‘She was a marvellous story teller because she fascinated her listeners; she believed in what she was telling and that is the secret.’‘ ( Page 9.)
These eight stories by Jean Lorrain were published in France 150 years ago. He loosely based them on tales he had heard forty years before that. Now they’re brought into the candle-light again by translator Patricia Worth, and Odyssey Books.
Just think, from out of the nineteenth century France it is now available to you anywhere in the world with the click of a button. Isn’t the modern world wonderful! And why would you click this button? Because doubtless you love stories; and this little book contains superbly told stories by a skilled storyteller.
Even the introduction has the feel of a ‘once-upon-a- time’ fairy tale about it.
‘One fine morning the lover grew tired of waiting, and Norine grew old alone in her little cottage with the memory of her old parents who had died .. and regret for the lover who had left. ‘ ( Page 3.)
The women in these stories voyaged from Britain to the ends of the earth, “the Antipodes”. Driven by hardship, propelled by hope, they left behind their old lives and strived to make new ones in New Zealand. But the settlers brought with them the same stultifying conventions and social constraints they had left behind. For women in particular, sometimes little seemed to have been gained.
Isolated on bleak farms or confined to soul-destroying boarding houses, these women are each at the mercy of men’s whims and male control of property. They live one slip away from destitution, and must reach deep inside themselves, getting past old ways of life and old conditioning, to do what they need to do to survive.
Each story is complete and satisfying in itself, and yet, like life, they are also connected by events or characters; so that the stories towards the end satisfyingly close the circle of themes raised by the earlier ones. The last story, by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori viewpoint of these arrivals.
I found The Settling Earth to be a fascinating perspective into frontier New Zealand and Burns new novel Beyond The Bayfurther looks into life in a raw new country as seen through the eyes of two sisters in Auckland.
You are with Mark at Baffled Bear Books. I am guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Mawson has his own website too, called (wiggles ears modestly) Mawson Bear.