The Still Eye of the Storm

     The summer holidays are officially over. I am back in Paris, where the temperature has dropped by ten degrees in the past two days, and the new school term is starting next week. Usually I view the going-back-to-school rush from afar, using it as an excuse to buy stationery and sniff the autumn-scented air appreciatively, while serenely sitting back for a further few weeks till the beginning of the university term in October. This year, I am in the thick of it, for I am starting a new job on Monday: after hearing nothing throughout the summer, I have finally been informed that I have obtained a position as English teacher in a junior high school outside of Paris. Relief and panic commingle in my mind as I struggle to come to terms with this latest change in my life. I have three short days left in which to prepare my classes, update my wardrobe (WHAT does a high school teacher wear? Jeans and cashmere? Pearls and a Peter Pan collar? a MaxMara suit? none of which I possess, by the way, except for the pearls), and mentally get used to the idea of facing a roomful of unruly children who don’t give a damn about me or my subject.

     When panic threatens to overcome me, I force myself to look beyond the foot-long list of errands I still have left to run, and to focus on things that are outside the framework of school and teaching. The still eye at the centre of the storm, so to speak. Things to look forward to: the concert tickets I bought a few days ago to go and hear Mozart’s Requiem and the Russian pianist Andreï Korobeinikov at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in October; the children’s book I have started to write; and a lovely list of new books to delve into.

1. Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette, by Judith Thurman (1999)

This biography of Colette has been on my reading list ever since I read this fantastic review of it back in March, and my parents most obligingly gave it to me for my birthday ten days ago. I may be almost fifteen years behind the times, but at least now the book is mine and I can read it at my leisure!

2. The Gardens of William Morris, by Jill, Duchess of Hamilton, Penny Hart, and John Simmons (1999)

This was my parents’ second – and unexpected! – gift to me. To those who know me, my passion for gardens will come as no surprise, and I have already mentioned my interest in the Pre-Raphaelites at least once. Combine the two, and you’ve got yourself a winner! I haven’t had a chance yet to do more than leaf through this beautifully illustrated book, but I look forward to many contented hours on the sofa this winter.

3. The Horseman on the Roof (Le hussard sur le toit), by Jean Giono (1951)

My youngest brother also loves books and it has become traditional for me to place an order with him every year for my birthday. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s 1995 gorgeous adaptation of The Horseman on the Roof, starring Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez, is one of my favourite movies, and I decided it was time to see if the book lived up to it. My mother cannot quite fathom what I see in the story of a cholera epidemic, but… France in 1832 (the heyday of George Sand, Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, Delacroix, Chopin, and so many others)? An idealistic young Italian captain of the Hussars, fighting for the unification of his country and on the run from Austrian spies and murderers? An encounter with the beautiful, headstrong marquise Pauline de Théus (who also happens to be married), for whose sake he braves the very worst of the cholera epidemic? I’m sorry, but what more could a girl want, except to finally meet Angelo for herself?!

4. The Moon-Spinners, by Mary Stewart (1962)

Yes, it was time for another Mary Stewart (how on earth am I supposed to resist those beautiful new Hodder and Stoughton book jackets?). It was also time to order some more books on Abebooks. You do the math.

 

 

5. The Witch’s Daughter, by Nina Bawden (1966)

Janet Watts’ obituary of Nina Bawden, who died on 22nd August, reignited my interest in this writer, whom I have only recently discovered. So I decided now was as good a time as any to get a taste of her work, and placed an order for The Witch’s Daughter, one of Bawden’s novels for children. Set on a Scottish island, it tells the story of Perdita, whose mother islanders believe was a witch who died cursing the sea, and by extension, all those who depend on it for their livelihood. When a naturalist and his two children arrive on the island for the summer holidays, they befriend Perdita and together embark on an adventure involving orchids, caves, crimes, and treasure. Enid Blyton with a botanical twist…

6. The King’s General, by Daphne du Maurier (1946)

Back in June, Simon of Stuck in a Book reviewed Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek (and was unduly critical, if you ask me – but his mother put him in his place next day, never fear!) and somehow the discussion veered away from pirates and turned to anti-heroes: male protagonists characterized by unpleasantness or even downright cruelty who yet somehow manage to inspire undying love and devotion in their female counterparts (Heathcliff, we’re pointing a finger at you!). I made a reference to Richard Grenvile, the very Heathcliff-like protagonist of Daphne du Maurier’s The King’s General. Simon immediately vowed he’d never read the book… while I, of course, decided the reverse. I want to see if Richard Grenvile is just as abominable – and just as romantic – as when I first read about him in high school.

© Florence Berlioz 2012

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About Miss Darcy's Library

I love books - buying books, reading books, discussing books, and generally admiring them from all angles (except the e-book). I also love tea, roses, and my dogs, and seldom pass up an opportunity to slip them into the conversation.
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19 Responses to The Still Eye of the Storm

  1. heavenali says:

    Good luck with the new job it sounds very exciting. I work in a school too, (I’m a TA in a primary school) so back to normal on Monday for me -and an end to long days of reading.
    I was also prompted to read Nina Bawden on hearing of her death, later that day I began reading Devil by the Sea – one of adult novels, which I liked a lot.

    • Thank you Ali, and good luck to you too for Monday!
      The odd thing is that despite all that wonderful free time, I never get much reading done during the summer holidays – there’s so much else to do and enjoy at home, in the garden, with my family, that I get distracted. It’s when work starts up again that my brain demands something more challenging than Georgette Heyer and that I become capable of finishing two or three books within a week…
      If I like The Witch’s Daughter, I’ll definitely add Devil by the Sea to my TBR list!

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Well done on the job front Florence – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I read the Colette biography this year, and I was a little nervous about it because I feared a hatchet job – and I adore Colette and won’t hear a word said against her! But I really enjoyed it, and came out feeling I knew her better and went off on a big re-read – so that can’t be bad!

    • I have a big confession to make: I have never read any Colette, apart from a translation of Gigi when I was a teenager (and it didn’t make much of an impression). But the more I read about her, the more I want to know – the mere fact that she wrote so much about gardens and nature appeals to me a great deal. So I’m thrilled to hear you confirm the Thurman biography is so good!

  3. litlove says:

    Belated happy birthday and good luck for the new job. You’ll be fine! I’ll tell you the secret of teaching: let the kids know you are 100% on their side. Even when you are telling them off, you are doing it absolutely for their own good. Children are animals, essentially, they pay no attention to the facade, so it’s about having the right mindset. In fact, that’s easier to do than a lot of other things! Get into your emotionally strong place and go for it. Oh and enjoy the Judith Thurman – one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. That will certainly have you reaching for the Colette afterwards!

    • Thank you so much for the advice, Victoria! Luckily I apparently have the ability to look stern and confident without feeling anything of the sort so I hope I’ll survive!
      Are there any Colette titles you particularly enjoyed and would recommend?

      • litlove says:

        Ummm, let me think. I suppose the well-known ones – Cheri, Le ble en herbe and La naissance du jour. If you get into her, my own particular favourite is Le pur et l’impur. Oh and her short stories are always a treat – Lune de pluie in particular.

  4. gaskella says:

    Good luck with the new job! Back to school for me too tomorrow in the science dept as lab technician. My late Mum was a big Colette fan, and I have all her copies including the Claudine books. I’ve not read them yet though (story of my life …)

    • Thanks Annabel! I hope things went well for you today – I’ve barely got home from an exhausting 7 hours of staff meetings and can’t wait to kick back on the sofa with a good book! Like you, there are so many I would like to get stuck into – and I’m really behind in my reviews too… Sigh. There just aren’t enough hours in a day!

  5. helen says:

    Hello Florence! I’ve been lurking round your blog for a little while and thought I should properly say hello and wish you the best of luck in your new job. I share something of your terror as I am about to start teaching myself, albeit my class is adults rather than children so an easier beginning. I haven’t had any training and don’t really know what to do, so veer between assuring myself it’ll be fine and wild panic.

    Your new books look lovely, I do envy you the Morris gardens book. The Moonspinners is one of the Mary Stewarts I like best. I should think it will be just the ticket after a hard day in front of the children. Mind you, with your knowledge and enthusiasm I imagine you’d be a great teacher.

    • Hello Helen, and welcome! I am so glad you stopped lurking and decided to comment! I do hope you will come back and join more discussions…

      I survived a full day of staff meetings yesterday and am therefore much more optimistic than I was a few days ago. I’m sure you will do beautifully – in my own (albeit limited) experience with adult students, if you just let your own enthusiasm for your subject buoy you up, you will not only convince them of your skills but interest them as well. With a bit of good will on both sides, there can be a great team spirit, and the work gets accomplished quite effortlessly… I wish you the best of luck!

      • helen says:

        I will definitely return and join in! I see you are studying Rosamond Lehmann, I love her work and I am sorry to have missed RLRW.

        I am glad your first day went well – I think it’s the fear of the unknown that’s the real problem, don’t you? I’m sure once we’ve started it will feel much more manageable. I had planned to bring cake to my first lesson in a shameless attempt at bribery but have just had a total baking failure (not unknown in my kitchen) so will have to rely on personal charm… Fingers crossed for you next week!

        Am also hoping you’ll write more about your children’s book, and the experience of creating it.

        • In my case it definitely is the unknown that terrifies me so much – once you actually know what you are facing, it becomes easier to cope with. Since cake is out for the time being, try telling a joke or two to make the atmosphere more relaxed…

          Feel free to comment on any of the RLRW posts that catch your fancy – I’d love to hear what you think!

          As for the children’s book, I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew! But the story has been in my head for at least two years and my sister is going to illustrate it, so I’m hoping it will turn into a fun creative project. I will keep you posted!

  6. Jo says:

    I wonder why so many teachers love reading and blogs about books? We started back on Monday and I can’t believe we are still in the same week. The holidays fly and these days seem to be lasting forever! High school teachers need things that are smart; can cover the extremes of heat and cold because your building will invariably be an oven or a freezer – I have never worked in a school yet where the temperature is comfortable; things that ‘mix and match’ because the last thing you want to be doing in the morning is deciding what goes together! A pocket because you will forever be losing your keys. Final tip- clothes that wash and dry easily and don’t need much ironing – and when you get all this sussed, please let me know what you have on!!!!!!!

    • Hello Jo, thanks for commenting and for the advice!
      To be honest, I would be shocked if teachers (especially language teachers) were NOT interested in books. How are we supposed to encourage our students to read, to be curious, to move out of the comfort zone of the world they live in and discover other worlds and other cultures, and (if we are lucky) learn to love words and stories, if we ourselves do not set an example? An open mind, a curious outlook on life, and a desire to share a wonderful discovery are essential, in my opinion, if one wants to be a good teacher.

  7. Simon T says:

    Heeheehee, re:Daphne!

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