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Pictures - Wm Blackwood & Sons - Black Swan - Hearst - Isis
'Perfume from Provence'
In the early 1930's, Winifred Fortescue and her husband, Sir John Fortescue, left England and settled in Provence, in a small stone house amid olive groves, high in the hills above Nice. Their exodus had been caused partly by ill health, but was mostly for financial reasons, as it was in the period between the wars when it was cheaper to live in France than in England.
Almost at once they were bewitched, by the scenery, by their garden - an incredible terraced landscape of vines, wild flowers, roses and lavender - and above all by the charming, infuriating, warm-hearted and wily Provencals. The house - called the Domaine - was delightful but tiny, and at once plans were put in hand to extend it over the mountain terraces. Winifred Fortescue's witty and warm account of life with stonemasons, builders, craftsmen, gardeners, and above all her total involvement with the everyday events of a Provencal village, made 'PERFUME FROM PROVENCE' an instant bestseller that went into several editions and became a famous compulsive book for everyone who has ever loved France, most especially Provence.
Part of the success of this first book may be due to the publishers engaging the famous E. H. Shepard to produce a dust jacket and some 30 plus drawings of this engaging story. Shepard and his daughter Mary travelled by train to the south and stayed with Winifred at the Domaine for some 10 days.
By 1947 - 42,900 copies sold. Black Swan, (Transworld Publishing), have sold 100,000 copies to date!
Pictures - Black Swan -Wm Blackwood & Sons
Winifred Fortescue and her husband, Sir John Fortescue, moved to Provence in the early 1930s. There they converted an old stone farmhouse into a graceful and idyllic home - the Domaine.
For two years after Sir John's death, Lady Fortescue, still a comparatively young woman, continued to live in the Domaine, years that were not altogether happy. Then, visiting a friend, she came across a small, near derelict house set amidst thickets of wild lavender, magenta gladioli, and trailing sweet peas. She fell instantly in love with it, and thus began a new and happy chapter of her life.
With the help of her dear friend and neighbour, 'Mademoiselle' , she set about trying to purchase the property from a complicated and cunning 'Mafia' of local Provencals - and then, once more, she began the heart warming, frustrating, funny, and altogether delightful process of transforming a small Provencal cottage into a home and creating a breathtaking garden down the side of the mountain.
She called it 'SUNSET HOUSE'. By 1947 - 21,000 copies sold.
From the jacket notes of the 1949 edition comes the following: 'Sunset House' is a book of infinite charm which will be welcomed by thousands of readers who enjoyed and still enjoy 'Perfume from Provence'. Here is 'More Perfume' indeed; human and sympathetic writing and a record of achievement in a setting of trials and laughter. 'Sunset House' is the name Lady Fortescue has given to her little house in Provence, a name that is the lasting memorial to 'Monsieur', the late Sir John Fortescue. This book tells of the acquisition, the rebuilding and the occupation of the house by 'Madame'; more than that it depicts the very life of Provence, its exasperations, its smiles and its charm. - Mr. E H Shepard of 'Punch' has drawn the frontispiece in the delightful style which is all his own.
(Shepard only produced the dust jacket and frontispiece for this second book.)
'There's Rosemary, There's Rue'
In 1935 a book called 'PERFUME FROM PROVENCE' was published which instantly became a bestseller, rocketing its gentle, charming author almost overnight to fame and success. The book, telling of Sir John and Lady Fortescue's life in Provence, also gave tantalising glimpses of what had gone before and, finally, after Sir John's death, Lady Fortescue wrote the full story of her life and most particularly of her meeting and marriage with John Fortescue.
Here is the fascinating, nostalgic recreation of another era, of her excitement as an actress before WWI, of her meeting with the man she was to marry, and of their first home together in Windsor Castle during the reign of King George V and Queen Mary. Many famous names of the times drift across her pages which are warm, witty and altogether delightful.
This is the story of the woman behind 'PERFUME FROM PROVENCE'. By 1947 - 32,750 copies sold.
From the jacket notes on from the 1941 edition comes the following: Thousands of readers have delighted in Lady Fortescue's 'Perfume from Provence' and ' Sunset House'. The reason for this is not far to seek - charm pervades her writing. 'There's Rosemary There's Rue' is the story of her life, and shows how courage and a great heart formed a character that could transmit that elusive quality. Especially as these days must we be grateful for books that me be classed as escape-literature.
From the days of childhood Miss Winifred Beech had formed her exact mental vision of the man she was to marry, and when at a garden party at the home of Thomas Hardy she met (Sir) John Fortescue, Historian of the British Army, she knew that she had found her ideal.
Distinguished names and stories of them sparkle through her pages - Beerbohm Tree, Mrs Patrick Campbell, Anstey, Jerome K Jerome, Bernard Shaw and many others. There are delightfully intimate stories of Royalty; how a well meaning hostess dismissed both King and Queen who had honoured her by a visit; how Queen Mary played the part of a grasshopper with nimble glee; and of the strict economies at Windsor during the Great War.
Behind all stands clearly etched the picture of a happy life and the figure of a great English gentleman, Sir John Fortescue.
'PERFUME FROM PROVENCE', which became an instant bestseller when it was first published in the 1930s, created a world that was both nostalgic and unique. Telling of Lady Fortescue's home in Provence, it was followed by 'SUNSET HOUSE', the story of her reclamation of a smaller, old farmhouse where she lived after her husband's death.
It was from Sunset House, set in a little lost village perched on a peak of the Alpes Maritimes, that she watched the Mobilisation Générale at the beginning of WWII. Thousands of weary French soldiers, called from their homes at a moment's notice, tramped past Sunset House. The French Army boarded many of the officers on her but, so concerned was she at the plight of the humble poilu, that she immediately set about finding food and shelter for them. With the help of her friend 'Mademoiselle', she began to set up foyers all over Provence where the mobilised men could rest and pass their leisure.
Then, as the war advanced, as Calais fell to the Germans, Lady Fortescue realised she was about to be trapped in France as an enemy alien and so began her mad dash across the country to Brittany, only a little ahead of the German Army, to make her escape on one of the last boats to leave France.
Following her return from the sunshine of Provence, Lady Fortescue survived the severe winter of 1940 in her Sussex cottage only to fall ill with pneumonia the following spring, spending the ensuing heat wave confined to her bed. During the long days of her convalescence she re-lived her happy adventures in France. Recalling the holidays taken with her dearest friend 'Mademoiselle' in the great mountains of Southern France, her mind drifts to their Bergerie perched upon a plateau of the Hautes Alps. Described with her typical charm and joie de vivre, she shares the delights of the Meije, tinted by the sinking sun, the roar of mountain torrents and the fragrance of Alpine flowers through the cool, crystal air.
First published in 1943, 'MOUNTAIN MADNESS' describes the summers just before the outbreak of WWII. June heralded the arrival of the first fire-flies and the intense heat of the 'Midi' which caused English and American citizens to wilt. Initially camping on a high mountain plateau by a lake, (which the locals and those with powerful binoculars found entertaining), they ventured into the mountains, with a variety of servants, relatives and helpers, or sometimes just alone for up to 2 months to escape. By 1947 - 21,450 copies sold.
'Beauty for Ashes'
The book starts with an introductory letter from Lady Fortescue, dated August 1947, and addressed to her readers. In it she describes the book as queer, much-interrupted, begun and finished in England. Isolated episodes scribbled at 'Many Waters', her cottage in Sussex, in her caravan on the heights of Dartmoor or the woods of Hartland, in a little Adam house in London, a rambling Rectory in Hertfordshire, an old malt-house in Sussex, her own little 'Sunset House' in Provence, and the last chapters in a divine little cottage in Berkshire.
You must read the book to understand the difficulties under which it was written and the changes in tense, sometimes in the present and sometimes in the past, her work for France always taking precedence and causing the book to be lain aside for months at a time. There is the immense sadness surrounding the loss of her dear friend 'Mademoiselle' (Elisabeth Starr), who died during the worst year of hunger in the South of France, 1943-44, from malnutrition, and the despair on her initial return to her beloved 'Sunset House'. But there is work to be done and a France to be re-built.
Her letter ends with a thank you to everyone who has written and encouraged her to carry on and to those who have made such generous sacrifices sending money, clothes, comforts and food for her children of Provence. She was at pains to explain that the gifts came from the readers and not her, although she was granted the privilege of playing the part of 'Mamam Noel' in her village. It is hard to think of a more fitting epitaph and is the one that appears on her headstone in Provence.
Note: In 1997 Isis published a large print edition of this title but split it into two individual books which sometimes causes confusion! Part 1 is called 'Beauty for Ashes' and Part 2 is called 'Return to Sunset House - The Continuation of Beauty for Ashes'. This is not a new or forgotten book, just the second half of the original publication.
'Laughter in Provence'
Lady Fortescue had left Provence in 1940 to support the war effort in Britain. She returned to 'Sunset House' in 1945 and what extraordinary changes can take place over the years, particularly when a war intervenes! Once part of a community, she found herself the sole survivor of the English Colony that had lived in the mountains high above Nice.
She quickly finds herself busy, recounting the joys she shared with her friends such as the gardener, Henri, and Louise, the pious housemaid with the hyena laugh. There are fetes and parties, difficulties met and overcome. Her own poor health which flared up from time to time often confined her to bed from which she managed to carry on by giving others instructions. As time went on life returned to something like normal, the sun nearly always shines and there is all the atmosphere, humour and hope which characterise every one of her books.
Lady Fortescue ends with a tribute to her Provencal staff, friends and neighbours, all of whom give such loving service, though not always conventional. ' They are undeterred by domestic catastrophes, and indeed rather enjoy them. Above all they have warm hearts and a lovely sense of humour and they can laugh and do laugh all day long, and they make you laugh too and so life goes merrily on.'
'Laughter, that divine disinfectant..................'
Other Interesting Books on Southern France
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