The Book of Ebenezer Le Page

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The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is a novel by Gerald Basil Edwards first published in United Kingdom by Hamish Hamilton in 1981, and in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf in the same year. It has since been published by Penguin books and New York Review Books in their classics series, as well as in French and Italian.

It is the fictionalised autobiography of an archetypal Guernseyman, Ebenezer Le Page, who lives through the dramatic changes in the island of the Guernsey, Channel Islands from the late nineteenth century, through to the 1960s.

Contents

Plot summary

Ebenezer was born in the late nineteenth century, and dies in the early 1960s. He lived his whole life in the Vale. He never married, despite a few flings with local girls, and a tempestuous relationship with Liza Queripel of Pleinmont. He only left the island once, to travel to Jersey to watch the Muratti Vase. For most of his life he was a grower and fisherman, although he also served in the North regiment of the Royal Guernsey Militia (though not outside the island) and did some jobbing work for the States of Guernsey in the latter part of his life. Guernsey is a microcosm of the world as Dublin is to James Joyce and Dorset is to Hardy. After a life fraught with difficulties and full of moving episodes, Ebenezer dies happy, bequeathing his pot of gold and autobiography (The Book of Ebenezer Le Page) to the young artist he befriends, after an incident in which the latter smashed his greenhouse.

Characters in "The Book of Ebenezer Le Page"

  • Ebenezer Le Page, tomato grower and fisherman
  • Alfred Le Page, quarryman, Ebenezer's father, killed in the Boer War
  • Charlotte Le Page, Ebenezer's mother, referred to throughout as "my mother"
  • Tabitha Le Page ('La Tabby'), Ebenezer's sister
  • Jean Batiste, Tabitha's husband, killed in World War I
  • Jim Mahy, Ebenezer's childhood friend, killed in World War I
  • Liza Queripel, the love of Ebenezer's life
  • William Le Page ('Uncle Willie'), Alfred's brother
  • Nathaniel Le Page ('Uncle Nat'), Ebenezer's mother's brother's uncle
  • Charlotte Le Page, Ebenezer's maternal grandmother
  • Henriette Le Page ('La Hetty'), Ebenezer's mother's sister
  • Priscille Le Page ('La Prissy'), Ebenezer's mother's sister
  • Harold Martel, builder, married Hetty
  • Percy Martel, Harold's brother, monumental builder, married Prissy
  • Raymond Martel, son of Hetty and Harold
  • Horace Martel, eldest son of Percy and Prissy
  • Cyril Martel, youngest son of Percy and Prissy, died age 5
  • Christine Mahy, wife of Raymond (also cousin of Jim)
  • Abel Martel, son of Raymond and Christine
  • Gideon Martel, son of Christine, as a result of affair with Horace
  • Neville Falla, young biker and artist who befriends Ebenezer in his old age
  • Cousin Mary Ann, Ebenezer's third cousin (on both sides)

Real people mentioned in the book

  • Ambrose Sherwill (1890~1968), President of the Controlling Committee during German Occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II and later Bailiff of Guernsey
  • Rev. Sir John ('Jack') Leale (1892-1969), Jurat, President of the Controlling Committee (Oct 1940~Aug 1945) during the Occupation, knighted 1945
  • Arthur Dorey (1867~1953), fruit grower, of Rockmount (Delancey); Ebenezer's boss who makes him a foreman at his vineries off the 'Halfway' (Belgrave, Marais, Springfield, Primrose). Arthur also owns Oatlands Farm with its own large vinery. Arthur was Jurat and president of the Board of Administration.
  • Edward Arthur Dorey (1896~1982), mentioned as son of the above, going to war in 1914, but unnamed in the book. Fruit grower; later owner of Arthur Dorey & Son, and Douzenier of St Sampsons.
  • Philemon Fleure Dorey (1859~1941), 'Mr Dorey of Oatlands'; fruit grower; brother of Arthur Dorey (above), from whom he was renting Oatlands Farm during Ebenezer's childhood.
  • Clarrie Bellot, cobbler
  • Steve Picquet, hermit who lived in a German bunker at Pleinmont
  • Frederick William Johns (1871~1957), 'Fred Johns from the Vale Avenue', trustee of St Sampsons Chapel.
  • Douglas Blackburn, 'from the top of Sinclair', of 'Malvern', St Clair Hill, St Sampsons, son of fruit grower Henry J. Blackburn.

Life

Art student Edward Chaney met Edwards in his old age, when he was living a reclusive life near Weymouth in Dorset. Edwards had had a fraught and difficult life. He left Guernsey to study at Bristol University. He then moved to London where he encountered group of writers, which included his friends John Middleton Murry, J S Collis and Stephen Potter. There was an anticipation that he would become the next D H Lawrence, and he was in fact commissioned by Jonathan Cape to write Lawrence's biography, before his death.

Instead he published nothing more than a handful of articles for Murry's Adelphi magazine. He married, had children, divorced (leaving his children to be educated with the Elmhirsts at Dartington) and went through a series of jobs, teaching at Toynbee Hall., as an itinerant drama teacher, a minor civil servant in London, eventually retiring to the West Country. His quarry-owning father had effectively disinherited him where the family home in Guernsey was concerned, by remarrying.

When he met Chaney, he was pouring experience and literary know-how into one last attempt at a major novel. Chaney encouraged Edwards to complete his book, which Edwards then dedicated to him and his wife, giving him the copyright. The immaculate typescript was rejected by many publishers but, eventually, at Hamish Hamilton, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson accepted it with enthusiasm.

There is a parallel between this real-life story and the story in the novel, in which Ebenezer bequeaths his autobiography (The Book of Ebenezer Le Page) to his young artist friend Neville Falla, the motorcycling rebel with a heart of gold.

Literary significance and criticism

Since its publication in 1981, it has been critically acclaimed, as well as winning the admiration of the people of Guernsey for so accurately capturing the island and its character.

John Fowles wrote an enthusiastic introduction to the Book, it was very favorably reviewed by William Golding, among several others, and Harold Bloom included it in The Western Canon. Stephen Orgel wrote that it was 'one of the greatest novels of the 20th century'.

Although Penguin Books let it go out of print, it was reprinted by New York Review Books Classics in 2007. It has meanwhile been published in French and Italian.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

It has been adapted for a BBC Radio 4 series, as well as a stage play by Anthony Wilkinson The Islander which premiered at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln in 2002. In both of these adaptations, the role of Ebenezer was played by Guernsey-born actor Roy Dotrice.

There have been unsuccessful attempts to turn the novel into a feature film.

Release details

The book was published by Hamish Hamilton 1981, followed by Penguin and Knopf in America the following year. It had been the subject of numerous rejections during his lifetime, but attempts to get it published were continued after his death in 1976 by Edward Chaney, who had befriended the author in his old age.

Christopher Sinclair Stevenson asked John Fowles to write an introduction which no doubt helped drawn attention to the publication. The novel was originally intended to form the first part of a trilogy, entitled Sarnia Cherie: The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. Sarnia Cherie refers to the Guernsey anthem, and was retained in the title of the French translation. The other two books were to be called Le Boud'lo: the Book of Philip Le Moigne and La Gran'-mère du Chimquière: the Book of Jean le Féniant. A draft of the second part was destroyed by the author before his death.

For more details of the author, Gerald B Edwards, and how Edward Chaney eventually managed to get his Book published, see Chaney's series of three articles in the Review of the Guernsey Society (1994–96). See also his foreword on 'The Cultural Memory of Guernsey' to Yvonne Ozanne's Love Apples Too: A Life in the Bailiwick of Guernsey (2009).

It has been translated into French by Jeanine Hérisson, and was published in 1982 by Editions du Seuil under the title Sarnia.

An Italian translation: Il Libro di Ebenezer Le Page has been published by Elliot Edizioni, Rome.

Quotations

  • To read it is not like reading but living, William Golding
  • "G. B. Edwards, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. I'd never heard of it. A friend gave it to me. It was written by an 80 year old recluse on the island of Guernsey, which is where it's set, and it seems to me one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Really.” - Stephen Orgel: http://english.stanford.edu/news.php
  • There may have been stranger recent literary events than the book you are about to read, but I rather doubt it, John Fowles in his Introduction
  • A masterpiece....One of the best novels of our time....I know of no description of happiness in modern literature equal to the one that ends this novel. Guy Davenport, The New York Times [1]
  • I would rather be a black man than a Jerseyman, me Ebenezer Le Page

See also

References

  • Chaney, Edward, GB Edwards and Ebenezer Le Page, Review of the Guernsey Society, Parts 1-3, 1994-5.
  • Fowles, John, Foreword to The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, Hamish Hamilton, 1981

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