For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Continuing Saga Of Telfour Tremble

Telfour Tremble
You may remember my excitement recently when I discovered a rare volume of the poems of obscure French Symbolist poet, Telfour Tremble. And perhaps you are wondering if there is not even more to this unbelievable story. Well, you would be right: there is more, much more. But I won't leave you in suspense, or even in suspenders. Let me take you back to 1st March, a week after my post on the shadowy M. Tremble stirred the imaginary waves of this great cyber-ocean of ours.

I was relaxing at home that evening — as you do, with a cup of wine at your elbow, a copy of War And Peace on your knee and a Downton Abbey replay on the telly — when my mobile's familiar ringtone of John Adams's Shaker Loops gently tickled my tympanic membrane. I gave a start — for, indeed, I'd been half asleep — and pressed the green button. A voice at the other end announced, in an accent reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau's in the Pink Panther films, 'Good evening, Monsieur Robert. My name is Théodore Marie Tremble, grandson of Telfour Tremble, the great if obscure nineteenth-century French poet!'

Imagine my state of shocked surprise, quickly followed by a rush of rapturous and euphoric delight! To cut a long story short, we arranged to meet up in the bar of the Ibis hotel in London's Euston Road the very next weekend. And to cut an even longer story short, Théodore furnished me with many hitherto-unknown facts about his grandfather's short but colourful life, facts which had never surfaced before in the annals of French literary history.

It seems that a few years before his untimely death on 1st April 1900, Tremble had decided on a whim to cross the Channel and visit England for a few months, following in the footsteps of his legendary compatriot and fellow Symbolist Arthur Rimbaud, who'd been to London (Camden Town to be exact) with Paul Verlaine in 1872, and had later returned there, dragging his doting mother and sister with him ('drag' being the operative word, as you shall see in a moment). But here the similarity between Rimbaud and Tremble ends. Rimbaud had been ill-tempered certainly, and on a short fuse, and prone to drinking bouts and violent arguments — but, as far as we know, he'd always been dressed, albeit cheaply, albeit shabbily, as a man. It now emerges, my dear and curious readers, that Tremble arrived on these shores garbed in women's clothes. Yes, the secret is out: our poet's most clandestine desire, undocumented till now, was to be a transvestite, like some Grayson Perry of the French Romantic era.

Chalk Farm Underground Station
Of course, the urge for cross-dressing is hardly avant-garde; indeed, it stretches far back into the dim and distant reaches of human history. The uncontrollable desire for women to wear the pants and for men to wear the dresses is no longer earth-shattering news. But what is sensational is that no one seems to have exposed Tremble at the time, and that he seems to have carried off with great panache this boldly successful deception, this unexpected reversal of habillement, for the whole period of his five-month sojourn in a stinking, rat-infested basement flat in London's Chalk Farm, just a stone's throw from Chalk Farm Underground Station.

The other amazing fact about Tremble revealed to me by his grandson was that during this unconventional and free-spirited period he started to write poetry which was revolutionary in both style and subject — poems more like the 'concrete poetry' originated sixty years later by Augusto and Haroldo de Campos in Brazil. Théodore gave me copies of these poems, written in a shaky, alcoholic hand, and they are now amongst my most treasured literary possessions. In an inspired moment the other day I took the liberty of translating one of these extraordinary poetic curiosities, and I present it to you below:

Sometimes I feel like the Queen of Sheba
and sometimes like Julius Caesar
and am confused whether to rule the celestial blue
like the Sun God Apollo or to conspire
with Phoebe Artemis and Selene
in the Moon's eternal soft mysterious embrace

There is talk, too, of another volume of verse Tremble published just before he died, a book so rare that only one or two copies are known to exist; but who owns them is shrouded in mystery. Some say Danny La Rue used to possess a copy, but where it went after Danny's own death in 2009 is anyone's guess. A further rumour circulating amongst the glitterati is that Boy George may have one, but so far he's denied it. There's no doubt that these books would fetch an enormous price at auction. Apparently the title is Une Saison en Purgatoire and Tremble uses the nom de plume of Marie Antoinette Bellerose. How I set about tracking down one of these books, books which have become the Holy Grail of French literature, is, however, a story for another day . . .

In Memoriam Telfour Tremble (born 1st April 1869, died 1st April 1900)

23 comments:

George said...

Absolutely fascinating, Robert. What a wonderful literary adventure! This is like a good detective story. I'm looking forward to learning more.

Danish dog said...

Ahh! I think we've all been well and truly duped, Pobert! We should have noticed the first time round that both his birthday and date of death was April 1st.

You also gave us a clue back then in your comment: "It's true, I feel such a deep bond with Tremble, that sometimes I think he and I are almost the same person, or at least poetic soul mates, or decadent doppelgängers in some way."

The name "Telfour Tremble" is also rather strange. "Tremble" could be a cryptic instruction to make an anagram of "Telfour", and there is "flouter", which would be an apposite term for the originator of a hoax. In French "flouter" means "to blur". Another interesting linguistic feature is that "tremble" is the French word for "aspen", which can become "as pen", i.e. "as a pen name".

Vagabonde said...

What a fascinating story! You do sound like Inspecteur Clouzot yourself or an associate of Mr. Poirot! What a find!
The grandson of Telfour Tremble, then he must be quite old this Mr. Theodore, because if his granddad died in 1900, then his father was born in the 1800s?
All this is very exciting.

Vagabonde said...

I just noticed that you said Telfour Tremble was born and died on a 1st of April and also that this post is dated April 1st – is this a coincidence?

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, as Vagabonde, points out below, George, I feel rather like Inspector Clouseau myself. (Though, if I may dare to boast, my French is a lot better than his.)

It's fascinating, Vagabonde — scarcely believable, really! More apt, perhaps, in view of all the gender-bending going on, that I'm compared to Miss Marple?

The Solitary Walker said...

BTW, more shocking facts have come to light which I hope to reveal later today...

Wendy said...

you wouldn't be pranking us now, would you? :)

That would be a shame, because upon reading the story, I only feel delight that the poet you admire so much has come, in his late way, into your life through the telling of closely-held stories.

Oh, don't disappoint me!

The Solitary Walker said...

Wendy, yes, my life has become so intertwined with his recently, that's he's almost become a part of me. It will be difficult to let him go. (BTW, I've just linked to your excellent blog from my sidebar.)

The Solitary Walker said...

Danish Dog — your theory is astonishing, and your deductions so clever, I can only gasp at your brilliance! Wow! If only I had intended all that.

Gardener in the Distance said...

Fascinating, especially for any of us with an ambiguous identity.

The Weaver of Grass said...

The power of blogland and computers in general never ceases to amaze me Robert. Communication being what it is - I wonder how we could have all missed that important date! I seem to remember Dominic pulling a similar trick with another poet - and you being in on it - but can't remember the details.

The Solitary Walker said...

Pat, apart from the dates, there were other clues, e.g. at the very start of my first post about TT I referenced and linked to Dominic's spoof Margery Clute saga.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for joining in, Gardener!

Goat said...

The British predilection for cross-dressing - almost the national sport, in fact - has been well documented, but I expect better from the French. Or maybe I just expect French cross-dressers to be somewhat hotter.

Ruth said...

Delightful, and it should all be true! I think you should apply for a job at The Onion. I believe they need more literary types over there!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comments. Goat and Ruth.

Yes, Goat, the British pantomime is perhaps the chief example of this, mi duck!

Grace said...

You had mean believing until I read the comments.

Also, congratulations on the new poetry book.

dritanje said...

Reading this fascinating post I was beginning to think that this was slightly too unbelievably good first, that you should have been able to contact his grandson fairly easily, and then - well, then, it all began to have a faintly surreal air to it. But, dashitall I did believe in M. Tremble, even if his name was strange, I was in awe of your knowledge of obscure French poets [coz I hadn't heard of him!] and your ability too, to dash off a translation so quickly [it takes me ages to translate a poem, it's harder than prose] - so, well done, tis a good story! Really liked Danish dog's comments too. I hope you will develop this into a literary thriller !

The Solitary Walker said...

I do hope you will forgive me for my little joke, dritanje..!

The Solitary Walker said...

And please, everyone, forgive me! I really am awful.

jan said...

Me too believing until the comments. I so want it to be a true account and not a spoof. I was looking forward to getting to know Tremble better! ;)

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm looking forward to getting to know him better myself, Jan!

I've heard that after being in London for a few months he was press-ganged into service on a merchant ship as chief cook and bottle washer, and a young sailor fell in love with him, which led to a slew of even rarer poems both romantic and unbelievably explicit for the time... But I'll have to investigate further to get to the real truth of it.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much, Grace — sorry, I missed you out.