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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 t 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 t 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 a 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. 4 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 I 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. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    With this book I felt I was calling Bingo: a full Line of the winning five numbers. And in a way, Barnes selecting as illustrations to his text the cards that the grocer Félix Potin included in their chocolates—in two decades there were three series of these cards with photographs of notorious people—contributed to my impression that I was playing a board game. First, the author is Julian Barnes. One of my top favourites. Such a pleasure to read – always. What I realized more clearly this time i With this book I felt I was calling Bingo: a full Line of the winning five numbers. And in a way, Barnes selecting as illustrations to his text the cards that the grocer Félix Potin included in their chocolates—in two decades there were three series of these cards with photographs of notorious people—contributed to my impression that I was playing a board game. First, the author is Julian Barnes. One of my top favourites. Such a pleasure to read – always. What I realized more clearly this time is that he is also a very intelligent writer. I have always hailed him as one of the few writers who can change the voice per each character. His Love, Etc. and Talking It Overare the best proof. From the language one knows immediately who in the triangle is talking. That he has a sharp mind I had already grasped when I read his A History of the World in 10½ Chapters – it took me a second reading to realize the structure and meaning of the title. In this account, the way he has seized his material with full grasp, is compelling. Second, the book was prompted by a portrait by also one of my top favourite painters, John Singer Sargent. Granted, some critics hold against him that he catered too much to the upper social classes. This kind of bother does not bother me in the least. What matters is if beauty is discovered and created. And this very red painting, in all its textures and evocations of light and the exquisite hands of the sitter, a trademark of Sargent, is an unforgettable specimen. No wonder that it has fascinated Barnes to the point of preparing and writing this book. (view spoiler)[ There was a few years ago an exhibition comparing Sargent and Joaquín Sorolla; I like the latter too, the way he renders the Mediterranean light is unsurpassed, but in the modulation of the hands Sargent proves to be the better painter (hide spoiler)] . Third, the sitter I did not know. Well, I knew his name, Samuel Pozzi, but not who he was. A gynaecologist of Italian and Swiss descent who left considerable imprints in the world of medicine. Learning more about several breakthroughs in medicine at a time when our current heroes are doctors, nurses, and people working in health institutions, it provided a sobering experience. Barnes admires Pozzi, for his many facets, one of which is that he was not perfect. Fourth, this is a book for Proustians. Many of Proust’s characters--that is, transmuted friends--, and friends and family, circulate through these pages. The most prominent is the Duc de Montesquiou, but one also meets the Polignacs, the Daudets, Huysman, the painters Degas and Whistler, and of course Marcel’s youngest brother Robert a doctor who worked as Pozzi’s assistant. In delving deep into this world is one of instances in which Barnes shows his intelligence. His analysis of the way real people relate to fictional characters, in his continuous contrasting of Montesquiou and the various fictionalized versions of the Dandy such as Des Esseintes, is superb. And Fifth, Barnes’s examination and experimentation with biography is highly satisfying, more so than in his Noise of Time. There are plenty of musings about what it entails to write about the life of someone, in particular one who lived in a previous period. He is lucidly aware that the biographer has difficulty in escaping from fiction writing, and of the barriers between the private and the public (“the study-of-a-life…can only be a public version of a public life, and a partial version of a private life). And may be this consciousness explains why the account does not read like a conventional narrative and why the reader feels that he is closer to the writer, to his thinking, and yes, also to the life of his subject. So, yes, I call Bingo with this book. A complete win.

  4. 5 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 to 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

  5. 4 out of 5

    Boo

    3.5⭐️ I love reading about Pozzi, but I found this book to be too much about others and not enough about him. It also came across very choppy. But an interesting read especially in conjunction with (the more enjoyable in my opinion) Strapless which focuses more on Sargent.

  6. 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Denise Mullins

    While this book promises illuminating insights into the Belle Epoque, focusing on Samuel Pozzi, a doctor "who lived passionately in the moment", it reads like a choppy redundant grocery list of people from this era who merely sought to live more bohemian lifestyles than the norm. To its credit, the book includes a plethora of images and beautifully reproduced paintings of these individuals, but the uneven vignettes used to feature them read more like disorganized research notes than a cohesive n While this book promises illuminating insights into the Belle Epoque, focusing on Samuel Pozzi, a doctor "who lived passionately in the moment", it reads like a choppy redundant grocery list of people from this era who merely sought to live more bohemian lifestyles than the norm. To its credit, the book includes a plethora of images and beautifully reproduced paintings of these individuals, but the uneven vignettes used to feature them read more like disorganized research notes than a cohesive narrative. Even more irksome is the author's insistence on interjecting his pontificatingly pedantic reflections which are particularly jarring and disruptive. Although this book could prove a wonderful source for research, it provided deadly reading for one seeking a more intimate glimpse of this time period.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    This book starts wonderfully, and for a short while I thought it was going to be fantastic, but then it descends to being a random mess of a book. Having finished it, I could not really tell you what it was about, apart perhaps from being a long series of anecdotes about the rich, famous, artistic and fashionable of the Belle Epoque in France, with a few walk on parts from others such as Oscar Wilde. It begins seeming to be inspired by a painting, the eponymous Man in the Read Coat, Dr Pozzi. Po This book starts wonderfully, and for a short while I thought it was going to be fantastic, but then it descends to being a random mess of a book. Having finished it, I could not really tell you what it was about, apart perhaps from being a long series of anecdotes about the rich, famous, artistic and fashionable of the Belle Epoque in France, with a few walk on parts from others such as Oscar Wilde. It begins seeming to be inspired by a painting, the eponymous Man in the Read Coat, Dr Pozzi. Pozzi was quite a character, but there is not enough known about him to fill up a book, so a series of stories, seemingly in random succession about other people he knew or where important in the same era, parade through the book. The book is not completely without virtues. It is well written, as you might expect from a writer of the calibre of Barnes. It is an easy read. It contains some amusing and interesting anecdotes or vignettes. But it jumps around all over the place and much of it is dull about people who were once famous but most of us have never heard of, and who are hard to keep track of as the book progresses. There are few profound insights as you might expect in a biography. I feel if any lesser known writer had put this forward to a publisher, it would not have been published.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joy Becker

    I had high hopes for this book, even after realizing it was not a novel, but it just fell flat for me. First, the positives. This is a gorgeous book. With its glossy, thick pages, and beautiful artwork, it fits easily among coffee table photo collections. Barnes' beautiful writing style is evident in the opening section. Now, the negatives. The story line (is there one?) was all over the place. What exactly is this book about? We're led to believe it is about the Belle Epoque, from the viewpoint o I had high hopes for this book, even after realizing it was not a novel, but it just fell flat for me. First, the positives. This is a gorgeous book. With its glossy, thick pages, and beautiful artwork, it fits easily among coffee table photo collections. Barnes' beautiful writing style is evident in the opening section. Now, the negatives. The story line (is there one?) was all over the place. What exactly is this book about? We're led to believe it is about the Belle Epoque, from the viewpoint of three people, a count, a prince, and Dr Samuel Pozzi (the man in the red coat). There is a definite assumption that those reading this will already have a good grasp on the history of the period and the many players who enter the story. There are no chapters and the narrative jumps from one person to the next. Barnes spends so much time on Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt that I feel they should've been added to (or replace) the initial three we were meant to be following. I came away feeling that Dr Pozzi was a very interesting person and his portrait by John Singer Sargent is stunning, but the book was mostly about the sex lives and preferences of a small subset of the rich and famous in late 19th century Paris.

  10. 5 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.

  11. 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 w 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    lapetitesouris

    "Art outlasts individual whim, family pride, society's orthodoxy; art always has time on it's side." I'm completely enamoured by Barnes. What a fascinating read about the Belle Epoque & as always with history, proof that not much has changed over time. Fascinating. "Art outlasts individual whim, family pride, society's orthodoxy; art always has time on it's side." I'm completely enamoured by Barnes. What a fascinating read about the Belle Epoque & as always with history, proof that not much has changed over time. Fascinating.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jennyb

    What a swirling panoply of people, places, ideas and things. I don't think I've ever read anything like it, and I am sure that, Barnes not being Barnes, no publisher would have taken this on. Kept waiting for a unifying thread to the narrative and -- spoiler alert -- there isn't one. Instead, there's a virtuoso display of erudition, and if you like any of the varied and various subjects this covers, you'll probably find something to like here too.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chalchihut

    I have never been interested in La Belle Époque but this book had my total interest and excitement every time I travelled among its pages. Whatever Julian Barnes writes is a gem.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Under Milkwood

    Did you hear the one about the three French guys - a Count, a Prince and an eminent Doctor who arrived in London in 1885 for some personal shopping? Sorry, I've forgotten the punch line. But I think there was a bullet involved. Or not. Usually I can easily digest anything from Julian Barnes (even Flaubert's Parrot) but I have to confess that there was a fair bit of treading water with this one. Needless to say I did eventually reach the other side of the pool with a fair degree of satisfaction. Th Did you hear the one about the three French guys - a Count, a Prince and an eminent Doctor who arrived in London in 1885 for some personal shopping? Sorry, I've forgotten the punch line. But I think there was a bullet involved. Or not. Usually I can easily digest anything from Julian Barnes (even Flaubert's Parrot) but I have to confess that there was a fair bit of treading water with this one. Needless to say I did eventually reach the other side of the pool with a fair degree of satisfaction. The cover jacket looked enticing in it's rich red hues, not to mention the red ribbon book mark attached to the spine. The paper stock (with Chinese precision!) was of ideal density, the typeface was an elegant 11pt. Dante MT with airy leading and the pages were liberally enhanced with classy photo reproductions. What's not to like? It's my fault that I took it all at face value and was preparing for an absorbing literary mystery. It's more a literary banquet akin to an above average reference book, the bedrock being Europe's 'favourite Golden Age', La Belle Epoque. Our three 'mystery shoppers' keep returning to the forefront of the story but so too does every conceivable notary from the fields of art and music, literature and medicine. Like the six degrees of separation, everyone who ever rose from the norm between the 1870's and the First World War had some connection with the other. Wilde, Kipling, De Maupassant, Colette, Lister, Proust, Sarah Bernhardt et al. The most prominent of the said shoppers was Doctor Pozzi who led the world in the field of gynaecology. He's the elegant subject in the detail on the front cover, which was painted by acclaimed portrait artist, John Singer Sargent. Pozzi's contradiction was despite being a feted 'woman's doctor' and indeed saviour he was reputed to be a Don Juan outside his convenient marriage. But Pozzi's bedroom conquests pale into insignificance when Barnes examines the bizarre and often perverse lives of the entire cast of real-life characters. In short, La Belle Epoque was one crazy ride. From deviants to dandies we meet them all. Often randomly which sometimes adds to the readers frustration. Because France was primarily the hotspot for this social oneupmanship, the duels are numerous and in Barnes' hands, quite hilarious. And we thought that social media today was out of hand. Scurrilous times indeed! So what was Julian Barnes point? He obviously has an affection for these days of yore. And his research is exemplary even if the reader at times is inclined to scream out "Too much f-n' information!" His 'raison d'etre' is not revealed until the final author's note. Which I won't disclose. But it does tend to make perfect sense if viewed through the eyes of an aging intellectual who lives for the power of language. Just remember, he's British, not English!

  16. 5 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 "neu 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maria Bottelier

    I loved reading this book. However, you have to take your time reading it and after each page you have to let all the extra information about the artists and the high society of the Belle Epoque sink in. It was a perfect read for me.

  18. 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 gynaecolo 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.

  19. 5 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.

  20. 5 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 thoug 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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

    Barnes is a terrific writer and I’ve loved all his novels, but unfortunately I didn’t share quite as much passion for the Belle Époque as he displays in this semi-linear narrative of one of France’s greatest physicians. This was rather unfocused, although the bon mots about Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt scattered throughout were quite welcome. With its glossy pages and ample photographs, it’s also one of the more sumptuous nonfiction titles I’ve come across in a while.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Edith

    A biography, not so much of Dr. Pozzi, the subject of Sargent's famous portrait, as of the Belle Epoque. Pozzi was a physician who introduced the modern techniques of Lister to French hospitals and advanced the practice of gynecology. He traveled widely, and brought back the best of medical practice abroad to France. He was a notable supporter of Dreyfus. He was a man of great charm and intelligence, and after he married, very wealthy. He was every where, and knew everyone. ("Naturally, Pozzi was A biography, not so much of Dr. Pozzi, the subject of Sargent's famous portrait, as of the Belle Epoque. Pozzi was a physician who introduced the modern techniques of Lister to French hospitals and advanced the practice of gynecology. He traveled widely, and brought back the best of medical practice abroad to France. He was a notable supporter of Dreyfus. He was a man of great charm and intelligence, and after he married, very wealthy. He was every where, and knew everyone. ("Naturally, Pozzi was there.") Remarkably handsome, he also was a man who had many affairs--although perhaps not as many rumor credited him with. He got on well with almost everybody except his own family; he and his wife were well known for their loud exchanges of views, and his daughter Catherine alternately worshipped and detested him. I enjoyed this book, though I have to say that the middle section had its longueurs. As Pozzi knew everyone, a million names seem to pop up, mostly famous ones--Pozzi's assistant at the hospital was Marcel Proust's father, for example. There are no chapters; just sections--essays really--separated by double spaces. Barnes repeats himself a little, I think mostly to remind us of where we met this person or thing many pages before. I particularly appreciated Barnes' remarks about how little we can know about another human being, even if, as with Pozzi, we have a lot of records--and a lot of gossip. "We cannot say" is the formulation he uses when one might be tempted to speculate. Barnes seems to have been attracted to Pozzi because his open-minded and generous personality seems the antithesis of the increasing polarization and insularity of our present age. Certainly some of the trends surfacing during Pozzi's life are reminiscent of some in our own. That, I think, is why this book is really more a portrait of an age rather than the story of the man in the portrait. Although this is not a traditional-style biography of the man in the red coat, I thought it well worth reading.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    In an author's note at the end of his book, Julian Barnes describes the Belle Epoque in France as "distant, decadent, hectic, violent, narcissistic, and neurotic." And indeed, that sums up well the people and events described in this book. I'm always taken by histories that consider a time and place from an "interdisciplinary" perspective, and Barnes is indeed interested in art and letters and even the sciences as different facets of the time period. The "man in the red coat" is Dr. Samuel Pozzi In an author's note at the end of his book, Julian Barnes describes the Belle Epoque in France as "distant, decadent, hectic, violent, narcissistic, and neurotic." And indeed, that sums up well the people and events described in this book. I'm always taken by histories that consider a time and place from an "interdisciplinary" perspective, and Barnes is indeed interested in art and letters and even the sciences as different facets of the time period. The "man in the red coat" is Dr. Samuel Pozzi, one of the first doctors to seriously focus on gynecology. Pozzi knew everyone in turn of the century Paris, and was a lover of many women (except perhaps his complex, difficult wife Therese), friend to nobility and artists, scientific innovator, Anglophile, art collector, and a remarkably complex individual. The book's illustrations help anchor the wild name-dropping that fills this book. Part of me wishes Barnes had figured out a way to divide up his material into more conventional chapters, but one does feel the sense of the period as a mad profusion of new ideas and conflicting issues, filled with duels and shootings, vindictive journalists, posturing dandies, and wild Chauvinism. Sounds a lot like the present.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I've only read fiction by Barnes (e.g. The Sense of An Ending... divine) until now, with this wonderfully peculiar, quirky biography of French surgeon and dandy Julian Pozzi and his dazzling circle of friends, enemies, lovers, and family in Belle Epoque Paris, London and literally, the known world. Attracted to Pozzi as the model who sat for John Singer Seageant's wonderful portrait in, yes, a long red coat, Barnes soon discovers a remarkable and almost forgotten titan of the age who seemed to b I've only read fiction by Barnes (e.g. The Sense of An Ending... divine) until now, with this wonderfully peculiar, quirky biography of French surgeon and dandy Julian Pozzi and his dazzling circle of friends, enemies, lovers, and family in Belle Epoque Paris, London and literally, the known world. Attracted to Pozzi as the model who sat for John Singer Seageant's wonderful portrait in, yes, a long red coat, Barnes soon discovers a remarkable and almost forgotten titan of the age who seemed to be 'everywhere', as he says repeatedly -- in ladies' beds, including Sarah Bernhardt's; in shops and galleries with two gay traveling companions, one as notorious as Oscar Wilde, the other closeted and hateful; in society, with a rich wife who supervises a dazzling salon of the rich, famous, infamous, literary and beautiful; at the Dreyfus trial; at numerous duels; and in science, to which he was deeply devoted, bringing modern surgical techniques to France, building a major hospital, saving countless lives, and institutionalizing gynecology as a noble branch of medicine. All this and more, told with equal parts of fact, wit, gossip, rumor, and speculation. What fun.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maarten Mathijssen

    That Julian Barnes can write, we know. Is this subject interesting, La belle épogue. Yes, it is but Barnes doesn't deal with the political turmoil, the only historical subject he refers to is the Dreyfus Affair and then only casually. He is more interested in the dandyish aspects of that period. The main character is Samuel Pozzi, a French doctor who circles in high society. There is a stream of namedropping, some know to me; Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, John Singer Sargent, Marcel Proust but m That Julian Barnes can write, we know. Is this subject interesting, La belle épogue. Yes, it is but Barnes doesn't deal with the political turmoil, the only historical subject he refers to is the Dreyfus Affair and then only casually. He is more interested in the dandyish aspects of that period. The main character is Samuel Pozzi, a French doctor who circles in high society. There is a stream of namedropping, some know to me; Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, John Singer Sargent, Marcel Proust but most of them not. He writes anecdotal which makes it very pleasant to read. But somehow it feels as a missed opportunity. The avalanche of characters is sometimes too much and the fact that this period (which let to World War 1) is historical underexposed is a pity. But still I enjoyed the book very much. The empasis is clearly on the cultural high society, which makes it very gossip-like at times. Highly recommendable.

  26. 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 withou 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."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Witty writing about an elegant trio of friends in Belle Epoque Paris. Barnes style matches his cast of characters, which includes Robert, Comte de Montesquieu (or Montesproust, as he ruefully remarked), Prince Edmond de Polignac, and Dr. Samuel Pozzi. The subordinate cast includes Proust, Wilde, Dreyfus, Bernhardt, etc. Out of all this glittery bunch, it is Pozzi who holds central stage. A fascinating man, cultured, accomplished, and oh, what a dish! See Sargent's marvelous portrait of him (in th Witty writing about an elegant trio of friends in Belle Epoque Paris. Barnes style matches his cast of characters, which includes Robert, Comte de Montesquieu (or Montesproust, as he ruefully remarked), Prince Edmond de Polignac, and Dr. Samuel Pozzi. The subordinate cast includes Proust, Wilde, Dreyfus, Bernhardt, etc. Out of all this glittery bunch, it is Pozzi who holds central stage. A fascinating man, cultured, accomplished, and oh, what a dish! See Sargent's marvelous portrait of him (in the Hammer Museum, LA) if you don't believe me.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I love the gossip of all the creatives within art and letters and this is a who’s who of the mid-latter 19th C Paris. Although I’d no doubt have been a chamber maid had I lived then, it seems like a beautiful, intellectually stimulating time to live if one were of privilege. This account is told by the beautiful prose of Julian Barnes along with plates of stunning paintings with the author’s precise and detailed art critic descriptions. Unfortunately, for me the gossip got old and the book ended I love the gossip of all the creatives within art and letters and this is a who’s who of the mid-latter 19th C Paris. Although I’d no doubt have been a chamber maid had I lived then, it seems like a beautiful, intellectually stimulating time to live if one were of privilege. This account is told by the beautiful prose of Julian Barnes along with plates of stunning paintings with the author’s precise and detailed art critic descriptions. Unfortunately, for me the gossip got old and the book ended up like a very long society gossip page.

  29. 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.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daphna

    Julian Barnes is one of my favorite authors and if he publishes, I read. That's the deal. The other author in that category, for me, is David Mitchell. So far I have not been disappointed and this book is no exception. This is not fiction, nor is it a straightforward biography. I would say that it is an introduction to the soul of the Belle Epoque through the life of Doctor Samuel Pozzi. In beautifully written, witty and intelligent prose, and through episodes, vignettes, events and personages o Julian Barnes is one of my favorite authors and if he publishes, I read. That's the deal. The other author in that category, for me, is David Mitchell. So far I have not been disappointed and this book is no exception. This is not fiction, nor is it a straightforward biography. I would say that it is an introduction to the soul of the Belle Epoque through the life of Doctor Samuel Pozzi. In beautifully written, witty and intelligent prose, and through episodes, vignettes, events and personages of the period, Julian Barnes opens a door for us to the spirit and atmosphere of the period. The pivot is Dr. Pozzi, but we are also introduced, through meticulous research, to a wide array of characters and events surrounding the main character. These include Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, his trial, the Dreyfuss affair, and many others. Julian Barnes' craftsmanship is such that he ties all of these together into a coherent and interesting story of one man and the Belle Epoque he lived in. If you intend to read this, don't read up on Samuel Pozzi beforehand. I think it would spoil the gradual development that Julian Barnes has crafted for us. Just follow his lead. You will not be disappointed.

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