Cornish ramblings: Tremenheere, St Michael’s Mount and Way

Our Cornish ramblings continue, but work resumed this week, so they’ll probably subside now. We went on Monday to Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, near Penzance.

The name derives from the Cornish tre-menhir, ‘standing (or long-)-stone farm (or place)’.  Another site near St Keverne on the Lizard peninsula on Cornwall’s south coast has an actual surviving menhir; I can find no record of such a stone at the site of the current gardens – though there are many of them across the moors of Penwith in west Cornwall.

Before 1290 the lands were owned by the monks of St Michael’s Mount, in the bay below. My guess is that the Tremenheere family, who owned the estate where the gardens now stand, originated from the Lizard area and moved north, and bought the land from the monks. In the 15C it was the monastery’s vineyard.



















Minotaur by Tim Shaw

Black Mound

Black Mound by David Nash

The beautiful 20-acre site is planted with a wide range of mature trees, shrubs and flowers, with a network of winding paths connecting the sculptures by some noted figures, intended to blend with or comment on the landscape they stand in. The views at various points across the bay to the Mount are amazing – possibly the finest in Cornwall. For more on the origin and purpose of the gardens, see the website, which states that it’s intended as an ‘arcadian space blending the elements of landscape, planting and art to create a place for contemplation and wonder.’


Restless Temple

Restless Temple by Penny Saunders










I hope my pictures convey something of this quality. Information on the sculptures is also to be found at the garden website.

St Michael's Way exhibition

Flyer for the exhibition

Forthcoming events:

Exhibition ‘On St Michael’s Way’

St Michael’s Way is a 12.5-mile trail starting at the church of St Uny in Lelant, nr St Ives, passing through the gardens and ending at St Michael’s Mount, Marazion, next to Penzance. Because of its historical significance as part of the network of pilgrim routes that lead to the cathedral shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, this is the only footpath in Britain designated part of the European Cultural Route.

More information on the official website.

It’s of very ancient, pre-Christian origins, but in the 5C became the preferred route for missionaries and pilgrims arriving by boat on the N. coast of Cornwall from Ireland (I wrote about St Piran, Cornwall’s unofficial patron saint, recently HERE) or Wales and heading for the holy site of the Mount.

A few decades ago the route was reinstated with the aid of Bredereth Sen Jago, the Cornish Pilgrims of St James, and other bodies.

Archangel Michael is popularly known as the ‘saint of high places’, hence the dedication of Christian sites on mounts and hilltops (like Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy). Miracles were said to have taken place at St Michael’s Mount in the middle ages, reinforcing its reputation as a spiritually significant location, standing as it does at the intersection of various ancient ley lines.

According to a 5C legend St Michael appeared to fishermen (he’s their patron saint) at this Cornish site, warning them of danger. Local Celtic legends state that the mount itself was constructed by the giant Cormoran, who tyrannised and pillaged the locality, and was killed by a local Marazion lad named Jack – source of the Jack the Giant Killer fairytale.

This giant’s cousin was called Trencrom. In local legends they are said to have hurled rocks at each other across huge distances, thus accounting for the many outcrops and boulders across west Cornwall. Trencrom Hill, above the Hayle estuary, is the site of a Neolithic hill fort, and has many such boulders.

St Michael’s Mount (Karrek Loos yn Koos in Cornish, meaning ‘grey rock in woodland’) is connected to the mainland by a man-made causeway of granite setts, making the island accessible on foot at low tide. In prehistoric times it may have operated as a tin-exporting port. More useful information at its official website.

It was probably the site of a monastery from the 8C, and a popular pilgrim site in the medieval period. The original 12C monastic church buildings were rebuilt in the 14C.

In 1659 it came into the possession of the St Aubyn family, who still own it in joint patronage with the National Trust, through whom most of the site is open to the public. The author Edward St Aubyn is a cousin of Lord St Levan, descendant of the Mount’s St Aubyns.

The chapel of St Michael is a 15C construction on the mount, while the castle houses a fascinating array of historical artefacts.




Tewlwolow Kernow by James Turrell

Another forthcoming event at Tremenheere Gardens, 9 September: special Skyspace evening (Tewlwolow Kernow) – James Turrell’s ‘Skyspace’ installation, with its extraordinary egg-like interior, has an elliptical space in the roof which forms a natural frame for some gorgeous skyscapes. Subtle lighting will enhance these unpredictable natural ‘pictures’ as dusk falls.


By way of contrast, here’s an engine house seen on the edge of Camborne on our way home











PS: Local place names and church dedications reflect the activity of Irish and Welsh missionary saints in Cornwall from the 5C. Uny (or Euny) of Lelant, and Herygh or Erc (patron of St Erth village), were Irish brothers of St Ia (Cornish for ‘St Ives’ is Porth Ia) who all landed in the Hayle estuary. I posted recently about St Piran, whose legend relates how he floated miraculously across the sea from Ireland on a millstone (intended to drown him by irate local pagan kings); Ia is said to have crossed on an equally unconventional vessel: a leaf (or, in some versions, a millstone – probably indluenced by Piran’s legend – a typical hagiographical cross-fertilization).

PPS There’s a great spot at Marazion marshes, opposite the Mount, to see a huge range of birds (including the rare Cetti’s warbler), mammals and other fauna and flora: it’s a RSPB site – more HERE on their website.



Paula McLain, ‘The Paris Wife’ – a critique

Paula McLain, The Paris Wife (Virago Press, 2012, paperback; first published 2011)


Hadley and Ernest on their wedding day, 1921

Hadley and Ernest on their wedding day, 1921

The Paris Wife is a fictionalised account of the life of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway from the time they first met in 1920 to their separation and divorce in 1926.  Most of that time they spent in Paris, where they lived on Hadley’s small trust fund and the erratic sums Ernest was paid for his journalism.

The first 90 pages cover the period before they reached Paris, and this section is pretty heavy going.  Hadley is presented as unworldly, gauche, socially inept and lacking in confidence.  She’d had a sickly childhood in which she had some damaging experiences: accidents, the death of a sister, her father’s suicide in 1903; as a consequence her mother over-protected her and she became painfully shy.  Soon after her mother died in 1920 Hadley went to visit her old college room-mate in Chicago and there met the dashing Ernest – he was 21, she was 28, but immature.

The prose is often both stodgy and breathlessly romantic to the point of cliché; here’s how their meeting is described –

The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes …It’s October 1920 and jazz is everywhere.  I don’t know any jazz, so I’m playing Rachmaninoff.  I can feel a flush beginning in my cheeks from the hard cider my dear pal Kate Smith has stuffed down me so I’ll relax.  I’m getting there, second by second.

To paraphrase the critique of Mozart’s music in the film Amadeus, too many words.  And where else would a flush begin but in the cheeks?

Hadley and Ernest, winter 1922

Hadley and Ernest, winter 1922

In the next chapter this ham-fisted establishment of character continues:

I was only twenty-eight, and yet I’d been living like a spinster on the second floor of my older sister Fonnie’s house…Somehow I’d gotten stuck along the way…and I didn’t know how to free myself exactly.

Redundant or unnecessary adverbials and adjectives and intrusive biographical research details clog the narrative.  When we get to the whirlwind romance the register becomes more romantic and slushy.  They dance:

Ernest Hemingway was still very much a stranger to me, but he seemed to do happiness all the way up and through.  There wasn’t any fear in him that I could see, just intensity and aliveness.  His eyes sparked all over everything, all over me as he leaned back on his heel and spun me toward him.

‘Aliveness’?  Again there’s that intensifying ‘very’,  which McLain overuses.  Although she’s trying to convey the awkward frumpishness and naivety of Hadley Richardson here, (‘I was closer to a Victorian holdout than a flapper’ she thinks, whatever a ‘holdout’ is, as she forlornly regards all his fashionable admirers at the party), and contrast it with Ernest’s suave confidence and dash, the effect is more embarrassing than electrifying.  His seduction of her and her grateful adoration of him comes across as borderline creepy:

‘I’ll never lie to you,’ I said.

He nodded into my hair.  ‘Let’s always tell each other the truth.  We can choose that, can’t we?’

McLain is partial to these awkward foreshadowings of the divorce and Ernest’s betrayal of Hadley with the woman she thought was her friend, Pauline Pfeiffer.  When she tells her friend Kate that she and Ernest are engaged, this is the response:

‘You’re going to regret this.  You know you will.  He’s so young and impulsive.’

‘And I’m what?  A sedate little spinster?’

‘No, just naive.  You give him too much credit.’

Hadley loses her virginity to Ernest.  Afterwards he tells her he needs her to be able to write, and he hopes they’ll grow old together:

‘I’d love to look like you,’ I said. ‘I’d love to be you.’

I’d never said anything truer.  I’d gladly have climbed out of my skin and into his that night, because I believed that was what love meant.  Hadn’t I just felt us collapsing into one another, until there was no difference between us?

It would be the hardest lesson of my marriage, discovering the flaw in this thinking.  I couldn’t reach into every part of Ernest and he didn’t want me to.  He needed me to make him feel safe and backed up, yes, the same way I needed him.  But he also liked that he could disappear into his work, away from me.  And come back when he wanted to.

There’s some psychological insight here, but again there’s an awkward blend of intelligent perception and adolescent romanticism, with an extra element of self-pity.  The fact that Ernest’s character is always seen only from Hadley’s perspective results in a sense that her view of him is distorted by what subsequently happened, while her own role is rose-tinted and innocent.  As a consequence he becomes something of a priapic villain to her quivering ingénue victim.

Before this piece becomes too long let’s deal rapidly with the rest of the book.  The Paris section is much more readable, but even this is badly flawed.  There’s a constant repetition of scenes of boozing, bacchanalia laced through with Hadley’s growing estrangement from Ernest and his circle as he becomes more successful in his literary career, and less dependant on her.  One feels pity for her, but also that Hadley almost willed her own rejection.  And the self-deprecatory image McLain presents of Hadley as a sweet innocent abroad is hard to reconcile with the way she’s shown boozing with the fast set and alone with Ernest and apparently enjoying getting drunk and reckless.

The snobbish sense of superiority Ernest emanates is also shared by Hadley; he scorns the expatriates of Paris who ‘preened and talked rot and drank themselves sick.  Ernest felt disgusted by them.’  Then he and Hadley drink until they both vomit.

There are some vivid portraits of inter-war Paris – Poiret and Chanel couture, shingle-bob hairstyles, painted nails and decadence (‘but that wasn’t me’, Hadley ruefully adds) – but they never fully come to life, and retain a whiff of library research.

Paula McLain (photo from Random House website)

Paula McLain (photo from Random House website)

McLain does give a clear sense of Ernest’s devotion to developing the pared-down literary technique and style of ‘omission’ for which he became famous; she’s also good at the painful deterioration in the marital relationship brought to a head by Hadley’s losing all of Ernest’s manuscripts in a valise on a train, then on her telling him she’d fallen pregnant.  He wasn’t ready to be a parent, and could never trust her again.   I’ve written about this in my previous few posts on Hemingway.

Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and John Quinn outside Pound's Paris studio in Rue des Champs, 1923

Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and John Quinn outside Pound’s Paris studio in Rue des Champs, 1923

There are some successful scenes with the modernist innovators of Paris in the twenties: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and others; I wrote about these, too, in my recent pieces on Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.  Some, however, come across as literary tourism.

Ultimately, then, I wouldn’t recommend this novel for anyone looking for insight into the characters of Hadley or Ernest Hemingway, or for a sense of what Paris in the twenties was really like; this can be found more vividly and entertainingly in Hemingway’s memoir.  The one aspect missing from A Moveable Feast is what The Paris Wife does provide: Hadley’s deep pain and bitterness at the shameful way that Ernest succumbed to Pauline’s single-minded pursuit of him.

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway,Paris,1927

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, Paris,1927

Pauline had befriended her, if this account is accurate, with half a mind to steal him away from her dowdy friend.  Hadley didn’t stand a chance against this sleek otter – Pauline is more chic, sophisticated and intelligent.  She can talk to Ernest on equal terms about literature; her praise of his work (he always needed to be flattered) was more valuable to him because she had a far more literary sensibility than dear, devoted Hadley.  Pauline’s nickname for her is ‘Dulla’ – a cruelty to which Hadley at first seems unaware.

In none of these texts that I’ve examined over the past few weeks does Ernest emerge as anything other than a first-class louse.  But one capable of writing beautiful, lucid prose.

Virago edition of 'The Paris Wife' (Waterstones website)cover photo of the novel: Waterstones website; all pictures unless otherwise stated from the public domain via WikiCommons.

Ernest Hemingway, ‘A Moveable Feast’ – review part I

PART ONE (of two)

A Moveable Feast  (Vintage, London, 2000; first published
England and the US by Scribners, 1964) begins with this epigraph:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Hemingway with his second wife Pauline, Paris 1927 (photo: WikiCommons)

Hemingway with his second wife Pauline, Paris 1927 (photo: WikiCommons)

The words were apparently addressed to Hemingway by his friend and biographer A.E. Hotchner.   The title has a Christian liturgical origin (Easter being the most notable example). Having converted to Catholicism shortly before marrying his second wife, Pauline, who came from an Arkansas Catholic family, Hemingway may have chosen this phrase because it resonates with her faith and his relationship with her – she appears only in the final few pages – rather than with his first wife, Hadley, who inhabits the rest of the story.  Given his tendency to abandon his wives before they dumped him (possibly a consequence of his painful experience of being dropped by Agnes von Kurowsky in Italy, 1919 – he based his character Catherine on her in his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms) this seems a little disingenuous.

Hemingway (1899-1961) placed this epigraph at the head of A Moveable Feast, his memoir of life in Paris 1921-26 with Hadley.   In 1928 he had deposited many of his notebooks and papers containing his record of his sojourn in the city in two trunks in the basement of the Paris Ritz, and did not reclaim them until 1956.  According to a note in the text by his fourth wife Mary, who edited the manuscript after his death, he started work on what became A Moveable Feast in Cuba in late 1957, and continued working on it in America and Cuba again for two more years.  He finished it in 1960, but continued making revisions to the text.  It was published three years after his death in 1964 by Scribners of New York.  I have not yet read the revised edition published in 2009 by his grandson Sean.

Hemingway, Hadley and Bumby in Schruns, Austria, 1925 or early 1926 (Wiki)

Hemingway, Hadley and Bumby in Schruns, Austria, 1925 or early 1926 – interesting body language (WikiCommons)

I don’t find Hemingway the most likeable of characters.  He enjoyed big-game hunting and fishing, bullfights, boxing and projected a macho image of himself.  This book is highly engaging, however, mostly for its gossipy anecdotes about the expat writers and artists of ‘the Lost Generation’ in post-war Paris, and his lucid descriptions of living in the poorer quarters with Hadley and baby John (always known as Bumby, who was born in 1923), as a struggling young writer: ‘Home in the rue Cardinal Lemoine was a two-room flat that had no hot water and no inside toilet facilities except an antiseptic container’.  ‘Hunger was a good discipline’ is the title of one chapter, in which he claims he often skipped meals, taking circuitous rambles along routes that deliberately avoided restaurants or food shops.  He tells how they struggled to afford firewood, which had to be carefully rationed, as their food was.

Hemingway in Paris, 1924 (JFK Library, via WikiCommons)

Hemingway in dashing bohemian pose, Paris, 1924 (JFK Library, via WikiCommons)

The picture of 20s Paris is delightful, if romantically fictionalised: goatherds drive their flocks through the city selling milk.   There’s an awful lot of description of meals taken on the rare occasions when they were in funds (often from winning after serious gambling at the horse race track), when they’d happily splurge in expensive restaurants.  But he paints a picture of life with Hadley in near squalor as happy and glowing in the warmth of their idyllic love, as this typically breathless sentence shows, with its characteristic paratactic syntax and patterned repetitions:

Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, not the moonlight, nor right and wrong, nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.

All of this is cast away at the end of the book when Hemingway callously embarks on an affair with their mutual friend Pauline.  He and Hadley divorced in 1927.  I’ll return to this rather unedifying finale to the book in Part II of this review: link HERE. For a link to my review of Paula McLain’s fictional treatment of the marriage of Hemingway and Hadley, The Paris Wife, click here

Although the poverty he claims that he and Hadley endured during the period covered by the book has subsequently been questioned by scholars, it does make for a fascinating narrative of bohemian, artistic Latin Quarter life in the 20s, well told by a master craftsman.

Buffalo velodrome 1905
Buffalo velodrome 1905


The book is teeming with carefully observed details, like the vivid description of the Belgian cycling ace, Linart,  zooming round the banked track at the Stade Buffalo, the velodrome at Montrouge, ‘dropping his head to drink cherry brandy from a rubber tube that connected with a hot water bottle under his racing shirt when he needed it toward the end as he increased his savage speed.’

Fitzgerald's picture at the Bar Hemingway, Paris Ritz

Fitzgerald’s picture at the Bar Hemingway, Paris Ritz

There are twenty short chapters (the book is only 182 pages long), mostly of only three or four pages; several of the most intriguing feature F. Scott Fitzgerald, with whom he is presented as having a curious love-hate relationship.  In the longest chapter in the book we see the moment when they first met, in 1925, shortly after The Great Gatsby had been published – a novel Hemingway admired – in a café, of course (most of the narrative in this book takes place in cafés or restaurants; that’s where the artistic set lived, worked and socialised) – Hemingway reports how Fitzgerald abruptly asked him if he’d slept with his wife before marriage; with Hemingway’s usual tough-guy brevity and sardonic coolness he replies:

‘I don’t remember.’

‘But how can you not remember something of such importance?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said.  ‘It’s odd, isn’t it?’…

‘Don’t talk like some limey,’ he said.

Fitzgerald then turned deathly pale, and Hemingway had to help him home.  He’s convinced that Fitzgerald was as heavy a drinker as he was, but is typically scornful that he couldn’t hold his drink as well as Hemingway himself says he does.  He also upbraids Fitzgerald for ‘whoring’ his talent by shaping and revising his stories to suit the lucrative magazine market, and portrays himself in the rather flattering light he favours:

I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent…Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do.

In an earlier chapter he says revealingly (if not exactly modestly) of his vocation: ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence you know.’  When Fitzgerald tells him Gatsby isn’t selling and that he has to write stories that will sell, Hemingway bluntly replies: ‘Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.’

He puts this into practice in nearly all of his best writing, including in A Moveable Feast, saying how he’d throw away anything ‘elaborate’, any ‘scrollwork or ornament’.  He relates his ‘new theory’ for short story writing:

[Y]ou could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.

This book is also written in this trademark style: short, unadorned declarative sentences with few adjectives and largely simple vocabulary.  At their best these sentences are inimitably beautiful.  But what a shame Hem makes it so clear that he thinks so, too…

PART TWO link here: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others