paper and an Eversharp pencil, wrote Private Lives in four days (having earlier conceived the plot during a restless night in Tokyo, when he was visited by a shimmering vision of Gertrude Lawrence). Four ...

On David King

Susannah Clapp, 21 June 2018

... for drawings and paintings – and commissioned photographs. Some of the most powerful were by David King. He used to come blazing into the office with his huge black-and-white portraits, already measured up for size: no question, ever, of anything being cropped. One was of the writer Francis Wyndham, then in his sixties, in conversation with a 34-year-old ...

Red silk is the best blood

David Thomson: Sondheim, 16 December 2010

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81), with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes 
by Stephen Sondheim.
Virgin, 445 pp., £30, October 2010, 978 0 7535 2258 5
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... dampens the impact. There are famous lyricists who get a headmaster’s lashing – one is Noël Coward and another is Lorenz Hart. Sondheim is brilliant on Coward – ‘brittle and sentimental’, he says, and then adds: ‘condescending’. He allows that Coward has ‘charm’, but ...

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