Agatha, Augusta and Martine
Posted on December 11, 2014
Mention the Orient Express and the writer who most readily comes to mind is Agatha Christie. Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1934.
To this day the hotel maintains Christie’s room as a memorial to her.
A further tribute to Christie could also be found (from April through to August 2014) as part of a Once Upon a Time: Orient Express exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris – where several of Christie’s books were displayed on a table reserved for Hercule Poirot in one of three train cars.
Images above and below courtesy of the Paris in your mailbox blog.
A less well-known novel about the Orient Express is Stamboul Train by the English novelist, Graham Greene. A copy of the novel was displayed alongside a Remington portable typewriter (not one that necessarily belonged to him) as part of the same exhibition.
Stamboul Train was not the only time Greene wrote about the Orient Express. Travels With My Aunt (1969) explores how the main character, Henry Pulling is drawn out of his “non-life” as a retired bank manager by vibrant and sexual “Aunt Augusta”, a woman who Henry discovers, through the course of a series of journeys (including a journey on the Orient Express), is his real mother.
“My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does.” Graham Greene
Travels With My Aunt was one of seven novels Greene wrote while living as a tax exile on the Côte d’Azur. After setting up home in a modest apartment in Antibes in 1966, Greene rekindled a relationship with Yvonne Cloetta, the wife of a French consular official who he first met in Cameroon in 1959. The character of “Aunt Augusta” is said to have been based on Yvonne – while the depiction of “Angelina Pulling”, who raised Henry as her son while remaining a virgin in her marriage to husband Richard, is seen as a reflection on the sexless relationship that existed at the time between Greene and his wife, Vivien.
In 1982, Greene published J’Accuse – The Dark Side of Nice, a 33 page tract accusing local officials and businessmen of corruption.
“Let me issue a warning to anyone who is tempted to settle for a simple life on what is called the Côte d’Azur. Avoid the region of Nice which is the preserve of some of the most criminal organisations in the south of France…”
The publication was intended as a gesture of support for Yvonne Cloetta and her daughter, Martine, who at the time was entangled in a custody battle with her husband, Daniel Guy. When the police failed to act after Guy not only kidnapped his eldest daughter, but assaulted Martine’s father in the process – Greene publicly accused Guy of having connections with the mafia.
The woman in the press photograph (above) is Martine Escrivant who, according to a typewritten note attached to the rear of the photograph, helped Greene put together his expose into organised crime and corruption, and did so at considerable personal risk.
Greene was successfully sued for libel by Daniel Guy. The then Mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin, also threatened to sue – a threat that was not carried through, possibly due to the fact that he was corrupt, eventually being convicted of fiscal fraud and imprisoned in 1994, three years after Greene died in a Swiss hospital on April 3rd, 1991.
Poetic justice is better than no justice at all.