Sunday, 24 January 2010

Madame Claire, Menton and the Story of a Book


Kim Herring – see last post, ‘Found Treasures’  - has sent me an image of  this 1923 book, its illustration and its inscription which reads:

Madame Claire Imnage Susan Erstz

For Miss Park  Who, in the opinion of  the authoress must shoulder the blame and some of the credit for this first effort   .Affectionately      Susan Ertz                      Menton April1923

The picture  and the inscription tells us yet more about the story.  Here we have a gracious upright, Edwardian figure, complete with lace cap and collar,  set against a frieze of bright young nineteen twenties creatures posing in the brand new fashions of the day and trying to forget the ravages of World War One. Music, fashion, a very twentieth century elegance - what can Miss Claire have to do with this? This is an image of change.

Digging around, I find that Susan Ertz  was born in 1894, so when she inscribed this book she would be just twenty nine years old. She went on to write many novels which centre  around female characters who enter a challenging world at first timidly and then coming to terms with what is often a hostile environment. So Madame Claire is Susan Ertz’s  first novel of many.  Apparently one admired novel was  The Proselyte a story of a London woman who marries a Mormon Missionary and moves with him to Utah. That sounds interesting.

Digging further,  I find that Susan Ertz was born in Walton on Thames, SurreyMadame Claire Pengine Image Susan Erstz. However her parents parents, Charles and Mary Ertz, were American.  As a child she moved between England and America but chose to live in England when she was 18.     So - as this was  1912! - eighteen year old Susan was doing what her heroines were to do – moving into an unknown , possible scary world.  In 1932, aged 38 ,  she married Major John Ronald McCrindle a barrister, formerly an army officer. (Is there a story there, I wonder?)

Information is sketchy. Susan Ertz died in 1985. And it seems that one of her later works, In the Cool of the Day, was the source of  a film of the same name which came out in  1963, starring  Jane Fonda, Peter Finch and Angela Lansbury.Penguin back Madame Claire

Digging around my own bookshelves I find I actually have a copy of  Madame Claire in a Penguin edition!  It was  reissued in 1985 as part of a boxed set of facsimiles of the first ten Penguin books published as part of Penguin’s fiftieth anniversary. Susan Ertz  sits  there alongside Andre Maurois, Ernest Hemingway, Eric Linklater, Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie, Beverly Nichols. Mary Webb and Compton McKenzie.  To my shame I have not yet read Madame Claire. But I will.

Madame Claire was first published by Penguin in 1935. Before that this novel was first published by Ernest Benn in 1923 and and went on up be published in fourteen impressions before becoming part of the Penguin revolution in 1935. And here I am, writing about it in 2010.  Bookprint Adelphi

The 1923  edition has the publishers wonderfully romantic publisher’s imprint. I suppose it would be called a logo nowadays. Isn’t it evocative?


So there you have it. The story of a book and its wanderings through time. For me, though, the real story in in the inscription. Here you have the twenty nine year old aspiring American novelist meeting a Miss Park in the South of France, in  beautiful, fashiFile:Menton BW 0.JPGonable Menton in 1923. I feel the young novelist could not have modelled the guru-esque Madame Claire on herself. So perhaps Miss Park was the model for this woman who gives others such wise advice. Perhaps that’s why she should have both the blame and the credit for this first novel. And she signs off affectionately. The inscription is a significant gesture.

As a novelist myself I know how important that first novel is. I also know there is another novel of time, place and character buried in here somewhere.




  1. Wendy - how very interesting all this is, and how quickly you've found all this out, developing that initial spark of an idea towards becoming a piece of work. I've just come across what is apparently Susan Ertz's most well-known quotation: "Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon" - very appropriate on this dank, dark January afternoon Wendy! And also this, from a letter she wrote in 1974, to a writing tutor asking for her advice on what to pass on to his students: "I would advise all prospective novelists to look inwards as well as outwards. Your own lives, emotions, inclinations, dislikes and loves are of immense importance ... however much transmuted and transformed. It is valuable material. The outward and observing eye is of no less importance. Its powers can make a Jane Austen or a Trollope...I would advise all prospective novelists to read a lot of good poetry." I like the sound of her very much ... and she has changed after 50 years into a sort of Madame Claire / Miss Park figure herself, giving wise advice to aspiring writers ...


  2. This little story just gets more wonderful.
    A dedication made by a novelist 87 years ago sparking the imagination of writers all this time later.
    Miss Park, through Susan Ertz, via Kim Herring stirring the imagination of writers today.
    Isn't this all magic.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. This is such a fantastic story Wendy. It just has to feed into a novel! This kind of detective trail is just what I love about writing.
    I had heard of the film Cool of the Day (possibly even seen it) but had never heard of the other. Shame on me! Now I want to read her books.
    Lovely pic of Menton.

  4. Absolutely fascinating post, Wendy. I knew nothing of Susan Ertz or Madame Claire. Our local secondhand bookshop always has a good selection of early Penguins (and a half price sale at this time of year) so I'll be making my way there as soon as I can.

  5. Remember if you want to read Susan Ertz / Madame Claire, you can always request it through your local library in UK(except for Al of course, although there might be a copy lurking in an Oz library somewhere!) - you will probably get the Northumberland copy (but I'm going to read it first ...)

    Kim (end of advert for UK libraries!)



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