Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What I'm reading 'I Came Out of France'

I'm reading Cecily Mackworth's journey from Paris as the German's took over France in her book, I Came Out of France,  published in 1941. Her story reads like a thriller. Even more is that it's heart poundingly true. Cecily lived this. Her account mirrors what many women experienced during the war that was rarely, if ever, talked or written about then. Or now.

TS Eliot read it and invited her to tea in Russell Square, interested to meet her. She worked for a spell with the Free French in Carlton Gardens in 1940. In her life, Cecily was a poet, critic, novelist, biographer, journalist and globetrotter. 
But I knew Cecily when she'd slowed down and was in her 90's in Paris - what a wonderful character - a grand Dame who was totally down to earth! I'd been introduced by a friend who lived in the same building in the Marais (blue double doors). 
Cecily's ground floor apartment - a small treasure box - was full of bits of her life journeying in the middle East and North Africa and all over working as a journalist and exploring. Plus it held the most wonderfully soft blue and white sofas with matching blue Ming vases nearby.  'From my husband, the Comte you know, I'd never have gone with Ming,' she would say. For all her British mannerisms - she was born in Wales -  she was very French having lived in France since 1936 and marrying first a Belgian, was widowed then a titled Frenchman.

An afternoon with her on the comfortable blue and white sofa, a fire burning and the view onto the 17th century courtyard - was just about perfect and became more so when Cecily would talk. She was in Berlin for the burning of the Reichstag, an account she wrote up but could not get published. One time she spoke of that nasty Henry. Henry as in Miller. I never totally understood that relationship in the 30's. In 1937 she met Henry, then living at the Villa Seurat, in his studio in the Rue de la Tombe Issoire. He took to her and she became part of his Paris circle. Through Miller she met Lawrence Durrell, newly arrived from Corfu. "Send me everything in your jam cupboard," Durrell once wrote on a scrap of paper he slipped under her door.  Miller and Durrell below and always good pals.
At that time she wrote poetry and Henry Miller published her poems in a short lived arts magazine I think it was Picasso who she referred to as an ugly toad or that might have been Jean-Paul Sartre.  Pre-war she'd hung with the artistic and writing crowd - expats and locals - which steered her writing from poetry to fiction.

Reading I Came out of France now - which imho should be titled - I Walked out of France - makes me wonder why any one in the British government didn't heed or note any of her observations. Was it because she was a woman?

If you can find it - libraries might have a copy - please give yourself a chance to go on an amazing ride out of Occupied France joining in the footsteps of Cecily.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. what a marvelous memory. lucky you to have met Cecily!

  2. People like her are true treasures.

  3. What a marvelous person! It breaks my heart that she was not appreciated as she should have been.

  4. Her life makes me think she may have served as inspiration for a central character in Woody Allen's fantasy-comedy-drama, "Midnight in Paris."