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The Man in the Red Coat

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The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi In the summer of 1885, three Frenchmen arrived in London for a few days’ shopping. One was a Prince, one was a Count, and the third was a commoner with an Italian name, who four years earlier had been The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi In the summer of 1885, three Frenchmen arrived in London for a few days’ shopping. One was a Prince, one was a Count, and the third was a commoner with an Italian name, who four years earlier had been the subject of one of John Singer Sargent’s greatest portraits. The commoner was Samuel Pozzi, society doctor, pioneer gynaecologist and free-thinker – a rational and scientific man with a famously complicated private life. Pozzi's life played out against the backdrop of the Parisian Belle Epoque. The beautiful age of glamour and pleasure more often showed its ugly side: hysterical, narcissistic, decadent and violent, a time of rampant prejudice and blood-and-soil nativism, with more parallels to our own age than we might imagine. The Man in the Red Coat is at once a fresh and original portrait of the Belle Epoque – its heroes and villains, its writers, artists and thinkers – and a life of a man ahead of his time. Witty, surprising and deeply researched, the new book from Julian Barnes illuminates the fruitful and longstanding exchange of ideas between Britain and France, and makes a compelling case for keeping that exchange alive.


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The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi In the summer of 1885, three Frenchmen arrived in London for a few days’ shopping. One was a Prince, one was a Count, and the third was a commoner with an Italian name, who four years earlier had been The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi In the summer of 1885, three Frenchmen arrived in London for a few days’ shopping. One was a Prince, one was a Count, and the third was a commoner with an Italian name, who four years earlier had been the subject of one of John Singer Sargent’s greatest portraits. The commoner was Samuel Pozzi, society doctor, pioneer gynaecologist and free-thinker – a rational and scientific man with a famously complicated private life. Pozzi's life played out against the backdrop of the Parisian Belle Epoque. The beautiful age of glamour and pleasure more often showed its ugly side: hysterical, narcissistic, decadent and violent, a time of rampant prejudice and blood-and-soil nativism, with more parallels to our own age than we might imagine. The Man in the Red Coat is at once a fresh and original portrait of the Belle Epoque – its heroes and villains, its writers, artists and thinkers – and a life of a man ahead of his time. Witty, surprising and deeply researched, the new book from Julian Barnes illuminates the fruitful and longstanding exchange of ideas between Britain and France, and makes a compelling case for keeping that exchange alive.

30 review for The Man in the Red Coat

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    Julian Barnes has done it ... He wrote a book that I read twice, which has not happened to me this year ... The book, which has three central characters, two aristocrats and a commoner who became an aristocrat in his profession, is a biography of these three gentlemen, but in fact it is much, much more. Julian Barnes presents the period which is now called the Belle Epoque, talking masterfully about everyone who mattered then in any discipline, politics, literary world or in any other way, and Julian Barnes has done it ... He wrote a book that I read twice, which has not happened to me this year ... The book, which has three central characters, two aristocrats and a commoner who became an aristocrat in his profession, is a biography of these three gentlemen, but in fact it is much, much more. Julian Barnes presents the period which is now called the Belle Epoque, talking masterfully about everyone who mattered then in any discipline, politics, literary world or in any other way, and about all characteristics with which we associate those times. I absolutely loved the way Mr Barnes connects all dramatis personae and events, and there is so much to learn about them. The three gentlemen had a privileged position in a society and this facilitated involvement in all main affairs and acquaintance with giants of the Belle Epoque. The book starts with a detailed description of a painting and a bullet, and ends with four bullets. And there are more bullets. And there are duels. And love affairs. And ... . Julian Barnes wrote a book that I will certainly read for the third time very soon. I am in awe of Mr Barnes' eloquence and writing skills.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    In this nonfictional account, Barnes paints a busy picture of Belle Epoque Paris and London, thus evoking a time of duels and dandyism, the rise of modernity with its faith in rationality, individualism and progress, but also illustrating the role of nationalism, classism, and sexism - and more than anything, this book is a celebration of the close connections and fruitful exchanges between England and the continent. The main hero of this historic tale is Dr. Samuel Pozzi, French descendent of In this nonfictional account, Barnes paints a busy picture of Belle Epoque Paris and London, thus evoking a time of duels and dandyism, the rise of modernity with its faith in rationality, individualism and progress, but also illustrating the role of nationalism, classism, and sexism - and more than anything, this book is a celebration of the close connections and fruitful exchanges between England and the continent. The main hero of this historic tale is Dr. Samuel Pozzi, French descendent of Italian immigrants and passionate Anglophile, who was a celebrity, pioneering gynaecologist and infamous womanizer residing in Paris. Pozzi is the title-giving "Man in the Red Coat", and the cover reveals part of his portrait painted by John Singer Sargent, entitled "Dr. Pozzi at Home" (1881). Together with Pozzi, the commoner, his two friends Prince Edmond the Polignac and Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac play a vital role in structuring the text. Together, the three Frenchmen spent some time in London in 1885, but this is not the main focus of the text, it's more of a launching trajectory: Spreading from the narratives about the lives of these three men, Barnes embarks on a journey through Belle Epoque society, history, art, and culture. The sprawling narrative underlines the abundance of new thoughts and ideas, of fascinating events and extravagant characters populating the scenes, and his three leading men are excellently chosen. Only to give a few examples of Barnes' extrapolations: Pozzi's assistant was the father of one Marcel Proust, who later wrote about Montesquiou; Montesquiou is also the real-life person after whom Joris-Karl Huysmans modelled his protagonist in Against Nature; Polignac, a great music lover, composer and closeted homosexual, met Wagner and was a staple in the highest spheres of society. Accordingly, Barnes takes up the opportunities and runs with them, digressing into interesting sub-narratives, anecdotes, touching upon letters, novels, paintings, biographies etc. - the research required to write a book with such a plethora of inter-connected details must have been immense. We meet Oscar Wilde and world-famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, we hear about the Dreyfus affair, we hang out with scandalous gossip Jean Lorrain (who called himself "The Ambassador from Sodom"), but we also learn about the achievements of Florence Nightingale and Nobel winner Alexis Carrel, who was a protégé of Pozzi, as well as the life-saving medical innovations brought about by Pozzi himself. Another aspect that renders this book so intriguing is the meta-narrative Barnes inserts: Again and again, he makes personal statements and ponders the nature of historical writing, he muses about possible interpretation of his material and makes educated guesses about things we will never know for sure; regarding the disappearance of Sarah Bernhardt's amputated leg and the bullet that killed Pushkin as well as the questionable truth about Montesquiou's gilded live tortoise, Englishman Barnes notes with French nonchalance: "You lose a leg and a bullet, but gain a tortoise: there are more uncertainties in nonfiction than in fiction.". Particularly Pozzi, this daring, intelligent, but also flawed man, becomes more and more interesting the more we know (and don't know) about him. And then there's Brexit, which is the counterpoint to this polyphonic symphony of a book - Barnes only explicitly mentions it in the afterword, but that he was struggling with current English politics while writing this text is already apparent in the set-up. When I requested the ARC, I wrote to the publisher that this sounds like the kind of text I, a German with French ancestors, need in these dire times of Brexit, and Barnes, a Francophile with a degree in Modern Languages, did not disappoint. Barnes has written a book that, filled to the brim with facts, shows how England and the continent have always enriched each other, a book that celebrates main characters who looked down upon national chauvinism, and their openness, curiosity and enthusiasm helped them achieve greatness. So this might be a colorful, entertaining, and highly intelligent book about the Belle Epoque, but Barnes' message is for today, directed at us. Highly recommended. Disclaimer: Do yourself a favor and buy the printed version, so you can really enjoy the many images that illustrate the text - it's almost a crime to look at these wonderful paintings on a black-and-white kindle.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    I am not in the habit of picking up biographies of people I never heard of and have no idea why I should. But Julian Barnes proved me quite wrong. He did it in an unusual way, with a dramatic portrait by John Singer Sargent of Sargent’s friend Dr. Samuel Pozzi when they were both young men. Entering that world, Barnes leads the reader on a branching journey of infinite connections to everyone who meant anything in the Belle Epoque in France (1870-1914). Barnes sets it up as a mystery, piecing I am not in the habit of picking up biographies of people I never heard of and have no idea why I should. But Julian Barnes proved me quite wrong. He did it in an unusual way, with a dramatic portrait by John Singer Sargent of Sargent’s friend Dr. Samuel Pozzi when they were both young men. Entering that world, Barnes leads the reader on a branching journey of infinite connections to everyone who meant anything in the Belle Epoque in France (1870-1914). Barnes sets it up as a mystery, piecing together clues. For someone who has never heard the name Pozzi before, it is quite a revelation and quite a trip. It reads like a Six Degrees of Separation. Pozzi’s connections alone were more than sufficient to tell the story, but Barnes connects to his connections’ connections, their friends, lovers, haters, critics, customers, managers and acquaintances. And then their connections too. The connections circle back, and everyone seems to have been connected to everyone else. There are dozens of them profiled here. They range from Oscar Wilde to the Mayo Brothers to Dreyfus, Bernhardt, Degas and Rodin. This sweeping expanse is doled out piecemeal, in anecdotes and threads that follow one of the personages through some stage or event. It also gives Barnes a platform to spout some of his own perspectives. Here’s one on the ways the English and the French regard each other: “…Charles de Gaulle’s obstreperous and infuriating (translate into French as ‘determined and patriotic’) behavior during his London wartime exile, then later in his stubbornly vindictive (‘principled and statesmanlike’) triple refusal to allow Britain to join (‘disrupt’) the European Common Market...” Pozzi was handsome and talented. He spoke English and French. He travelled widely, gathering new medical techniques as he went. He was fast to innovate, devoted himself to otherwise neglected women’s health and initiated new abdominal surgical procedures that saved numerous lives. He was charming, seductive, available and everywhere. He was there for the famous and nonfamous, there for the events, the history, and the parties. His own house held a popular salon where many of his connections reconnected and new connections made. He led a wonderfully full life, outside his own family, where everything was tense and strained. His daughter in particular was a vicious piece of work, full of self hate, self pity and self destruction. Pozzi therefore dallied with mistresses, publicly, including with Sarah Bernhardt, the western world’s sweetheart. She called him Docteur Dieu (Doctor God). They hung out for 20 years. Meanwhile, Pozzi developed into a celebrity in his own right. He became a doctor, gynecologist, mayor, senator and surgeon. He reorganized and ran hospital wings and surgeries. He was recognized globally for his medical practices and papers. He learned the critical importance of cleanliness and antiseptics directly from Dr. Lister in Scotland, and brought those practices to France. Despite, or because of his open philandering, he was respected by men and desired by women. His attitude to medical innovation was “Chauvinism is one of the forms of ignorance.” That is, just because it wasn’t invented here doesn’t mean it’s of no value. This openness was his way of life. Barnes is deeply involved in the Belle Epoque. He was able to post individual photos of most of the people he writes about, which is enormously helpful. And most of the images come from his own collection. At the turn of the century a French chocolate-bar maker began a series of trading cards given away free in the wrapping of every bar. It extended to three series, with hundreds of personalities of the era captured in black and white. It seems that everyone Pozzi knew was famous in his or her own right, at least enough to merit a trading card (and therefore an image in this book). With all the celebrity connections, the cattiness, criticism and outright bashing takes up a lot of space. My favorite: “Degas said of Wilde after a visit to the artist’s studio in Paris: ‘He behaves as if he’s playing Lord Byron in some provincial theatre,’” thus outWilding Wilde for once. There are also lots of betrayals, infidelity, duels and murders. There is faded French royalty, both aggressive and dissolute gays (male and female), marriages of convenience and lots of hypocrisy. Truth that is as wild as fiction. And Pozzi figured centrally in all of it. Barnes followed a lot of leads in filling out his stories, from diaries to newspaper coverage and biographies. But in the end he faced several pages of unanswered questions. They can never be answered, and it really doesn’t matter, but it shows his devotion to the period and the players. So it’s not really about starting with a dramatic painting, tracking down the subject and finding out a little about him and his circle. This is Barnes’ passion and expertise, and Pozzi has figured centrally in it for quite some time. Still a neat concept though, and Barnes presents it dramatically and entertainingly. Oddly, the conclusion features, of all things, Brexit, and how the British government is screwing up the country and its future. No argument from me, but it sits uncomfortably with such in-depth profiles of rich characters from a hundred and fifty years ago. And mostly French at that. David Wineberg

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I completely misjudged this one: I thought it would be historical fiction, but it's actually narrative nonfiction about an obscure historical figure. I found it dull and impenetrable and gave up after just nine pages.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marcus Hobson

    In 2013 Julian Barnes published a book called Levels of Life, which as well as confronting the death of his wife, also told tales of early balloon flights over France, early photography and some of the loves of the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Some is fact and some is fiction. It is a great narrative of humour and minute observations. From the description of this new book, I thought that it might be similar. In some ways it was, only with a little less magic. It took me a little while to figure out In 2013 Julian Barnes published a book called Levels of Life, which as well as confronting the death of his wife, also told tales of early balloon flights over France, early photography and some of the loves of the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Some is fact and some is fiction. It is a great narrative of humour and minute observations. From the description of this new book, I thought that it might be similar. In some ways it was, only with a little less magic. It took me a little while to figure out who exactly is the central character of “The Man in the Red Coat’. We dwell a good deal on the visit of three Frenchmen to London in the summer of 1885. Expecting a few days of shopping are a prince, a count and a doctor. We refer to them frequently throughout the narrative. The doctor was Samuel Pozzi, who was painted by John Singer Sargent in a work called Dr Pozzi at Home wearing the red coat of the title, although it could also be called a house coat or even a dressing gown. Pozzi was, among other things, a society doctor, pioneering gynaecologist and free-thinker. Sargent had provided the three men with a letter of introduction to the novelist Henry James. So begins a long list of famous folk who appear between the covers of this lavishly illustrated book. While this tour of the Belle Epoque in Paris takes in many native celebrities of the time, it also throws in a number of travelers, such as Oscar Wilde. To this stage Barnes also brings his own commentary, reflecting his own Francophile preferences and a fine grasp of the history and scandals of the period. The small asides and fragmentary stories are enjoyable and excellent. For example, “The fact the France was generally a source of Filth was common English knowledge by the time of the Wilde trials.” As the publisher of Zola’s novel ‘The Earth’ found when put on trial. That novel was declared to be ‘filthy from beginning to end’ and while a ‘filthy’ book might contain two or three passages of filth, this was said to contain twenty-one. At the trial the publisher’s plea was changed to guilty to spare the jury from having to hear all twenty-one read out. This gem of a story is one of the many I enjoyed. “In 1896, during the Scramble for Africa, an expeditionary force of eight French and 120 Senegalese soldiers crossed the continent from west to east: their target was a ruined fort on the Sudanese Upper Nile. Frenchly, they set off with 1,300 litres of claret, fifty bottles of Pernod, and a mechanical piano. The journey took them two years…They raised the tricolore at the ruined fort of Fashoda, and seemed to have no more geopolitical purpose than to annoy the British. This they did, just a little…” Got to love a bit of historical trivia. Barnes notes the imbalance of fugitives and exiles between France and Britain. France exiled four heads of state, and among others Chateaubriand, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Monet, Pissarro, Rimbaud, Verlaine and Zola. “The main reason Britons sought exile in France was to escape scandal (and be able to carry on their scandalous ways): it was the place to go for the upper-class bankrupt, bigamist, cardsharp and homosexual. They sent us their ousted leaders and dangerous revolutionaries; we sent them our posh riff-raff.” It seems the French were appalled and depressed by London and one of them described it thus: he “conjured up a picture of London as an immense, sprawling, rain-drenched metropolis, stinking of soot and hot iron, and wrapped in a perpetual mantle of smoke and fog… Along every street, big or small, in an eternal twilight relieved only by the glaring infamies of modern advertising, there flowed an endless stream of traffic between two columns of earnest, silent Londoners, marching along with eyes fixed ahead and elbows glued to their sides.” The book gradually expands the story of Pozzi and his family. Barnes’ observations on biography are interesting. “ ‘We cannot know.’ If used sparingly this is one of the strongest phrases in the biographer’s language.” And “Biography is a collection of holes tied together with string, and nowhere more so than with the sexual and amatory life.” So when one art magazine labelled Pozzi “ ‘not only the father of French gynaecology but also a confirmed sex addict who routinely tried to seduce his female patients’. I was intrigued by such an apparent paradox: the doctor who helps women but also exploits them.” Pozzi is something of a paradox, generally doing good, but failing to make a success of his personal life and resorting to trips and holidays with his mistress of many years rather than his wife. We should probably stick with his medical success rather than his personal life. One of my favourite features of this book are the illustrations: the colour reproductions of various paintings by John Singer Sargent, not just of Pozzi, but others such as the wonderful portrait of Madame X, and a portrait by Ingres in which the subject appears incredibly grumpy. But more than that, Barnes uses sets of contemporary postcards, given away in packets of sweets and candies, which include most of the famous characters mentioned in the text. There were three collections of these cards by Felix Potin, from 1908 to 1922 with each collection containing 500 cards. Even some English and American characters were included in the collections. They are a wonderful reference point for the multitude of subjects in the book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mshelton50

    An interesting look at the life of Dr. Samuel Pozzi, the subject of John Singer Sargent's 1881 painting "Dr. Pozzi at Home." I say "a look at the life" because the book is not, strictly speaking, a biography. I get the feeling that Julian Barnes was interested in and admired Dr. Pozzi (for reasons I'll go into later), and perhaps considered a novelistic treatment, but decided instead to write about the Belle Epoque in which Pozzi lived and of which he was an ornament. In that "decadent" and An interesting look at the life of Dr. Samuel Pozzi, the subject of John Singer Sargent's 1881 painting "Dr. Pozzi at Home." I say "a look at the life" because the book is not, strictly speaking, a biography. I get the feeling that Julian Barnes was interested in and admired Dr. Pozzi (for reasons I'll go into later), and perhaps considered a novelistic treatment, but decided instead to write about the Belle Epoque in which Pozzi lived and of which he was an ornament. In that "decadent" and "neurotic" time (as Barnes classifies it), Pozzi was a man of reason, a scientist, a republican, a Dreyfusard. He was also a good and beneficent man (as well as a charmer and "bedroom athlete"). Pozzi said "Chauvinism is one of the forms of ignorance." He was a man of Italian extraction who was raised and made his life in France, but was an Anglophile as well as a champion of the progress he saw in America and Argentina in the course of his medical travels. One can see how he would appeal to Julian Barnes at a time of (in Barnes's words), "Britain's deluded, masochistic departure from the European Union." I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in France of the Belle Epoque.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bettina

    Gelezen in de Nederlandse vertaling. Geweldig boek, ik waande me in Parijs rond 1900.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sorin Hadârcă

    Well-written and obsessively researched, this biography allows you to immerse in Paris of the Belle Epoque, a fancy perhaps, given that it is Barnes' cup of tea, but also a manifesto: in your face brexiteers. Pozzi (the man in the red coat) is not an illustrious figure, but many other figurantes are: Proust, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde to name a few. A book to enjoy, an epoch to remember.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Janine

    Within one page of opening this book, I relaxed into the arms of a master story-teller. There's that distinctive Julian Barnes voice - intelligent, urbane, confident - and he sustains it the whole way through this rather strange book. What is it? The publisher's designation on the back of the book is 'Biography', but it's certainly not a cradle-to-grave biography. It starts with three men travelling to London for some 'intellectual and decorative shopping'. One was Dr Pozzi, surgeon and Within one page of opening this book, I relaxed into the arms of a master story-teller. There's that distinctive Julian Barnes voice - intelligent, urbane, confident - and he sustains it the whole way through this rather strange book. What is it? The publisher's designation on the back of the book is 'Biography', but it's certainly not a cradle-to-grave biography. It starts with three men travelling to London for some 'intellectual and decorative shopping'. One was Dr Pozzi, surgeon and gynaecologist, who was the eponymous 'man in the red coat' depicted gloriously and yet headless on the beautiful front cover.  The other two men were both homosexual: aesthete Count Robert de Montesquiou who was fictionalized in Huysman's A Rebours, (Against Nature) and as Baron de Charlus by Marcel Proust; the other Prince Polignac who thinly disguised his homosexuality with a convenient marriage to an American lesbian. From these three men, Barnes spins off into a network of observations and anecdotes about the men and women of the Belle Epoque- that decadent, glorious, gilded period from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the outbreak of World War I. It is not just a French story: instead there are connections with Oscar Wilde, the American painter John Singer Sargant, the pre-Raphaelites, and that divisive event the Dreyfus Affair.  It is a time of travel, duelling, art and gossip, and Barnes skips from one to the other lightly, gathering up the threads of connection and coincidence with an omniscient chuckle.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sabine Hélène

    Author's note, p 266 - London, May 2019: "(...) Still, I decline to be pessimistic. Time spent in the distant, decadent, hectic, violent, narcissistic and neurotic Belle Epoque has left me cheerful. Mainly because of the figure of Samuel Jean Pozzi. (...) Who was rational, scientific, progressive, international and constantly inquisitive; who filled his life with medicine, art, books, travel, society, politics and as much sex as possible (though all we cannot know). He was, thankfully, not Author's note, p 266 - London, May 2019: "(...) Still, I decline to be pessimistic. Time spent in the distant, decadent, hectic, violent, narcissistic and neurotic Belle Epoque has left me cheerful. Mainly because of the figure of Samuel Jean Pozzi. (...) Who was rational, scientific, progressive, international and constantly inquisitive; who filled his life with medicine, art, books, travel, society, politics and as much sex as possible (though all we cannot know). He was, thankfully, not without faults. But I would, nonetheless, put him forward as a kind of hero."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Samuel Pozzi was a famed gynaecologist in 19th century France. He treated the famous and the infamous and hung around with lots of notable folk. This is not just a biography of Pozzi but also of the relationship between France and England and of La Belle Epoque. I was intrigued by all the mentions of literary giants and this book was beautifully designed with lots of portrait paintings and photographs.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

    Julian Barnes fascinatie voor Samuel Pozzi, een franse chirurg ten tijde van de Belle Epoque, komt tot uiting in dit boek. Het resultaat van deze fascinatie is een biografische zoektocht naar Pozzi en zijn tijdsgenoten. Een aanrader voor iedereen die geïnteresseerd is in deze tijdsperiode, de maatschappelijke verhoudingen en de ontwikkelingen in de chirurgie!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC radio 4: Book of the Week.Man Booker Prize-winning author Julian Barnes takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...

  14. 4 out of 5

    AngelaC

    I read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes this year and loved it. This book, however, I found disappointing and confusing. I thought it was to be a biography of a 19th-century French gynaecologist, an interesting subject. I suppose that it was, from time to time, but it was much more a look at French society in the late 19th century (and at Oscar Wilde - he featured prominently in this work) or, to be more precise, at a certain group within French society, namely the aristocracy and a large I read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes this year and loved it. This book, however, I found disappointing and confusing. I thought it was to be a biography of a 19th-century French gynaecologist, an interesting subject. I suppose that it was, from time to time, but it was much more a look at French society in the late 19th century (and at Oscar Wilde - he featured prominently in this work) or, to be more precise, at a certain group within French society, namely the aristocracy and a large number of poets and authors. If you do not already have extensive background knowledge of French literary figures in the "Belle Epoque", this book will probably leave you cold. It is, of course, very well written and extensively researched but it left me with the feeling that there was just not enough information available about Dr. Pozzi and that, as a result, Julian Barnes had been obliged to look elsewhere to pad out the baseline narrative. I've given it three stars for the book's literary merit but would only recommend it to readers with wide-ranging knowledge of French literature.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Martin Kerr

    January 6, 2020 Martin Kerr The Man in the Red Coat By Julian Barnes Jonathan Cape, London. 1919, 266pp Plenty of dangerous gossip in a divided era The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes looks at France, and to a lesser extent England and America and its creative exports, at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th La Belle Epoque: ‘They sent us their ousted leaders and dangerous revolutionaries; we sent them our posh riff-raff’. (p35) The author is a Francophile (his parents were language January 6, 2020 Martin Kerr The Man in the Red Coat By Julian Barnes Jonathan Cape, London. 1919, 266pp Plenty of dangerous gossip in a divided era The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes looks at France, and to a lesser extent England and America and its creative exports, at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th ̶ La Belle Epoque: ‘They sent us their ousted leaders and dangerous revolutionaries; we sent them our posh riff-raff’. (p35) The author is a Francophile (his parents were language teachers) and possibly a romantic, who, like Balzac, doesn’t stop for chapters, though there are line breaks to rest, reason and contemplate. In an afterword Barnes laments the shambles of Brexit. But earlier he lists British successes and contributions to Europe and blames the ’defeat’ of a small champagne laden French colonial force in Sudan by Kitchener in 1898 for President De Gaulle’s lack of support Britain’s early entry into the Common Market. The story focusses on Samuel Jean Pozzi at Home (in the red coat, handsome and showing his delicate hands), painted by John SInger Sargent. Dr Pozzi, a surgeon, establishes the first school of gynaecology and treats his female patients with respect and care, while lifting the standards of hospital management, finances and hygiene resulting from his travels through the New World. His end is tragic in 1918. He was a seducer of women and playboy. But his dowry-supported Catholic marriage lasted more than 30 years (including a formal separation in 1909). His loving but critical daughter was a writer and his first son a diplomat. The book begins with a trio who come together in a spending spree in London in in 1885. One a prince, Edmond de Polignac (who later marries the Jewish sewing machine heiress Winnaretta Singer); a count, Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac ̶ homosexuals. The commoner with the Italian name is protestant Dr Samuel Jean Pozzi. They carry a letter of introduction from American John Singer Sargent addressed to Henry James, who had seen Pozzi’s portrait at the Royal Academy in 1882 and who is to be painted by Sargent in 1913. The lives of these three are intertwined through the coming years. But it is the dandy writer, collector and bon vivant Montesquiou who gets serious observation by the author, ever more for his treatment of his servant, Yturri. Images of these three and many other important people are reproduced throughout the book. Dandyism, including some of the adventures of Oscar Wilde in Paris, was common. Henry James popularised Paris in his book The American and in novels and stories thereafter. American heiresses flocked to Paris in order to marry a Prince or Count. The French press had field days describing the actions of the elites (mainly Empire and Catholic supporters) who, in some cases, supported the German invasion of Paris in 1870. Communism and anarchists were feared among these privileged people who were in many cases exploiting the poor for their own nefarious ends. Gun laws were lax, assassinations common. Although homosexuality was legal in France, French novelists were often caught up in libel cases and duels were fought by authors, journalists and editors to preserve their freedom to continue their often biased and deliberately provocative versions of unseemly actions of their enemies, rivals or political opponents. The era of Alfred Dreyfus, who was treated by Dr Pozzi, divided high class society. Pozzi’s early dalliances included Jewish actress Sarah Bernhardt and a long time mistress Emma Fischoff. Salacious comments are discovered and incorporated in Barnes’ story. Barnes warns readers that there is always the unknown that hasn’t been recorded. And what has been recorded may well be bullshit. The only post World War Two book I’ve read about this era is Edmund De Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, 2011. Post Great War writers in English with contemporary French themes include Dos Passos, Henry Miller, Hemingway, George Orwell and later Christina Stead and James Baldwin. I regularly turn to the original French of Emile Zola to be indulged and stimulated by the detail of lives, and by cultural adaptation, lives of our times. The Man in the Red Coat exudes a maturing novelist’s philosophy about art and writing. Intercrural sex or other forms were not the only means of satisfaction. Dandyism was the product of social, economic and political instability committed by the artistic, privileged and wealthy, supported by sympathisers of influence and by those who served their masters. This is a stimulating and thoughtful project about art, writing, persons and the developments in medicine where: ‘even the most self-conscious novelist often cannot properly explain what it is he she does, and how it comes out’. (p229) Martin Kerr’s New Guinea Patrol was first published in 1973. His cult memoir, short stories and seven novels are available on Kindle. martindkerr@gmail.com www.maskimedia.com.au 0400769314

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nick Binge

    I will begin by saying that this book is not, by any means, what I expected it to be. The blurb suggests a focus on one man, a Samuel Pozzi, the titular character, and I was expecting a fascinating tale of a life I had never heard of before. I got annoyed early on by the digressions, the musings and the delving into other areas. This is not a biography. It is a non-fiction, academic and highly researched discussion of the Belle Epoque - the late 19th and early 20th century - as it played across I will begin by saying that this book is not, by any means, what I expected it to be. The blurb suggests a focus on one man, a Samuel Pozzi, the titular character, and I was expecting a fascinating tale of a life I had never heard of before. I got annoyed early on by the digressions, the musings and the delving into other areas. This is not a biography. It is a non-fiction, academic and highly researched discussion of the Belle Epoque - the late 19th and early 20th century - as it played across France and England. It has no rip roaring narrative or antagonists or plot points, even as some biographical works often do. It is just a love letter to the collaboration between those two nations, in art, literature, music, poetry and, as ever, in kind-hearted mockery of one another. In an age where Britain, and particularly England, appears determined to assert the importance of its individualism, this book is a timely reminder that all the best things we have ever done have come from collaboration with other cultures and other peoples.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Willem Hoksbergen

    Hoewel ik een groot fan ben van het proza van Julian Barnes, stuitte de hoeveelheid namen van de aristocratische dandy's, filmhelden, schrijvers, kunstenaars, graven, prinsen en journalistieke roddelaars tijdens de Bell Époque mij, naarmate het boek vorderde, meer en meer tegen de borst. In die zin was ik opgelucht toen ik het boek uit had. Samuel Prozzi steekt als rationalist en excellent geneesheer uit boven deze mensen en heeft een onmiskenbaar interessant leven geleid maar toch bleef hij ook Hoewel ik een groot fan ben van het proza van Julian Barnes, stuitte de hoeveelheid namen van de aristocratische dandy's, filmhelden, schrijvers, kunstenaars, graven, prinsen en journalistieke roddelaars tijdens de Bell Époque mij, naarmate het boek vorderde, meer en meer tegen de borst. In die zin was ik opgelucht toen ik het boek uit had. Samuel Prozzi steekt als rationalist en excellent geneesheer uit boven deze mensen en heeft een onmiskenbaar interessant leven geleid maar toch bleef hij ook onlosmakelijk onderdeel van die aristocratische elite waar hij van genoot en van profiteerde. Barnes smult als erudiet schrijver van alle verhalen uit die roerende tijd maar vergallopeert zich in deze biografie door al te uitbundig en gedetaleerd te etaleren wat hij allemaal te weten is gekomen over al deze zielen en legendes rondom Prozzi. Jammer!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Richard Hoare

    Can't quite believe I'm only giving 3 stars to a book by one of my favourite authors, particularly as I am actually interested in 19th century French literature and culture. I liked the Sargent picture of one of the central figures in the book, Dr Samurl Pozzi, and Barnes' analysis of it. The doctor's enlightened medical practices and treatment of female patients were a highlight. The research was also impressive and the writing, at times, as succinct and incisive as you would expect. However, I Can't quite believe I'm only giving 3 stars to a book by one of my favourite authors, particularly as I am actually interested in 19th century French literature and culture. I liked the Sargent picture of one of the central figures in the book, Dr Samurl Pozzi, and Barnes' analysis of it. The doctor's enlightened medical practices and treatment of female patients were a highlight. The research was also impressive and the writing, at times, as succinct and incisive as you would expect. However, I wasn't terribly interested in the other aristocratic central figures and the gossipy, entitled world they inhabited. I also wasn't really convinced by the Brexit allusions at the end which seemed like an add on rather than central to the events of the book. I ended up wondering who Barnes was writing for in this book. It must be a pretty restricted audience with such subject matter.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Thorley

    This is a hugely enjoyable and informative book. It's not a biography of Dr Samuel Pozzi (the man in the red coat of the portrait by John Singer Sargent which is actually called Dr Pozzi at home) but a portrait of the period of French history called La Belle Epoque. Dr Pozzi does play a large part in this book for, as Julian Barnes says, Pozzi was everywhere. The book is full of famous and less well-known figures from literature, art, music and science - Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and his This is a hugely enjoyable and informative book. It's not a biography of Dr Samuel Pozzi (the man in the red coat of the portrait by John Singer Sargent which is actually called Dr Pozzi at home) but a portrait of the period of French history called La Belle Epoque. Dr Pozzi does play a large part in this book for, as Julian Barnes says, Pozzi was everywhere. The book is full of famous and less well-known figures from literature, art, music and science - Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and his brother Robert, Whistler, the Goncourt brothers, Dr Gilles de la Tourette (Tourette's sydrome) etc. I love the way this book is written. I will certainly read it again. There is a lot of food for thought in this excellent book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    A.M.

    A biography of the pioneering Belle Epoque Parisian surgeon Samuel Pozzi. [it is him we have to thank for warming the speculum and for the theory that surgical intervention should be swift, rather than waiting for the patient to get stronger.] He also wrote ‘chauvinism is one of the forms of ignorance’. I think I like him. Aristocrats of Hellenic tendency… posh riff raff. The heir of the Singer fortune marrying a discrete but known homosexual when she was a discrete but known lesbian. Ooh so A biography of the pioneering Belle Epoque Parisian surgeon Samuel Pozzi. [it is him we have to thank for warming the speculum and for the theory that surgical intervention should be swift, rather than waiting for the patient to get stronger.] He also wrote ‘chauvinism is one of the forms of ignorance’. I think I like him. Aristocrats of Hellenic tendency… posh riff raff. The heir of the Singer fortune marrying a discrete but known homosexual when she was a discrete but known lesbian. Ooh so fascinating And that glorious painting of him on the cover; look at those hands. 4 stars Read on the BBC radio website by the author https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Klaas Roggeman

    Ever since reading Flaubert's Parrot in my first year at university Barnes has been one of my favourite authors. In all those years he has rarely let me down. I can only recall disliking Before She Met Me. I was put off a bit by this one at first, mainly because it was not what I was expecting, namely a story. It is on the other hand a rather chaotic account of a late 19th century French gynecologist and even more so of the age in which he lived, the Belle Époque. Yet the language and quirkiness Ever since reading Flaubert's Parrot in my first year at university Barnes has been one of my favourite authors. In all those years he has rarely let me down. I can only recall disliking Before She Met Me. I was put off a bit by this one at first, mainly because it was not what I was expecting, namely a story. It is on the other hand a rather chaotic account of a late 19th century French gynecologist and even more so of the age in which he lived, the Belle Époque. Yet the language and quirkiness displayed all over the book is quintessentially Barnes, which made up for the chaos. It was a mesmerising time, quite evidently. The age of dandy's and duels.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Kaye

    I found it difficult to engage with the characters in this book. Though Barnes' writing is strong, clever and witty, the structure of the book kept me off-balance. I realise that this was probably the intention of Barnes, who wasn't writing a conventional biography but a portrait of a certain sort of France, well, just upper-class Paris really. The author makes it clear throughout, and explicitly at the end that he is more in sympathy with the French approach to life than the English, even I found it difficult to engage with the characters in this book. Though Barnes' writing is strong, clever and witty, the structure of the book kept me off-balance. I realise that this was probably the intention of Barnes, who wasn't writing a conventional biography but a portrait of a certain sort of France, well, just upper-class Paris really. The author makes it clear throughout, and explicitly at the end that he is more in sympathy with the French approach to life than the English, even though it is abundantly clear that the principal characters are Anglophiles. The book was a beautiful production, and as an exercise in an unusual style of biography, it was nicely different.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Claire Steele

    Barnes' account of the life of Samuel Jean de Pozzi conjures up a fin de siecle society: decadent and daring, given to excesses and grand gestures, and also to political upheaval and scandal. It is a society frighteningly similar to our own. There is much to enjoy here, not least the intimacy of the tone in which Barnes shares his discoveries, the photos, the conjectures. Like all biography it has an element of voyeurism, this time amplified by the subject matter. It didn't absolutely come off Barnes' account of the life of Samuel Jean de Pozzi conjures up a fin de siecle society: decadent and daring, given to excesses and grand gestures, and also to political upheaval and scandal. It is a society frighteningly similar to our own. There is much to enjoy here, not least the intimacy of the tone in which Barnes shares his discoveries, the photos, the conjectures. Like all biography it has an element of voyeurism, this time amplified by the subject matter. It didn't absolutely come off for me, but it was most likely a book I will return to from time to time.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Irina Gkini

    A masterpiece of writing skill, but something went wrong with the story. I very much admired Barnes' skill in meta-analysis (a man we know through a portrait, whose friend is know through his literary Belle Epoque caricature) and I am a big fan of his witty prose and irony. However, the middle part of the book is, as himself so elegantly described "a belle Epoque phone catalogue, where all the subscribers are dead".

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    *A beautiful book in the visual sense, but it never really gripped me. At times, I noticed an oddness to its structure--certain things (unnecessarily) repeated, for example. *I did enjoy his use of the adverb "Frenchly" ...and later on "Belgianly." "Time is equally the enemy of the butterfly, the dandy and the epigram" (209). *I like this, but is it to be considered an epigram?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A story of three Frenchmen - two aristos and a gynecologist, who come to London for intellectual and decorative shopping. This fascinating sidelight on Remembrance of THings Past - just serialized on BBC Radio 4 - is witty and thoroughly researched. Darwin, the bullet that shot Pushkin, Sarah Bernhardt's leg and much more bring the Belle Époque to vibrant life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael Sanderson-green

    When I bought this book I thought it was a new Barnes novel, but my disappointment was put to one side as I got into this biography of Samuel Pozzi. It is a great book to read to understand the late 19th century France with its aristocracy and dandyism. As Julian Barnes states one of the goods to come from WWI was the devolution of these people’s arrogance.

  28. 5 out of 5

    John Gall

    I loved this book, read over Christmas 2019. Transported me to a period of time, the Belle Époque, of which I knew little. A string of interesting, amusing and horrible characters, but never dull. Well worth a read....

  29. 4 out of 5

    O.P. Römer

    Leest niet vlot veel details uit La Belle Époque: groot verschil in Frankrijk en Engeland in emancipatie van homoseksuelen. Veel duels en moddergegooi. Pozzi leeft zijn leven en brengt veel vooruitgang in chirurgie en gynaecologie.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Robert Wynn-Williams

    A uniquely written biography. Not everyone's tasse de the'. Some wonderful observations: biography is a collection of holes tied together with string; a friendship is only a stage on the way to a quarrel (strangely this second rather depressing prediction appears, probably in error, twice)

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