What do the Bristol Rovers, the Tour de France, agressive Futurists, and forgotten female poets have in common? *

One of the beauties and one of the dangers of using digital archives is that a random keyword search can lead you on a fascinating journey through the past in which apparently random events suddenly seem surprisingly connected.

A while ago I typed ‘Bristol’ into Gallica for no other reason than that I happen to live there. One of the first things that came up was this photograph of Bristol Rovers playing Southampton in the Parc des Princes stadium –then primarily a velodrome – in March 1909. 

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Curious to find out why they played there and who won, I Googled ‘Parc des Princes 1909’. Many results were about the Tour de France since the race always finished in the Parc des Princes until the 1960’s. Here is another photographic treasure from Gallica showing the exhausted winner of the last stage of the 1909 Tour and third overall, Frenchman Jean Alavoine, being held on his bicycle by flowers and men with facial hair.

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But a lot more was happening in 1909 in the Parc des Princes. A month after the Bristol Rovers-Southampton match the poet F.T. Marinetti, leader of the Futurists, duelled writer and critic Charles Henri-Hirsch in the stadium on 16 April. Hirsch had not only been very critical of Marinetti’s play Le Roi Bombance, but had also suggested that Marinetti was having an affair with Jane Catulle Mendès. Catulle Mendès? Yes, that’s right, this one. And also this one, the one who always drank Vin Mariani when writing newspaper articles.

Jane Catulle Mendès was however not just someone’s wife and mistress. She was also a writer. In fact she was a prize-winning poet in her time, but she seems to have been completely forgotten by literary history. No wonder perhaps with all those drunk, aggressive male poets around her. Here is Jane on a publicity photograph from 1909 (source: Gallica) looking like someone had just told her that she would not make the canon of French literature:

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The duel in the Parc des Princes ended when Hirsch was wounded on his arm. Marinetti was victorious and no doubt relished the publicity generated by his fight with Hirsch. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto had only recently appeared on 20 February in Le Figaro.

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Marinetti probably also loved the symbolic value of him, the Futurist, having literally and aggressively defeated the ‘old’ literary crowd embodied by Hirsch. Word of the duel and of Marinetti’s new, artistic movement even reached the New Zealand Evening Post on 2 June 1909 in which the two men are aptly described as ‘fighting cocks’.

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Football, Tour de France, duels, avant-garde: the Parc des Princes in 1909 as a place of macho modernity. Marinetti and the Futurists would have approved. Hirsch and Jane Catulle Mendès probably not so much.

Perhaps digital archives and random keyword searches can lead you to see connections and meanings that never existed. Then again, they might turn out to be a lot of fun.

*Answer: The Parc des Princes in 1909/random keyword search

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Want to start your own literary salon? Don’t be too beautiful says Le Figaro

Ladies, if you are thinking of starting a literary salon, make sure you are not too beautiful. This is the sound advice of ‘un indiscret’ (an indiscrete one) in Le Figaro from 9 October 1901. A woman who is too pretty will only be the unwanted centre of attention, because all the other women will be jealous of your beauty and all the men will be attracted to you. Even worse, the level of conversation will drop to an unacceptable standard.

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Une chanson de Gibert dans le salon de madame Madeleine Lemaire (1891) by Pierre-George Jeanniot -Source: Wikimedia Commons

After these wise words, our indiscreet columnist then lists some of the most notable salons in Paris 1901. This includes that of Madeleine Lemaire, painter and society hostess extraordinaire, who launched the career of many artists including that of Marcel Proust and who famously served as one of the models for Mme Verdurin in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. The anonymous columnist in Le Figaro calls her salon ‘the most pittoresk’, because ‘every segment of society is represented there’. People are reciting verses by M. de Montesquiou or Marcel Proust, ‘women are singing songs by Raynaldo (sic) Hahn’, ‘Sarah Bernhardt recites poetry’. ‘Right and left, high finance and aristocracy, society ladies and great artists all mingle here.’ Read the article in French on Gallica here.

Madeleine Lemaire would have no doubt been pleased to read on the front page of Le Figaro that it must have been her mediocre looks that made her salon so successful.

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Madeleine Lemaire is not amused (photographed by Nadar in 1891)

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