Chance meeting? Not on your statistical nelly.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, Wyndham Lewis’ Tarr

Lithograph of Wyndham Lewis by the artist. Source: the National Gallery

Lithograph of Wyndham Lewis by the artist. Source: the National Gallery

The Annuaire Statistique is a triumph of counting, if by “triumph” you mean counting on a massive scale, and I certainly do. The website http://www.economie.gouv.fr/ explains its role as:

L’Annuaire statistique de la France est une collection qui regroupe dans un seul volume les statistiques de différentes branches économiques et sociales puis plus tard, industrielles. Cette collection s’étend de 1878 à nos jours et elle est toujours vivante.

Which when put through Google Translate comes out as:

Statistical Yearbook of France is a collection that brings together in one volume statistics of various economic and social sectors and later, industrial. This collection spans from 1878 to the present day and is still alive.

In it you can discover that whereas in 1902 the High Pyrenees had 103 steam locomotives, the Seine Département had  a mighty 486, representing an impressive 5,710 horsepower.

There is an international aspect to the data as well. In 1901 Russia exported  raw materials to the worth of  149,682,000 francs to France and a measly 3,446,000 francs of manufactured goods; France, on the other hand, exported to Russia manufactured goods to the value of 9,989,000 francs. There is enough data to keep a graph nerd happy for a lifetime.

I have made one graph: German and British nationals resident in France, 1896-1921.

German and British nationals resident in France.

German and British nationals resident in France.

Even in 1921, three years after their last attempt to capture it in their spring offensive, there were still more Germans than British resident in Paris (there are no statistics for 1914-1918 but I imagine there were guy few Germans hingin aboot Paris). What were they all doing there? Most had come to work: they cleaned, they served meals, they cooked, some had their own businesses. Looked at in terms of gender, it is German women who formed the largest group, working, like their British counterparts, in the service industries and earning a lot less than the men. Another group, probably smaller and largely confined to German and British intellectuals, settled in Paris, attracted by its “otherness.” In the case of the German artists and intellectuals, they felt in equal parts repelled by the rapid growth and urbanisation of Berlin and attracted to the combination of modernity and tradition represented by Paris. In 1900 much of Paris still  lay within the city walls that had resisted the German siege of 1870; the scattered settlements outside the walls still had the appearance of small villages. But by 1900 you could also use the recently opened Paris metro. You could also, if you were British or German, and not working 12 hours a day scrubbing floors, have a lot more sex than in your own country. 

Wyndham Lewis and his literary creation Frederick Tarr, the hero of the novel, both fall into this last category. Tarr, like Lewis, is a painter in Paris who has to decide between the bourgeois Bertha Lunken and the intellectual, sexual and meat-obsessed Anastasya. Into this wanders the mad German artist Otto Kreisler who, unable to have sex, becomes even more mad. On any level it is an odd novel, given the content and the date of publication (begun before the First World War, Lewis revised it considerably during it and it was finally published in 1918). If you wish you may, after reading it, wish to draw the cultural threads together of German nationalism, Nietzschean philosophy and indeed, a prescient prediction of the rise of nazism. Or you may wish to cut those same threads, and argue that statistically Lewis was bound to meet Ida Vendel in Paris in 1906 just as Tarr was to meet Bertha in the novel, the former being the inspiration for the latter. And why not?

Be that as it may, it is stuffed to the free-loving gunnels with literary taste. A life-affirming (5,3) is therefore plotted.

How's them apples?

Next time, I shall follow the example of Mr.Gradgrind and read only “Fact, fact, fact.”

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