In the latest issue:

Consider the Hermit Crab

Katherine Rundell

Emigrés on the Make

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Autopsy of an Election

James Butler

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

‘Cosmo’ for Capitalists

Stefan Collini

Kara Walker’s ‘Fons Americanus’

Cora Gilroy-Ware

So many ships and fleets and armies

N.A.M. Rodger

British Sea Power

Paul Rogers

Richard Holbrooke

Samuel Moyn

Four poems after Callimachus

Stephanie Burt

‘Your Duck Is My Duck’

Christian Lorentzen

On Paul Muldoon

Clair Wills

Leanne Shapton

Namara Smith

Antigone on Your Knee

Terry Eagleton

‘Parasite’

Michael Wood

Walter Pater

Elizabeth Prettejohn

Two Poems

Rae Armantrout

Diary: In Monrovia

Adewale Maja-Pearce

At the MoviesMichael Wood
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

Lovers of the films of Max Ophuls always return to La Ronde (1950). Its intricate, revolving story, visually represented by a highly stylised carousel, is certainly gracefully told. Each character in the film moves on from one partner to another, prostitute to soldier to servant to rich young man to erring wife to worldly husband to midinette to writer to actress to foppish aristocrat and back to the prostitute, and the narrative seems full of wisdom about the shallows of the human heart. I’ve always found the film entertaining, but have never managed to get really enthusiastic about its jovial worldliness, its elegant pretence that in matters of desire we are always in Vienna in 1900.

Of course there were all kinds of reasons for wanting to get away from the 1950s, if only into a film fantasy, and although Ophuls, after a long spell in America, made his last films in France, with a magnificent repertory of French actors, he kept abandoning the present time and place in his plots: for old Vienna in La Ronde, for the Paris and Normandy of Maupassant in Le Plaisir (1952), for a turn-of-the century Paris, a sort of Vienna of sexual and social style, in Madame de . . . (1953), and for a tour of the European past in his last completed film, Lola Montès (1955). He died in 1957.

We have an opportunity to think about these films and how they play now in the release (by the Criterion Collection) of restored versions of three of them: La Ronde, Madame de . . . and Le Plaisir. La Ronde is sadder and less complacent than I used to think it was – and the shallows of the human heart are a great subject. In Madame de . . . Charles Boyer explains to his wife, in the lucid, pompous and intimately vulnerable manner that Ophuls keeps lending to his older men – the betrayed (and then philandering) husband in La Ronde, played by Fernand Gravey, talks in just the same way – that their marital bliss is ‘made in their image’: ‘It is only superficially that it is superficial.’ What he would like to mean is that there is no reason to go looking for more depths than they have. What he turns out to mean, to his and her distress, is that their life of lovely surfaces is already slipping irrevocably away into disgrace and death. It’s very telling that when he later asks his wife what her illness is, or what is making her suffer – ‘Mais de quoi souffrez-vous exactement?’ – she says without a pause, ‘From humiliation,’ which must be about as deep as shallowness (or for that matter most depths) can get.

La Ronde is still a little slow, though, and everything memorable about it focuses on Danielle Darrieux’s character. Darrieux also plays the title role in Madame de . . . What’s remarkable about her as a film actress is that although she always looks poised and beautiful, and scarcely ever changes her facial expression, she manages to suggest that several quite different persons inhabit this frame: women who are frivolous, stubborn, a little stupid, crafty, sceptical, deeply intelligent, always ahead of the game, never troubled or frightened, always troubled or frightened. In La Ronde, she has a fling with an embarrassed and (at first) impotent young man, and her smooth, agreeable, amazed face is a picture of patience and mild guile. She very soon deals with his problem. In the next scene we see her with her dull sermonising husband, the pair propped up in twin beds like well-to-do dolls, and she is graciously listening to him lecture to her about things she understands far better than he does.

Madame de . . . is the masterpiece people wanted La Ronde to be. It has a similar recurring device, a version of the carousel. A pair of earrings (a husband’s gift to his wife) travels back to the jeweller (she needs the money), then from jeweller to husband (who buys the earrings a second time), from husband to mistress (a farewell gift), from mistress to shop in Constantinople, from shop to the Italian count who gives the earrings, without knowing anything of their history, back to the woman who first owned them. But the device is less obtrusive and whimsical here, and comes to feel less like an element of plotting and more like the displaced object of everyone’s anger, longing and scrambled dignity. The earrings end up on an altar, an offering in support of a futile prayer.

Madame de . . . is a countess. Her husband (Charles Boyer) is a French general, her lover (Vittorio De Sica) an Italian diplomat and a baron. She is called Louise, and the missing surname, which looks like a provocative piece of discretion, falls out of the film in a series of beautifully arranged accidents. Someone interrupts a conversation (more than once) as the name is about to be spoken. At the end of the film the words ‘Madame de’ appear on a card recording the gift of the earrings to the church, but the film frame itself cuts off the completion of the name. The whole movie, in fact, is about what is not named, even when names are being used.

Louise is a frivolous and vain woman who finds, in a mixture of passionate love and equally passionate humiliation, the depths she thought she didn’t have. Remorseful and desperate, she goes to see her former lover, and murmurs to him that she is not even pretty any more. He says, ‘More than ever,’ and she perks up at once. ‘Really?’ she says. And then adds: ‘I’m incorrigible.’ She is incorrigible, but her faults are slight compared to those of the two men in her life, a pair of elegant society fellows who entitle themselves to act with any amount of cruelty in defence of their threatened pride. It’s part of the strange, graceful compassion of the film that we are in no doubt about their suffering, even as their behaviour seems more and more unforgivable.

But the real discovery among these films for me was the first part of Le Plaisir, the only one of the set I hadn’t seen before. The work is composed of three tales based on stories by Maupassant; the middle one, ‘La Maison Tellier’, all about the joys of brothel life for properly urbane and tolerant people, is the best known. The last one, ‘The Model’, shows us a painter’s mistress flinging herself from a high window because he has left her. She manages only to cripple herself severely, and he marries her out of guilt. His work as a painter gets better and better. In an epilogue that appears in the film but not in the printed story, the narrator suggests that such a result is in fact ‘happiness’. A companion suggests it’s rather sad all the same. The narrator, in a phrase that catches the Ophuls magic without making it seem too easy or too weary, says happiness is not light-hearted: ‘Mon cher, le bonheur n’est pas gai.’

But the first part of the film, ‘The Mask’, is genuinely unforgettable. It’s set up by a voice speaking from a black screen in the person of Maupassant himself – the dead writer, not the narrator of any of his stories. He’s a little sceptical about what ‘the living’ make of life. Then the story starts. We are at a dance hall, a place that instantly reminds us how much Ophuls loved, and how much he could make of, crowds and interiors – there are similar, if posher, ball scenes in Madame de . . . Doorways, balconies, glass partitions, multiple floors, lots of bouncing, jostling people, a camera that glides among them, and over them, with the gaze of a curious but unobtrusive god: Ophuls sets up these encounters again and again. Into the crowd at the dance hall prances a figure in top hat and tails, a man so eager for the dance he can hardly wait to shed his scarf and coat. There he is in the midst of the hopping fray, a little too rigid and too keen to be entirely human. A ghost, perhaps, or a demon, or an automaton? Then he collapses, and we learn who he is: an old man in a young man’s mask. A doctor takes him home, and learns the man’s story from his wife. He was a well-known hairdresser, had many mistresses, was even rich. Now all he can do is disguise himself and haunt the dance halls, hoping to catch a little of the life that throbs there. Why does he have to do it, the doctor asks. The wife says, in a line that is even better, more tender, more acrid and more beautiful than the remark about happiness in the other story: ‘C’est le regret, monsieur.’ Which doesn’t exactly translate into ‘regret’ in English; just into the longing for what can’t come back, the times and adventures the old man once knew. He just can’t believe there is nothing to be done, and this segment of the movie ends with the doctor, infected by the story that should have made him wiser, asking his coachman to take him back to the dance. We get the feeling that were Maupassant not so undeniably dead he would be at the Palais himself, or at least doing something other than providing Ophuls with a convenient and friendly ghost. But of course it is Ophuls who makes us see Maupassant in this light, and not the other way round.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.