Travel writing is not one of my preferred reading genres though I recognize the merit of Eric Newby, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and the humour of Bill Bryson. Travel for me is visual and personal not objective and written.
However I do enjoy a book on the characters that lived in a region I know well and therefore found the The French Riviera by Ted Jones an absorbing, informed and easy read. His terms of reference contain some latitude as does his geography. You only have to travel to the Riviera to make it into the book and the Riviera does not cover the Provence coast line from Marseilles to Bandol whose resident or visiting authors he still feature.
His geographical ambit is from Hyeres to Menton with chapters on Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Cap Ferrat, Monaco (not France at all) the hillside villages overlooking Nice and Cannes and Menton. The writers who lived and stayed there make for a list of some of the global greats. The French: Guy De Maupassant, Gide, Colette, Albert Camus Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. The Irish Lawrence Sterne, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and W.B. Yeats. The English D.H. Lawrence, Arnold Bennett, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, P.G. Wodehouse, Anthony Burgess, Alan Sillitoe. The Russian Tolstoy, the Pole Joseph Konrad and the Dane Hans Christian Andersen. New Zealander Katherine Mansfield and the Scottish Tobias Smollett and Thomas Carlyle all dwelled there. The Americans contributed Scott Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Wharton, Robert Benchley, and poetess Sylvia Plath.The Germans set up a colony of emigre writers fleeing the Nazis in Sanary numbedring Berthold Brecht, Thomas Mann and Leon Feuctwanger
What drew these men and women of the pen to the Côte d’Azur? In some cases the more clement climate for illnesses like tuberculosis sufferers DH Lawrence and Albert camus , for others sex as with HG Wells who installed his mistresses there and both the sex motive and not paying UK tax in the case of Graham Greene. I would add another reason. The Riviera has maintained its position as the destination of choice for the very rich for years and this will no doubt continue. Writers like anyone else are ambitious for financial success, no more so than Maugham or Arnold Bennett though the former did not rate ther latter as writer But both enjoyed a luxurious life style from their writing. Living on Cap Ferrat in Villa Mauresque as Maugham did is the definitive scoreboard of achievement.
Jones does juxtapose many a writing alongside the author he is discussing and the odd salacious piece of gossip too. Nothing wrong with that. Maupassant attempted suicide in Cannes and went to an asylum, Konrad’s first girl friend committed suicide one year after after he left her in Marseilles for a life at sea, William Webb Ellis the inventor of rugby was the Anglican priest at Menton. This is a fascinating read and I cannot wait to return to their Riviera to explore, copy at hand, with a chilled glass of Bandol rose.