guernseyliteraryfestival

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Sebastian Faulks: The Guernsey Connection, by Stephen Foote

We are delighted that renowned author Sebastian Faulks is coming to the fifth Guernsey Literary Festival. We are equally delighted that Stephen Foote of the Guernsey Society has written this piece, revealing Sebastian’s connection with Guernsey.

Sebastian Faulks is probably best known for his historical novels set in France, but there is a surprising Guernsey connection with one of his later novels.faulks_green_dolphin1

During the 1990s, Sebastian Faulks rose to prominence with his trilogy of novels set in France, including Birdsong and Charlotte Gray. These were followed in 2001 by On Green Dolphin Street. Set in early 1960s America, at the height of the Cold War, the novel follows the story of British diplomat’s wife, Mary Van Der Linden, including her affair with an American journalist, Frank O’Hara. In one scene, Frank calls Mary from his apartment, where he has Miles Davis’s On Green Dolphin Street playing in the background – which gives the book its name.

It is an interesting choice of title. For those who are familiar with the recording, it perfectly evokes the atmosphere of late 1950’s America, although its origins lie in the heart of early 19th century St Peter Port.

Miles Davis recorded On Green Dolphin Street in May 1958 in his first session with the group which became known as Miles’s First Great Quintet. The same musicians went on to record Kind of Blue in early 1959, an album which has regularly topped the polls of the greatest jazz albums of all time ever since.milesdavisongreendolphinstreetep480150

On Green Dolphin Street was an unusual addition to Miles’s repertoire. It was inspired by jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, who created a number of jazz versions of popular film music. Although not as well known today, Jamal exerted a strong influence on Miles during this period.

Ahmad Jamal had adopted the music from the film Green Dolphin Street, which had been MGM’s 1947 attempt to repeat the success of Gone with the Wind. An epic historical drama set in New Zealand during the second half of the 19th century, it became MGM’s second highest grossing film for 1947, and won an Oscar for its special effects. The orchestral score was written by the prolific film music composer, Bronislaw Kaper. The main orchestral theme was then turned into a song, which doesn’t actually feature in the film, with lyrics by Ned Washington. The result was then recorded by Jimmy Dorsey’s band, and released at the same time as the film. In the decade since its release, a number of jazz artists had attempted versions, but Miles’s version elevated it to the status of jazz standard, inspiring many other artists to include it in their repertoires. It now ranks at no. 25 in the most frequently recorded jazz classics of all time.[1]2902greendophin_00000002104

The film Green Dolphin Street had been based on Elizabeth Goudge’s 1944 novel, Green Dolphin Country. Whilst Goudge is now best remembered as the author of The Little White Horse, J.K. Rowling’s favourite childhood novel, between 1930 and 1970 she was one of the best-selling authors in the UK and USA. She had written Green Dolphin Country at her home in Devon during World War 2, describing it as her escape from the atrocities going on around her.

When it was launched in the USA, the novel was renamed Green Dolphin Street for reasons which seem to have got lost in the mists of time. Much to the author’s surprise, it won the MGM prize for fiction, so when the film company subsequently adapted it into a movie, they adopted the American title.greendolphindj2-1

Although a large part of the novel is set in early colonial New Zealand, the story opens in a place referred to throughout as ‘The Island’ during the 1830s. In an article she wrote for The Review of the Guernsey Society in 1947, Elizabeth Goudge told how The Island was a fictionalised version of Guernsey, inspired by her many happy holidays during her childhood staying with her grandparents, Adolphus and Marie Collenette.[2] However, in doing so, she changed many of the place names – much as Thomas Hardy did with Dorset.

At the centre of the plot is a love triangle: two Le Patourel sisters fall in love with one man, William Ozanne, who has just moved into a house in Green Dolphin Street. When the girls first meet him, they have just slipped out of their house to escape their mother:

Holding their ballooning skirts down with one hand and their bonnets on with the other they made their way through the swaying and dancing delight of Green Dolphin Street … It was always a cheerful street, for the people who lived in it were the happiest sort of people, not too poor to have the joy of life ground out of them by poverty, and not too rich to feel burdened by possessions, and the dead had left some of their happiness behind them in the homes they had made and the living were daily adding to it out of their own good cheer.[3]

But where was Green Dolphin Street? Goudge was evasive on the subject, and was apologetic in her autobiography about her general lack of attention to geographic detail:-

I know perfectly well if we are writing of a real place we should get out the map and check up on our facts. But then we are not writing history, we are writing a story, and the temptation to alter or improve on the facts for the good of the story is impossible to resist. We give the real place a fictitious name but that does not prevent it from being recognised. [4]

However, there are sufficient hints in the novel to pinpoint exactly where Green Dolphin Street was:

Almost at the bottom of the hill Green Dolphin Street was intersected by Fish Street running diagonally across it, and after this interruption it ceased to be Green Dolphin Street and became Pipet Lane. Fish Street was very respectable and led by way of the Fish Market to the main shopping street of St Pierre, and then on to the harbour. Pipet Lane was not respectable and led straight into the sea through an archway in the harbour wall.[5]

Elizabeth Goudge’s grandmother, Marie Louise Collenette (née Ozanne) had grown up in Hauteville, in the house her father later sold to Victor Hugo, and now known as Hauteville House. This provides the final piece of the jigsaw: starting from Hauteville House, and following these directions, the rest falls into place. Pipet Lane represents Cornet Street, the town’s old red light district, which continues straight down the hill from Hauteville into Church Square. Carrying on past the church and down Cow Lane would have led straight to the floor of the harbour through an archway before the esplanade was built. The only alternative route from Hauteville to the High Street would be down Tower Hill, the Bordage, past the Fish Market and down Fountain Street – a route which Goudge has collectively renamed Fish Street.

And so a direct Guernsey connection can be traced from the house which Victor Hugo bought from William Ozanne in 1856 to Sebastian Faulk’s 2001 novel, by way of Elizabeth Goudge’s 1944 novel, MGM’s 1947 film and Miles Davis’s classic 1958 jazz recording.

[1] See http://www.jazzstandards.com/compositions-0/ongreendolphinstreet.htm

[2] Elizabeth Goudge, ‘Green Dolphin Country’, Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, Spring 1947.

[3] Elizabeth Goudge, Green Dolphin Country (Hodder & Stoughton, 1944), p.21.

[4] Elizabeth Goudge, The Joy of the Snow (Hodder & Stoughton, 1974), p.7.

[5] Elizabeth Goudge, Green Dolphin Country (Hodder & Stoughton, 1944), p.35.

 

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2 comments on “Sebastian Faulks: The Guernsey Connection, by Stephen Foote

  1. Philip Bedford
    July 9, 2017

    In a 1942 Edition of Henrietta’s House I have found an original typewritten (on foolscap paper) “Autobiographical Sketch. Elizabeth Goudge.” written in 1945 shortly after the publication of her book, as she calls it, “Green Dolphin Street. This true story of a Channel Island man who emigrated to the New World…..” . I cannot find any other reference to this autobiographical Sketch and wonder if this is the only one in existence. It is enlightening. I have scanned it into pdf form. Would you like it for this website, and if so how do I get it to you? Philip, Canterbury UK

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