Thursday, 17 May 2007
Mystery Two: a love story via Wodehouse
But who is Valentin?
I’m in Montreuil-sur-mer looking for the hotel with the courtyard painting of Laurence Sterne, the eighteenth century English writer – one of the Godfathers of the modern novel. He came here in 1765.
I ask the guide at the Citadel: “ah, yes, and your Mr. Forster?”
Well, if E.M Forster stayed in Dover with Auden, and the Hill of Devi in India, he could manage Montreuil, I am sure.
I am given a guide to L’hotel d’Acary de la Rivière, it is down the road and around the corner. And so it is: gated up, a museum now only in July and August.
Ok. No Laurence Sterne painting today.
Around the corner some more and there is the courtyard to the Hotel de France: Sterne, the picture, the flowers…and in the dark faded grandeur of its woody reception there is no information whatsoever about my man.
…but what about L’hotel d’Acary de la Rivière, and E.M. Forster?
I read the guide brochure to L’hotel d’Acary de la Rivière that I am given at the Citadel. What follows is a kind of Eddie Izzard translation, and a tale worthy of Laurence Sterne: in 1910 after a day of golf at La Boulie, Le Baron Eugène Fould-Springer heard an Englishman, Frank Wooster, talking about une ravissante maison in Montreuil…in 1914 they met again and the Baron asked if he’d bought it. “Hélas non,” said Frank.
Whist convalescing from “Phlebité” in 1917 the Baron said to his wife: “It’s a shame you never met the Montreuil-boy.” Because meeting Frank Wooster changed one’s outlook on life, it seemed.
Wooster contracted typhus at Gallipoli, was rushed home on the orders of George V, and then was taken prisoner at the battle of L’Yser. In 1922 he moved to Paris, and was friends with all the Fould-Springers and le Vicompte Joseph de La Goublaye de Nantois.
In 1928 everyone went to Montreuil and bought the house, L’hotel d’Acary de la Rivière. It’s not Forster, but Wooster, ah-ha. Then next year the Baron died, in Shanghai. The hotel wasn’t big enough for children and so Wooster built another house, the Chateau de Montreuil. Then he married Marie-Cecile de Springer [who I assume is the Baron’s widow, though where the “de” came from, I am not sure] in Paris, but they came home that night, to their “dreamhouse.”
They went to Canada for the Second World War. Frank died in London in 1953.
If P.G. Wodehouse had co-written written this with E.M Forster the characters would have probably told each to bally well connect. But “Fould-Springer’s End” doesn’t sound right, though “Wooster Springs To”, might just.
Instead the true lives of the Woosters and the Fould-Springers remain the second mystery of my footsteps.