It still feels like summer. Temperatures still easily reach into the thirties, there’s no rain, and the lawn looks the driest I’ve seen it since we moved here two and a half years ago. Here is Mentone, close to the bay and the beach. I’m not a beachgoer, but I love that the afternoon sea breeze and the smell of salty seaweed reaches our garden and, when the weather cools down, I enjoy a brisk walk along the bay. Since we’ve moved here, I haven’t wanted to go away — living here feels like enough of a holiday.
Charles Conder’s painting A holiday in Mentone is said to be ‘the first to capture the intensity and brilliance of Australian light’. It is this light and — in summer — the accompanying heat that keeps me indoors on a day like today.
When Conder was painting here, Mentone had not long become more accessible from Melbourne — the railway had opened in December 1881. And in 1884, to encourage more visitors and residents, the sea baths had opened (visible on the right in the painting).
The lady in the foreground of the painting is reading a magazine with a pink cover (and so was the gentleman who is having a nap below the footbridge), apparently a copy of The Bulletin. This was a controversial (to say the least) weekly publication that had been in existence since 31 January 1880 and that, by the time Conder was busy painting on Mentone beach, was taking contributions from its readership. More and more, it published early work of people who would become Australia’s literary and artistic figures of their time — people like Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Miles Franklin and Norman Lindsay. In October 1887, The Bulletin published Henry Lawson’s first published poem, ‘A Song of the Republic’, and in December 1888, it would publish his first story, ‘His Father’s Mate’. In December 1889, it would publish Banjo Patterson’s ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, followed in 1890 by ‘The Man from Snowy River’.
Apart from poems, short stories and cartoons, The Bulletin ran political and business news and a page of literary gossip and opinion. Because of its romantic portrayal of outback life, it attracted a strong readership in the outback and became known as the ‘Bushman’s Bible’. From 1908 onwards, the magazine became gradually more conservative and less popular. It lingered on until 2008.
I used to work in a bookshop. One day, a young woman came in and said, ‘I’m looking for a book with a green cover …’. She knew neither author nor title.
At another occasion, in another bookshop, a regular customer came past one day and said, ‘I’m looking for a book’. She paused — and I said, ‘You’re in the right place’. She laughed.
I’ve been busy! But I took some time out to look for an image of an editor at work so I could at least post that … and I happened upon this one. Not a woman, not behind a computer, not even wearing glasses, but hey …
The editor at work turned out to be more interesting than I had imagined. He is Félix Fénéon, an editor, a translator, a journalist, an author, an art critic, an art gallery director, and whatnot … After his stint as (eventually) editor-in-chief at La Revue Blanche, an art and literature magazine, he worked for some time at a Parisian newspaper, Le Matin, where from May until November 1906 it was his task to write short ‘news fillers’, des nouvelles en trois lignes (aka ‘news in three lines’). He acquitted himself of his task with such style that his nouvelles have been compared to haiku.
« Si mon candidat échoue, je me tue », avait déclaré M. Bellavoine, de Fresquienne (Seine-Inférieure). Il s’est tué.
‘If my candidate loses, I will kill myself,’ M. Bellavoine, of Fresquienne, Seine-Inférieure, had declared. He killed himself.
They were printed without a by-line at the time, and when it was suggested to him they should be published as a book, apparently, he replied angrily, ‘I aspire only to silence’. They were, however, posthumously published and, more recently, even translated and published in English. In my opinion, the author’s wit and style get lost a bit in translation.