A Black Violet
Beneath Napoleon’s Hat: Tales from the Parisian Cafés
Volume 2: A Black Violet
12 March 2016
Paperback £9.95
Colley Books
Stanton House
07977 464272

The address of this tale is 7 rue de l’Odéon. There was a bookshop there, La Maison des Amis des Livres, owned by Adrienne Monnier. The always smiling, rosy-faced hostess offered coffee and cake to her many visitors so the shop has been accorded the honorary status of ‘café’. It is there we meet our elusive quarry, the ‘Black Violet’, Raymonde Linossier. She was loved, befriended, embraced the contrasting roles of barrister, orientalist and writer but exists in history as a shadow. Her silhouette is outlined in the memories of others.
The poet Léon-Paul Fargue, a professional pedestrian of the streets, guided her through the darker parts of his Paris. He made her a ‘Potasson’ [a variety of the human species that was distinguished by its kindness and its feeling for life], a loosely linked group of which Fargue was the father, the Pope, the king.
Francis Poulenc claimed she was the spiritual guide of his adolescence. He modified his music to please her taste. So many of his pieces were dedicated to her memory. His manuscript of Les Biches was placed in her arms to be buried with her. Poulenc’s fine mansion at Noizay was bought for her, the only person he would share his life with, but Raymonde recognised that his was an unrequitable love, knowing the sexual impossibility of such a marriage long before Poulenc did.
Trapped in the stifling bourgeois world with her family in Vichy, where old aunts would look with horror before her naked legs, Raymonde somehow created a meteoric trail to her life. She wrote a novel and invented Bibism, a precursor to Dada. She became a legal authority on prostitution, an expert in Indian and Tibetan iconography, even appeared in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ as a wax model with a stick of rhubarb toe.
This story goes in search of Léon-Paul Fargue’s ‘black violet’, Adrienne Monnier’s ‘beautiful feminine soul’ and Francis Poulenc’s ‘poor bluebird of Vichy’.