Ten “Lost” Books.

Lucy Scholes’ BBC list of “hidden literary gems” starts with Teffi’s Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea, which won my heart immediately; the second entry is by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, of whom I’d never heard and of whom my immediate question was “how do you pronounce that?” Investigation suggests that the last two letters are decorative and it’s /burduks/ [as confirmed by Sashura in the comments], but I hope marie-lucie will be able to explain the odd-looking name. All the books sound interesting; I’ve read none of them and heard of very few (apart, of course, from Teffi, whom I recommend enthusiastically).


  1. I have The Long-winded Lady. It is as described: deceptively simple portraits of quotidian New York City in the ’50s and ’60s from The New Yorker.

    I don’t know about the other books, but the Maeve Brennan revival dates from the late ’90s. Perhaps it just took a while to reach London.

  2. marie-lucie says

    Madeleine Bourdouxhe

    Sorry, I have never heard of this writer.

    I looked her up on Wikipedia in three languages, and none of the three mentioned the pronunciation of her last name. She is Belgian, which probably explains the odd spelling, coming from a different tradition from the French one.

    Perhaps the final he was added so that the x would not be final, since in that case it would be silent. The h might possibly indicate a voiceless cluster (ks not gz). But this is all speculation at this point.

  3. I went on youtube and found 2 clips where Bourdouxhe is pronounced out loud, one by some Spanish person discussing the writer and another a German(?) announcer discussing a footballer (those who call football soccer have to find a good word for a player, then I’ll use it) by the same last name. Both ignore the whole -xhe part.

  4. Bourdouxhe is a Walloon name, and (as I understand) the xh digraph represents in Walloon either a /χ/ or a /ʃ/ depending on dialect. I’m not familiar with the name (or a Walloon-speaker) but my initial instinct was to pronounce as “Bourdouche”. Of course, being aware of how a name of Walloon origin would be pronounced in Walloon is not necessarily any guide to how it may be pronounced by French-speakers.

  5. Thanks all! So I got the wrong idea about it being -ks. I’ll fix the post.

  6. marie-lucie says

    LH, In that case, can you delete my third paragraph? it was based on your assumption of ks.

  7. I wouldn’t be too quick to rule out the possibility of a spelling pronunciation with ks. After all, if we compare the pronunciation of Breton names for example, a surname like Argouarc’h may end up with /ʃ/ at the end in French pronunciation even though c’h in Breton represents /χ/

    Strange things can happen to names that cross from one language to another (like Beauchamp, Menzies and Mauger, to cite but a few)

  8. Belgians seem to like slightly strange final spellings in both Dutch and French: cf. Edward Schillebeeckx.

  9. Thank you for this list, which has a number of books that I will be sure to read, and also because you have helped me identify a book I read years ago that I recall as being extremely powerful. I had forgotten the author and I remembered the title as “Some were Saved and Some were Dead,” and Google reveals no such book.

    But on the link there is a book by Barbara Comyns and I realized with the sudden sense of excitement you get when something unexpectedly good is about to happen that this was my forgotten author. I googled her and found that she was the author of “Who was Changed and Who was Dead,” which is as strange and intense a little book as you might imagine from the title.

  10. Excellent, and thanks for another recommendation!

  11. Trond Engen says

    The Glass Pearls, Emeric Pressburger (1966)

    Although many readers will be familiar with his work as one half of Powell and Pressburger, the most famous partnership in 20th-Century British cinema, few will be aware that Pressburger – a Hungarian Jewish émigré – also wrote this edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller. His protagonist is a Nazi war criminal – a doctor who conducted sadistic experiments on concentration camp inmates – who’s been on the run for 20 years, living incognito in London as an unassuming piano tuner. As he ratchets up the tension, Pressburger achieves something horrifyingly chilling: he actually has you sympathising with his anti-hero.

    Is that the normal use of “anti-hero”?

  12. Sounds normal to me. American Heritage Dictionary: “A main character in a dramatic or narrative work who is characterized by a lack of traditional heroic qualities, such as idealism or courage.” OED: “One who is the opposite or reverse of a hero; esp. a chief character in a poem, play, or story who is totally unlike a conventional hero.” (It goes back earlier than I would have guessed: 1714 R. Steele Lover 13 “Every Anti-Heroe in Great Britain.”)

  13. The context suggests, however, that antihero in Steele just means someone who is not heroic, a more classicizing synonym for non-hero, and not someone who is not heroic but nevertheless the protagonist.

    “I shall enquire, in due time, and make every Anti-Heroe in Great Britain give me an account why one woman is not as much as ought to fall to his share; and shall show every abandoned wanderer, that with all his blustering, his restless following every female he sees, is much more ridiculous.”

  14. In troperspeak, a villain protagonist.

  15. Trond Engen says

    Yeah, I understand the protagonist of The Glass Pearls as a “villain protagonist”. An anti-hero is a troubled and inadequate protagonist in a plot that might call for a more conventional hero.

  16. David Marjanović says

    That’s a Classical or Type I antihero. There are others

  17. marie-lucie says

    Indeed, I did not imagine there were so many types of anti-heroes. When I have more time I will study the Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness.

  18. I have read three of these–the Teffi, the Comyns, and the Brennan–and wholeheartedly endorse all three. Well worth investigating their other work, too.

  19. There is sort of a meta joke that introducing TVTropes links into a forum where they are seldom found is supposed to be accompanied by a ritualized warning that TVTropes can eat up your time and ruin your life.

    For some reason, this reminds me of the “standard assurances” offered to groups of mercenaries that they are in tenable positions in Gordon R. Dickson’s otherwise rather forgettable military SF novel Dorsai!

  20. those who call football soccer have to find a good word for a player, then I’ll use it

    We have one in the US – “soccer player”, analogous to “football player”, “baseball player”, or even “cricket player”. For whatever reason, in the sporting context Americans are allergic to a lot of the time-saving coinages the British seem to favor.

  21. On Vimeo, there is a film about Bourdouxhe narrated by her granddaughter – Un portrait de Madeleine Bourdouxhe. She pronounces it Boor-DOOKS. This must definitive, ou non? I’ve asked a French-speaking translator friend who says there’s a KS for sure at the end.

    I second the recommendation for Teffi. Pushkin Press did a great job with republishing her, and BBC ran a series of dramatisations of some of her short stories last year, on of them, The Hat and My First Tolstoy, surreptitiously linking to the Hat as we know him. (note: unfortunately they are not on podcasts or play-it-again). This year they ran a dramatisation of her memoire but it’s not on listen-again either! Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea: Omnibus.

  22. On Vimeo, there is a film about Bourdouxhe narrated by her granddaughter – Un portrait de Madeleine Bourdouxhe. She pronounces it Boor-DOOKS. This must definitive, ou non? I’ve asked a French-speaking translator friend who says there’s a KS for sure at the end.

    Sigh. OK, I’ll undelete the stuff I deleted earlier.

  23. marie-lucie says

    LH, and un-strike out my comment.

  24. I did!

  25. ou-ha-ha (sorry)

  26. marie-lucie says

    It is quite likely that there are two or three pronunciations of the name in Belgium, depending on the area, the educational level, and such, and all of them are valid within their own context. Walloon is a French dialect but not at all a prestigious one, so educated francophone Belgians such as the writer’s family probably prefer a French-style spelling pronunciation (even though they might know the Walloon one(s) but avoid them).

    Years ago I had a Belgian colleague about my age (twenties), from the French-speaking city of Liége. She said that in school they had to take classes in Walloon but treated them as a joke. No middle class city children wanted to learn to speak like peasants.

  27. I can understand that. It’s easy for me to pontificate about how minority languages and dialects should be preserved, but the closer you get to the ground-level situation in which people have to deal with the social implications of their language, the messier and more difficult it becomes.

  28. She said that in school they had to take classes in Walloon but treated them as a joke. No middle class city children wanted to learn to speak like peasants.
    Same with Welsh. We lived in the Dovey valley, just inside Gwynedd and in a Welsh-speaking area. Children went to a village school (32 students altogether, in all classes) where not a word of English was spoken. But down the valley in Machyntlleth (pronounced mahkh-an-khllet) schoolchildren scoffed Welsh classes as something ridiculous.
    But unlike France, in Britain, Scottish or Welsh accents do not have the same social stigma as regional English accents, like Birmingham or Yorkshire.

  29. marie-lucie says

    Sashura: unlike France, in Britain, Scottish or Welsh accents do not have the same social stigma as regional English accents

    I am not sure what you mean about the French situation.

  30. Occitane is looked down upon as not proper French, for example? In England, Lowlands Scottish accent is admired.

  31. marie-lucie says

    Sashura, Occitan is not French with an accent, it is a separate language (or a group of dialects of a separate language). Its closest relative is Catalan not French.

    All the varieties of Occitan are endangered, most native speakers are elderly. In regions of traditionally Occitan speech (about the Southern third of France), the French spoken is heavily influenced by Occitan pronunciation, but it is not a variety of Occitan. People unfamiliar with this pronunciation usually find it funny but it does not have low class connotations overall.

  32. But, Marie-Lucie, Walloon is no more a dialect of French than Occitan is – although it is more closely related to French than Occitan is – being within the same family of Oïl languages (it’s a recognised regional language of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels with the Belgian federal system). I’m sceptical about the supposedly less class-conscious attitude to regional accents in France as opposed to in the UK. There are, of course accents and accents; but given the naked official hostility to regional languages in the French State, it’s hardly surprising that such officially-sanctioned glottophobia rubs off into social attitudes to regional accented French. Anecdote alert: I’d find it hard to believe that a lecture hall of English-speaking students in the British Isles would start laughing at the accent of a visiting Canadian professor, and yet I have witnessed students at a French university laughing at the Canadian (Franco-Ontarien) accent of a visiting professor.

  33. marie-lucie says

    GJ, I have no personal acquaintance with Walloon, so thank you for setting me right.

    About the Franco-Ontarien prof laughed at by French students: part of the laughter might have been due to them being startled by his pronunciation. The French students might have heard educated Québécois, whose accent is really very little different from that of educated French people, while the French of other parts of Canada can be quite different (and more traditional). The older, more rural varieties of Canadian French (such as Franco-Ontarien) are strongly reminiscent of those of rural Northwestern France (Normandy and thereabouts), and people speaking with those types of accents (most of them now quite elderly) are not expected to be lecturing at universities. So it is quite likely the laughter was not so much about the regional accent as about the unexpected class accent in the mouth of a university lecturer.

    An English Canadian prof lecturing in the British Isles would probably be taken for an American, unless their speech was typical of Newfoundland, something unlikely for an educated speaker (at least in a public setting).

  34. Marie-Lucie, Geraint,
    I was thinking more in terms of accents rather than regional dialects. So, when I said Occitan I meant southern French accent, sorry if it wasn’t clear.
    As to the prejudice, the peculiar thing about England is that constituent country accents, Scottish and Welsh in particular (but not Irish) are not viewed in England with the same impeding prejudice as some English regional accents, for example the ‘Brummie’ (Birmingham) accent.
    And yes, Geraint, it is hard for me too to imagine a hall-full of British students laughing at a lecturer’s accent.

  35. I see speakers of various languages mocking and demeaning dialects they see as inferior all the time, but francophone cultures (which I otherwise really appreciate and enjoy) really do seem to be the most thorough and ruthless at it. There are probably communities of speakers of other languages out there who judge each other as harshly or worse. But among the ones I’m familiar with, francophone attitudes are the only ones that can still shock me. Even speakers of heavily stigmatized accents just find themselves accents more distant from the standard to shit on. Perfectly nice, kind people can be downright nasty about it.

    Anglophone attitudes about low prestige dialects seem pretty mild in comparison. But to me, relative to other British accents, the Welsh ones do seem to be quite stigmatized. Even when people aren’t being genuinely judgmental about it, the neverending repetitive jokes can be pretty frustrating. Scottish dialects seem to get a lot more respect and a lot less hassle.

  36. It may be as simple as political history. England accepted a Scottish monarch in default of any viable English candidates, and full as opposed to personal union came more or less voluntarily with a bit of judicious bribery. But England conquered Wales by military force and imposed its law and customs, which is why there is an entity called “England and Wales” within the UK today.

  37. Other factors may be the Scottish Renaissance, Scotland’s economy tending to be less extractive and more productive, the perception of the Scots as more active partners in the imperial project, the stereotype of the Highlanders as a martial race… Probably a number of things in play.

  38. Barbara Comyns is one of my favorite novelists, and by far my most reliable source of surprise gifts to writers/readers whose taste I admire. I return most often to “Sisters by a River”, but all her books share a uniquely attractive long-suffering-without-any-sensation-of-pain mood and magic-realism-without-any-sensation-of-magic atmosphere. That citation alone is enough to make me want to research the remainder of the list — thank you for the pointer!


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