Ted Jones has written a deeply researched, well-organized travel book based on geography and on the various writers, famous and infamous, who have visited the French towns and/or made them their home. Brief biographies of more than 150 writers and an extensive bibliography of their works are included.
However, to read this book about the Riviera, or the Cote d’Azur, in the middle of a cold, gray New England winter is no joke. It is cruel and unusual punishment. I advise, if you live in a similar place, buy The French Riviera, A Literary Guide for Travellers and take it, soon, as your guide on a real - not an armchair - voyage to the Riviera.
Jones’ book appears to be the only one of its kind. The only two of a similar nature appear to be Edith Wharton on the French Riviera by Phillipe Collas, and French Riviera: Living Well was the Best Revenge by Xavier Girard. The writers in Jones’ book, including Edith Wharton, did live well on the Riviera, and a few still do. But it isn’t only twentieth and twenty-first century writers who have frequented this setting, where the sun shines more than 320 days a year, where palm trees line streets and beaches, where the cuisine and wines are to die for. Writers began visiting the Riviera for obvious reasons – beauty, the sea, solitude or camaraderie with other writers – as far back as the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy), who lived from 1265 to 1321. Because of politics, he was exiled from Florence and traveled widely in Provence. Writers in the early twentieth century flocked to the area for a “cure” for tuberculosis.
The list of writers is prestigious: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Woolf, W.B. Yeats, Hans Christian Andersen, H.G. Wells, and many lesser known authors: Ivan Bunin, a Russian poet and novelist; Murray Burnett, an American playwright; Frank Harris, an Irish-born American journalist and biographer, ad infinitum. It seems that almost all the biggest names of literature of at least the twentieth century spent some time in this idyllic, romantic corner of the world.
The book is full of delicious tidbits of gossip, some of them quite hilarious. When H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds) lived in the area beginning in 1923, this is what he hoped to find: “hidden away in the sunshine, a home to which I could retreat from England and work in peace…I wanted a mistress to tranquilize me and companion me.” When Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness) went to Gies in 1921, he visited with and was photographed with novelist Edith Wharton, who lived in France until her death. Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, for The Age of Innocence in 1920.
The book also consists of the towns’ histories and the author’s apologies that many of these places have lost some charm. However, as the author notes, “…the writers of the Cote d’Azur, just as they survived the book-burners, will outlive demographic change, falling frontiers and the bulldozers.” Not surprisingly, Jones lives part-time in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera.
Jones’ book will appeal most to two groups: lovers of France, especially of the South’s beaches and climate, and literary buffs and avid readers who collect gossip about their favorite writers. If the reader has only one of these interests, the book could bog down after so many often-miniscule anecdotes. Both interests should keep the reader happily involved for many hours.
By reading The French Riviera, the reader can accomplish two things: find the towns most suited to his/her vacation needs, and pick out books to take along that were written on or inspired by location.