Crossing Boulevard Montparnasse, this Parisian street was named for the eminent 19th-century French doctor and politician, Francois-Vincent Raspail (1794-1878). Architecturally, buildings on the street are a mixture of Belle Époque opulence and Art Deco sleekness. The ornate sweep of the grander buildings drew harsh criticism from Le Corbusier in his seminal 1923 work Toward an Architecture, being the antithesis of his proto-Brutalist, utopian visions.
Other regular notables included William Burroughs, Christopher Isherwood, Kenneth Williams and Joe Orton, who dubbed the place ‘Costa del Sodomy’. Latterly, attitudes have become increasingly conservative and stringent on the subject of homosexuality (which is technically illegal in Morocco) and although arrests are rare, the subject is taboo.
Sasha equates love, simply, with comfort – the desire to comfort another human being. This sentiment clearly has a maternal aspect to it, which given the loss of her baby son, is entirely understandable.
Sasha tells the Gigolo she wants to visit the ‘Exhibition’, referring to the Exposition Internationale of 1937. Sasha is referring to the building by its old name, possibly because she is a past resident of the city. The original Moorish-style Palais du Trocadéro was built for the 1878 World’s Fair, then demolished and rebuilt as the Palais de Chaillot in 1937. It was here, 11 years later, where the United Nations General Assembly inaugurated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Palais now houses several museums.
Les Deux Magots is another infamous Parisian Café associated with the literary and artistic worlds. Situated in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area, it has operated as a café since 1914 and was most famously the haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In 1933 the Deux Magots Literary Prize was established, the first going to Raymond Queneau for Le Chiendent. The café’s name derives from the premises’ original function as a silk drapery: ‘magots’ being Chinese travelling sales people. The cafe is still in business.
Sasha recalls her brief employment on the Riviera as a writer for a rich couple (a job Rhys once had). Her (unspoken) response is dripping with bemused ironic humour (‘Long words. Chiaroscuro? Translucent? … I bet he’d like cataclysmal action and centrifugal flux, but the point is how can I get them into a Persian garden?’) While Rhys and her lonely heroine share many traits, they converge very clearly here: Rhys’s minimalist styling is what made her one of the key modernists, but also delayed her success and denied her recognition for decades. She wrote in 1934 that her soon-to-be-published second novel, Voyage in the Dark, was composed ‘almost entirely in words of one syllable.’ By adopting the deceptively simple trick of writing dialogue as it was really spoken, she prematurely marked herself out as an original in an era where verbose and stuffy text was still revered.