Reading books from 1930
Not only was 1930 the start of a new decade but the year in which Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, A. A. Milne signed a character licensing agreement granting Stephen Slesinger merchandising rights to his Winnie-the-Pooh stories and, on 18th April, BBC Radio from London reported there was “no news”. How cheering this announcement would be in 2019!
There was, however, plenty to keep the average book lover absorbed well into the future. For instance, the Collins Crime Club was launched, Georges Simenon’s detective character Inspector Jules Maigret made his first appearance in print under the author’s real name and an assortment of books were published, including: Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse, The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and The Tale of Little Pig Robinson by Beatrix Potter – to name but a smattering from a potpourri of publications.
Once again, readers from various parts of the world are gathering online – this time under the 1930 Club hat (the latest in a series of biannual reading events hosted by two popular members of the book blogging community: Karen Langley of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book) – to celebrate works originally published during this amazingly furtile period in the history of literature.
Here I share my thoughts on Le Bal by the Ukrainian Jewish author Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942).
In her 2007 preface, the translator of Le Bal, Sandra Smith, describes “interaction between different members of a family” as one of the author’s most important themes. Indeed, her “insightful analysis” of the fictional Kampf family is at the very heart of this perceptive novella.
Written in 1930 but set in 1926, this short tale focuses Némirovsky’s critical eye on Alfred Kampf, a German Jewish immigrant who makes a fortune on the Stock Market but struggles to be accepted into Parisian high society; his wife, Rosine, a woman with a colourful past, for whom he has converted to Catholicism; and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Antoinette, whose complex relationship with her mother borders on hatred.
Rosine is utterly obsessed with being accepted into the haut monde and goes to ridiculous extremes in order to hide her family’s working-class background. She and Alfred arrange to host a lavish ball in their opulent apartment and invite everyone who is anybody, with the intention of announcing their arrival into fashionable society. However, when Antoinette’s mother dashes her daughter’s romantic dreams by forbidding her to attend, the girl is filled with adolescent fury and exacts a swift and spiteful revenge.
With its subtle and sophisticated prose and shrewd insight into a sensitive teenager’s relationship with her vain, socially ambitious mother, this bleak little tale is unsettling yet compelling. Le Bal is an exquisite piece of writing which turns the crude details of life into eloquent fiction.
The author was born in Kiev, the daughter of prosperous Jewish parents, but her family fled to France in 1918 to escape the Russian Revolution. Here she became a successful novelist, best known during her lifetime for expatriate fictions, though she received little serious critical attention until the discovery in 1998 of her notebook containing the first two parts of a planned sequence of five novels entitled Suite Française. They were published in a single volume to much acclaim in 2004.
Irène Némirovsky died in Auschwitz at the age of thirty-nine, a victim of the Nazi’s Final Solution.