The Luck of Thirteen was Jan and Cora's first attempt at writing; when they returned from Serbia some weeks ahead of the rest of the British aid partys they returned to London rather than to their home in Paris In urgent need of funds,but in possession of something of a news scoop, they found an income submitting account of their experiences in the Times , the New Witness and others. In the 1939 Penguin edition they tell how they wrote the book in 2 weeks each writing alternate chapters, each correcting each others effort.
They sum up that much corrected edition by admitting they had something of a cheek in the way they did it.
(hopefully that preface on here soon]
Balkan Freebooter is the true account of the life of one Nikola Pavlovitch (Petko Moritch in the book), a Sergeant in the Serb army who Jan met and took a liking to, and who somehow managed to get himself appointed to guide the Gordons about Serbia. Jan recorded these experiences while riding in an ox-cart or horseback on their various expeditions. If only half of it was true Pavolovitch was some character.
Poor Folk in Spain,was their first true literary expedition, drawn to Spain by Jan's love of the guitar,and a dire post 1919 need for the warmth and colour of Spain they used Jan's war service gratuity to fund the trip, they searched for and recorded local folk music and the lives of 1920 ordinary folk and customs of Spain, a thing no one had thought to do, thus making them a valuable historical record, and the reason why the University of Murcia has translated both those books into Spanish.
The year after Poor Folk (1921) the Gordons returned to Spain with the notion inspired by RL Stephenson of buying a donkey and cart to carry their painting gear. This was not such a good idea as they first thought, but true to their nature they stuck at it and for three weeks or so wandered about the region of Murcia, before settling down in the home of their friend Wyndham Tryon once again to paint and write.
The Gordons loved Spain, and from this trip found much material for short stories and another novel.
They also met the mysterious and elusive couple the Count and Countess Malmignati, of whom little traces can be found; That couple wrote a book bizarrely entitled "(As Beggars) ,Tramp Through Spain" which copies or mirrors so much of the Gordon's experiences I almost believed they and the Gordon's were one and the same; but the were not, however that couples' connection to the Gordon's remain a mystery..
In 1921 (confirmed by internal evidence in the text which says 1922) the Gordon's travelled back to the Balkans to record peasant music and art and to travel in their usual basic and ultra economical manner. Rather too basic is how they found post war Serbia, and the unrelenting diet of greasy badly cooked mutton took its toll on Cora especially. They ended that year on Korcula island in search of a change of diet yet still relentlessly pursued by Mutton grease.
1923 and the joy and relief of Najac, or Janac as they renamed it.
The Gordons masterpiece in my biased view.
A super book, and one which many francophiles find totally endearing.
The best I can say about this book is read it.
I hope to soon have a whole sub section about Najac and to post Coras drawings that are not included in the 2007 reprint.
1924 was the year in which Jan and Cora travelled to Sweden en route to Lapland to, as usual record Lapp music and to paint. There they met "the Master Fiddler of Sweden" and swapped music with him. He was something of a character, I wish I knew more about him. The Gordons somehow managed to get him to London to play his fiddle music; they overlooked his enormous enthusiasm for booze, which caused no little problems, the resolution of which mostly fell on the capable shoulders of their good friend Doris Smith.
The reason for the 1925 trip to Albania I have never established. One would think that after the disappointing return to the Balkans in 1921 they would have preferred somewhere else.
A retired diplomat friend with no little experience of the Balkan region is firmly convinced there was a secondary agenda, one of intelligence gathering in what was a recently formed, a young country.
Jan would still have been on the Navy reserve, his work on Dazzle Camouflage was regarded as top secret, and a number of his wartime colleagues Steven Spurrier, RNW Sullivan and others worked for the intelligence services 1914-18.
Who better than trained artists, observers and recorders, authors to criss cross the country and record the opinions and politics of the region. Certainly the whole trip seems to have had some semi official backing.
I doubt I'll ever confirm the idea but its an interesting one to ponder over.
more to follow about the Portuguese trip, hopefully a whole chapter on their USA travels about which much has come to light over the last two years
Three Lands on three Wheels, my second favourite book has a revised annotated version via the links tab
Jan Gordon's novels.
A diverse set. of writings,and not great literature.
Jan Gordon's entries in his 1914-18 diaries, now in my possession, show that he always had aspirations to be a novelist. He seemed to be quite in awe of the published novelists of his circle of friends at the time, just about all of who are now forgotten.
Invariably Jan would put a lot of himself into each one, his own background, albeit disguised, bits and pieces of then art world leaving one guessing as to which notorious personality he was hinting at.
Often he would amalgamate real life personalities into a character in his book.
I often wonder if the culprit in 'Murder Most Artistic' refers to Augustus John for example. Again, Jan often includes an ecclesiastic character in the narrative influenced no doubt by the numerous Parsons in his family tree.
They are a good read for their type, favourably reviewed by Dorothy L Sayers, a contemporary of Agatha Christie and by Peter Cheney.
When found they are almost invariably in poor condition, yet they are priced at anything from £50-80 on the internet,
Lucky is the person who has a charity shop find.
Piping George, the tale of a wandering itinerant flute player who adopts a runaway 12yr old girl would these days be very suspect.
Yet it was turned into a play for radio in the 1930s.
Jan records in London Roundabout that it was not well received by one producer.
[I shall elaborate on this later]
A Girl in the Art Class will get a section all to itself soon.
In Buddock against London Jan draws heavily on his student days for fictional versions, one can cross reference, as I have always had to do, other primary sources of Jan to establish these small yet valuable verisimilitudes [ I love that word, a favourite of Cora and Jan].
Beans Spilt in Spain is probably Jan's most accomplished novel which contains much biographical material.
It also brings into range the mysterious and elusive Count and Countess Malmigmati.
It is still uncertain exactly who she was, or what her connection with the Gordons was.
There is, or was, in existence an enigmatic postcard to one of Cora's friends which I believe referred to Countess Malmignati, but this excellent bit of research tells more about Countess Malmignati than I can.
the text of the postcard, a poor copy of which is below reads....
"...you won't find the lady in question in Debretts by no means..."
"As beggars....' the weirdly titled book by Malmignati, for which Jan provided a preface, was published in 1927, so one can reasonably assume in 1926 date of this postcard that the Gordons were well acquainted with Malmignati.
Everything else about the link between them is unknown,except that countess Malmignati was a bit of a fantacist about her travels. Her book would appear to have used an awful lot of material from the Gordons one way or another, to the extent at one time I almost began to believe they were one and the same.
The story of their work and adventures with the Red Cross in Serbia at the beginning of WW1... republished as two Vagabonds in Serbia and Montenegro, by Penguin in 1939.
A Balkan Freebooter...1916
Although written by Jan this is a companion to the previous book
Poor Folk in Spain...pub 1922
The poor folk in question are the authors, not the people of Spain as commonly misconstrued.
Republished as Two Vagabonds in Spain 1931.
Misadventures with a Donkey in Spain...pub 1924
The follow-on to 'Poor Folk'; both these books are so highly regarded in Spain for their recording of everyday life and events in the Spain of those far off days that they have been reprinted and translated into Spanish by the University of Murcia.
Two Vagabonds in the Balkans...1925
In 1922 Jan and Cora returned to the Balkans to paint and record the everyday events of that land.......
Two Vagabonds in Languedoc...1925
The very best of their books, a record of four months in the village of Najac in 1923: a real treat of elegant prose and a great example of how Jan and Cora really could paint pictures with words as well as paint; the influence of Tristram Shandy upon Jan Gordon is readily apparent here to those familiar with that book; 'Two Vagabonds in Najac' is very highly regarded in Najac (www.najac.com) (www.najac.tv) for much the same reasons as their books about Spain are valued in that country.
Published in the USA as Two Vagabonds in a French Village; under that name again in England in 1933, and in 2007 reprinted with a preface and introduction by Ken Bryant.
Two Vagabonds in Sweden...1926
In 1920, Jan and Cora had met an unidentified Swedish art lover in Spain and evidently he invited them to Sweden so 1924 found them venturing into Lapland.
Two Vagabonds in Albania...1927
1925 saw the Gordons travelling extensively around Albania; emerging evidence is leading me to believe that there was some other motive behind the deviation from their normal practice - not exactly spying perhaps but certainly reconnoitring ...
A tale combining two separate visits to Portugal in 1926 and 1933.
On Wandering Wheels...1929
In 1927 Jan and Cora forsook Europe for the USA where they had many friends and a growing fan base. They bought an old car, converted it into living quarters and toured the East Coast; then they worked their way across the USA giving lectures and talks on the radio and doing book signings to pay their way. In 1928 they were on the west coast in another old car , a Franklin...but ... for Stardust in Hollywood...1930
...in March of 1928 Jan had a heart attack in Los Angeles, where they were forced to stay put and recuperate for some months; as usual Jan and Cora managed to find much light amusement in their situation, and as Jan recovered they got themselves involved in the world of film, at the end of the silent era and the very beginnings of the talkies.
Three Lands on Three Wheels...1932
In 1930 they had bought a Sunbeam motor cycle sidecar and set off on a tour of France England and Eire . The motorcycle was a circa 1930 Sunbeam, given the high survival rate of this high quality marque one can only wonder if it has survived somewhere?
The London Roundabout...1933
1932 and the falling pound/franc rate combined with Jan's poor health meant that Jan and Cora had to make the hard decision to quit the rue Bagneaux (now rue Jean Ferrandi) in the 6 arrondissement in Paris where they had lived for so long to return to England. They found a flat in Clanricarde Gardens W2 where they were to live until their deaths.
On A Paris Roundabout...1927
By Jan Gordon, this is a complex book, on the surface quite simple, but cleverly combining parallel stories about an aggressive rabbit being kept for the pot at a workmen's eating house and the trial of the notorious French murderer Landru; it concerns also the characters and events they met around the Rue Cherche -Midi in Paris around 1920.
Reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement Dec 1927 the reviewer wrote of this book...
"...This is a character study which would be brilliant from the hand of a Frenchman;as the work of a foreigner it is really extraordinary..."
Other books by Jan Gordon
Jan Gordon was a prolific writer and in the 1930's his circle of friends included the likes of Peter Cheney and Dorothy L Sayers, both best selling crime novelists.
At one of the Gordons famous cocktail parties in their flat Jan and Peter Cheny were arguing the difficulties of their respective genres of writing with the result that Jan was challenged to write within a certain period produce a crime Novel; Jan won the bet and the result was...
Theres Death in the Churchyard
published by Harrap May 1934
Death in the Wheelbarrow 1935
Murder Most Artistic 1937
also published in USA as the
Mystery of the Painted Nude
***Written under the nom- de- plume of William Gore henceforth bestowing the nickname of 'Bloody Bill' upon Jan.
All these crime novels where very much in the style of the 1930s crime novel which was at its peak; all featured an artist of some kind as the centre figure and as with all Jan's writing the art world and the personalities and types to be found therein figured heavily in the plots. For their kind the are not bad reads, though very dated. They were quite favourably mentioned by Time magazine in the late 1930's.
Jan though had to admit that writing these novel drove him potty, finding the crime genre far more difficult than that of travel writing.
Jan Gordon also wrote a series of other novels during the 1920's
Buddock against London... 1925
Beans spilt in Spain..... 193?
A Girl in the Art Class....1927
also from the prolific pen of Jan Gordon came
Some Craftie Arts
Modern French Painters
Art ain't all Paint (with H M Bateman)
Mother and Child.. a monologue to accompany the drawings of Bernard Meninsky
And throughout the 1920's he wrote regularly for Blackwoods Magazine, Chambers journal, The Cornhill magazine, several newspapers,and even the childrens annuals produced by the Oxford University press contained short accounts of their travels.
I am uncertain if this book jacket was by Jan or Cora, as its not quite their style. It is though, the USA edition of Poor Folk in Spain. published by McBride and company 1923. It has the unusual, for a Gordon book, addition of contemporary photographs of Spain inside the cover. There is no way of knowing if these were taken by Jan Gordon.
The above books show just how high is the esteem of the Spanish for the Gordon books of their Spanish adventures. Valued as a record of everyday life in Spain of the 1920s these books accurately translated by Snr Jodar Bonilla of the University of Murcia also contain much extra information from Snr Bonilla's diligent research from which I have been able to reconstruct dates and events.