Cover image for Something to declare : essays on France
Something to declare : essays on France
Barnes, Julian.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, [2002]

Physical Description:
xix, 295 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
An Englishman abroad -- Spending their deaths on holiday -- The promises of their ordination -- The land without Brussels sprouts -- Tour de France 1907 -- Tour de France 2000 -- The pouncer -- French letters -- Flaubert's death-masks -- Not drowning but waving : the case of Louise Colet -- Drinking ink -- Two moles -- Consolation v. desolation -- Tail-flaying -- The cost of conscientious literature -- Faithful betrayal -- Justin : a small major character.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC33.7 .B315 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Julian Barnes's long and passionate relationship with la belle France began more than forty years ago, and in these essays on the country and the culture he combines a keen appreciation, a seemingly infinite sphere of reference, and prose as stylish as classic haute couture. Barnes's vision of France-"The Land Without Brussels Sprouts"-embraces its vanishing peasantry; its vanished hyper-literate pop singers, Georges Brassens, Boris Vian, and Jacques Brel ("[he] sang at the world as if it… could be saved from its follies and brutalities by his vocal embrace"); and the gleeful iconoclasm of its nouvelle vague cinema ("'The Underpass in Modern French Film' is a thesis waiting to be written"). He describes the elegant tour of France that Henry James and Edith Wharton made in 1907, and the orgy of drugs and suffering of the Tour de France in our own time. An unparalleled connoisseur of French writing and writers, Barnes gives us his thoughts on the prolific and priapic Simenon, on Sand, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé ("If literature is a spectrum, and Hugo hogs the rainbow, then Mallarmé is working in ultra-violet"). In several dazzling excursions into the prickly genius of Flaubert, Barnes discusses his letters; his lover Louise Colet; and his biographers (Sartre's The Family Idiot, "an intense, unfinished, three-volume growl at Flaubert, is mad, of course"). He delves into Flaubert's friendship with Turgenev; looks at the "faithful betrayal" of Claude Chabrol's film version of Madame Bovary; and reveals the importance of the pharmacist's assistant, the most major minor character in Flaubert's great novel: "if Madame Bovary were a mansion, Justin would be the handle to the back door; but great architects have the design of door-furniture in mind even as they lay out the west wing." For lovers of France and all things French-and of Julian Barnes's singular wit and intelligence-Something to Declare is an unadulterated joy to read.

Author Notes

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester, England, on January 19, 1946. He received a degree in modern languages from Magdalen College, Oxford University in 1968. He has held jobs as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, a reviewer and literary editor for the New Statesmen and the New Review, and a television critic.

He has written numerous works of fiction including Arthur and George, Pulse: Stories, The Noise of Time, and England, England. He received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1980 for Metroland, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1985 and a Prix Medicis in 1986 for Flaubert's Parrot, and the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending. He also writes non-fiction works including Letters from London, The Pedant in the Kitchen, and Nothing to Be Frightened Of. He received the Shakespeare Prize by the FVS Foundation in 1993, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 2004, and the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2011.

He writes detective novels under the pseudonym Dan Kavanaugh. His works under this name include Duffy, Fiddle City, Putting the Boot In, and Going to the Dogs.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The author of this collection of enthusiastic essays is a distinguished British writer. Why then his absorption in things French? The opening line of his preface helps the reader understand: "I first went to France in the summer of 1959 at the age of thirteen," and in so doing launched a lifelong sensitivity to French culture. "Is my view of France partial?" he wonders. "Certainly," he says, in answer to his own question. "Knowing a second country means choosing what you want from it." In the essays that follow, Barnes elucidates and ruminates on the various aspects of France that he has chosen to satisfy his "French tooth." Occupying his Gallic-tuned mind are such topics as British historian Richard Cobb's fascination with France, three Francophone singers (Boris Vian, Jacques Brel, and Georges Brassens), his self-education in French cinema, the always-exciting Tour de France, and his writer-hero Flaubert. (No reader, by the way, will object to the great number of pages given over to the miraculous Flaubert, for some of Barnes' best writing is on that particular subject.) Barnes' book becomes, then, his own Tour de France--and a tour de force. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Novelist Barnes's latest collection of haute musings on France and things French is rather like a ride in a creaky Citron: at first, it kicks and gurgles in a scattered path, but once it gets started, it's a charming and nostalgic way to view la belle France. Barnes, author of nine novels (Love, Etc., etc.), a book of stories and a collection of essays, offers here an amalgamation of pieces, many previously published in the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books. The collection begins with meandering yet tellingly accurate critiques of popular culture phenomena, such as the Tour de France, the films of Truffaut and Godard, and singer Jacques Brel. Barnes's assessment of culinary writer Elizabeth David's thoughts on nouvelle cuisine (it means "lighter food, less of it, costing more") are at once witty and dead-on. After sharing these lighter, whimsical thoughts, Barnes shifts into a higher gear and delves into a study of the French and Francophile literary establishment, from Edith Wharton and Ford Madox Ford to Henry James and George Sand. He saves many of the book's later chapters for his favorite subject, Gustave Flaubert. Throughout, Barnes integrates his commentary with detailed, intriguing bits of history. Devotees of Madame Bovary will thrill to read his ruminations on the masterpiece (e.g., what if it had been written for the screen rather than as a book?). Serious yet self-deprecating, Barnes's prose is perfectly tuned to its subject. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

What do you get when you combine a passion for France, a rapier wit, and an immense writing vocabulary? You get Barnes, a one-time lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, a declared Francophile, and a much-published writer of nonfiction and fiction (e.g., Staring at the Sun). This collection of essays on France includes some of Barnes's best work published in the United States (the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker) and England (Times Literary Supplement) between 1982 and 2000. A fascinating essay on the Tour de Franc, for example, includes a detailed portrait of Lance Armstrong's 2000 victory and gives insight into how the Tour has changed over time. Edith Wharton and Henry James figure prominently in an essay on travel in France at the turn of the century. Flaubert appears in several essays, reflecting Barnes's lifelong involvement in Flaubertiana: we meet his colleagues Turgenev, Baudelaire, Mallarm, and, of course, his mistress Louise Colet. Going beyond the literary, Barnes includes essays on cooking, contemporary film, and pop singers. All in all, this eclectic commentary on all things French is a very satisfying read-just keep your unabridged dictionary nearby! Definitely recommended for larger collections on French culture, civilization, and travel.-Olga B. Wise, Hewlett-Packard, Austin, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Preface I first went to France in the summer of 1959 at the age of thirteen. My pre-adolescence had been car-free and island-bound; now there stood in front of our house a gun-metal-grey Triumph Mayflower, bought secondhand, suddenly affordable thanks to a £200 grant from Great Aunt Edie. It struck me then -- as any car would have done -- as deeply handsome, if perhaps a little too boxy and sharp-edged for true elegance.; last year, in a poll of British autophiles, it was voted one of the ten ugliest cars ever built. Registration plate RTW1, red leather upholstery, walnut dashboard, no radio, and a blue metal RAC badge on the front. (The RAC man, portly and moustachioed, with heavy patched boots and a subservient manner, had arrived to enrol us. His first, preposterous question to my father -- 'Now, sir, how many cars have you got?' -- passed into quiet family myth.) That cars were intended not just for safe commuting but also for perilous voyage was endorsed by the Triumph's subtitle, and further by its illustrative hubcaps: at their centre was an emblematic boss depicting, in blue and red enamel, a Mercator projection of the globe. Our first expedition was from suburban Middlesex to provincial France. At Newhaven we watched nervously as the Mayflower was slung by crane with routine insouciance over our heads and down into the ferry's hold. The metal RAC badge at the front was now matched by a metal GB plate at the rear. My mother drove; my father map-read and performed emergency hand-signals; my brother and I sat in the back and worried. Over the next few summers we would loop our way through different regions of France, mostly avoiding large cities and always avoiding Paris. We would visit châteaux and churches, grottoes and museums, inducing in me a lifelong phobia for the guided tour. I was the official photographer, first in black-and-white (home processed), later in colour transparency. My parents tended to feature only when the viewfinder's vista seemed dull; then, remembering the dictates of Amateur Photographer , I would summon them to provide 'foreground interest'. We picnicked at lunchtime and towards five o'clock would start looking for a small hotel; the red Michelin was our missal. In those days, as soon as you left the Channel ports behind, the roads were empty of non-French cars; when you saw another GB coming in your direction, you would wave (though never, in our family, hoot). That first, monstrous expedition into the exotic was a gentle tour of Normady. From Dieppe we drove to Cany-Barville, of which I remember only two things: a vast and watery soup pullulating with some non-British grain or pulse; and being sent out on my first foreign morning for the newspaper. Which one did they want? Oh, just get the local one, my father replied unhelpfully. I had the normal adolescent's self-consciousness -- that's to say, one that weighs like a stone-filled rucksack and feels of a different order to everyone else's. It was a heroic journey across the street and towards the shop, imperilled at every step by garlic-chewing low-lifes who drank red wine for breakfast and cut their bread - and youngsters' throats -- with pocket knives. ' Le journal de la région ,' I repeated mantrically to myself, ' Le journal de la région, le journal de la région .' I no longer remember if I even uttered the words, or just flung my coins at some nicotined child-molester with a cry of 'Keep the change.' All I remember is the purity of my fear, the absoluteness of my embarrassment, and the lack of vivid praise from my parents on my safe return. From Cany-Barville to Thury-Harcourt: did all French villages have such solemn hyphenation? None of that Something-upon-Whatsit, Thingummy-in-the-Tum-Tum. Cany-Barville, Thury-Harcourt: this was different, grave. Thereafter, my memories become slighter, more banal; perhaps not even memories, but half-forgotten impressions revived by photographs. A brown-beamed coaching inn, a rough-fleeced donkey in a rough-grassed park, my first squat French château with pepperpot towers (Combourg), my first soaring ditto (Josselin). Then first viewings of Chartres, the Bayeux Tapestry and Chateaubriand's aqueous tomb. On the tranquil roads we mingled with traffic of lustrous oddity. French cars were very unMayflowery: curved in the weirdest places, coloured according toa different palette, and often formidably eccentric -- witness the Panhard. They had corrugated butchers' vans, Deux Chevaux with canvas stacker seats, Maigret Citroëns, and later the otherworldly DS, whose initials punned on divinity. And then there was the formidable eccentricity of the food. Their butter was wanly unsalted, blood came out of their meat, and they would put anything, absolutely anything, into soup. They grew perfectly edible tomatoes and then doused them in foul vinaigrette; ditto lettuce, ditto carrots, ditto beetroot. Normally you could detect that foul vinaigrette had been slimed over the salad; but sometimes they fooled you by slurping it into the bottom of the bowl, so that when with hopeful heart you lifted a leaf from the top... Bread was good (but see butter); chips were good (but see meat); vegetables were unpredictable. What were those things that weren't proper runner beans but round, fat, overcooked, and -- cold! There was pâté: forget it, anything could have gone into that; though not as anything as the anything that went into their gristly, warty saucissons , assembled from the disposings of an axe murderer. There was cheese. No, there were thousands of cheese, and I would eat only one of them -- Gruyère. Fruit was reliable -- not much they could do to ruin that; indeed, they grew very large and juicy red apples you could positively look forward to. They liked onions far too much. They brushed their teeth with garlic paste. They camouflaged quite edible meat and fish with sauces of dubious origin and name. Then there was wine, which bore a close resemblance to vinaigrette; and coffee, which I hated. Occasionally there would be a noxious, unassessable dish which explained all too well what you found and smelt behind the teak-stained door of les waters , where gigantic feet in knobbed porcelain awaited you, followed by a gigantic flush which drenched your turn-ups. From the Trade Paperback edition. Excerpted from Something to Declare: Essays on France by Julian Barnes All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.