The Man in the Red Coat
The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel PozziIn the summer of 1885, three Frenchmen arrived in London for a few days’ shopping. One was a Prince, one was a Count, and the third was a commoner with an Italian name, who four years earlier had been the subject of one of John Singer Sargent’s greatest portraits. The commoner was Samuel Pozzi, society doctor, pioneer gynaecologist and free-thinker – a rational and scientific man with a famously complicated private life.Pozzi's life played out against the backdrop of the Parisian Belle Epoque. The beautiful age of glamour and pleasure more often showed its ugly side: hysterical, narcissistic, decadent and violent, a time of rampant prejudice and blood-and-soil nativism, with more parallels to our own age than we might imagine.The Man in the Red Coat is at once a fresh and original portrait of the Belle Epoque – its heroes and villains, its writers, artists and thinkers – and a life of a man ahead of his time. Witty, surprising and deeply researched, the new book from Julian Barnes illuminates the fruitful and longstanding exchange of ideas between Britain and France, and makes a compelling case for keeping that exchange alive.

The Man in the Red Coat Details

TitleThe Man in the Red Coat
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 7th, 2019
PublisherVintage Digital
ISBN-139781473574038
Rating
GenreFiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Cultural, France

The Man in the Red Coat Review

  • Beata
    January 1, 1970
    Julian Barnes has done it ... He wrote a book that I read twice, which has not happened to me this year ... The book, which has three central characters, two aristocrats and a commoner who became an aristocrat in his profession, is a biography of these three gentlemen, but in fact it is much, much more. Julian Barnes presents the period which is now called the Belle Epoque, talking masterfully about everyone who mattered then in any discipline, politics, literary world or in any other way, and Julian Barnes has done it ... He wrote a book that I read twice, which has not happened to me this year ... The book, which has three central characters, two aristocrats and a commoner who became an aristocrat in his profession, is a biography of these three gentlemen, but in fact it is much, much more. Julian Barnes presents the period which is now called the Belle Epoque, talking masterfully about everyone who mattered then in any discipline, politics, literary world or in any other way, and about all characteristics with which we associate those times. I absolutely loved the way Mr Barnes connects all dramatis personae and events, and there is so much to learn about them. The three gentlemen had a privileged position in a society and this facilitated involvement in all main affairs and acquaintance with giants of the Belle Epoque. The book starts with a detailed description of a painting and a bullet, and ends with four bullets. And there are more bullets. And there are duels. And love affairs. And ... .Julian Barnes wrote a book that I will certainly read for the third time very soon. I am in awe of Mr Barnes' eloquence and writing skills.
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    In this nonfictional account, Barnes paints a busy picture of Belle Epoque Paris and London, thus evoking a time of duels and dandyism, the rise of modernity with its faith in rationality, individualism and progress, but also illustrating the role of nationalism, classism, and sexism - and more than anything, this book is a celebration of the close connections and fruitful exchanges between England and the continent. The main hero of this historic tale is Dr. Samuel Pozzi, French descendent of In this nonfictional account, Barnes paints a busy picture of Belle Epoque Paris and London, thus evoking a time of duels and dandyism, the rise of modernity with its faith in rationality, individualism and progress, but also illustrating the role of nationalism, classism, and sexism - and more than anything, this book is a celebration of the close connections and fruitful exchanges between England and the continent. The main hero of this historic tale is Dr. Samuel Pozzi, French descendent of Italian immigrants and passionate Anglophile, who was a celebrity, pioneering gynaecologist and infamous womanizer residing in Paris. Pozzi is the title-giving "Man in the Red Coat", and the cover reveals part of his portrait painted by John Singer Sargent, entitled "Dr. Pozzi at Home" (1881). Together with Pozzi, the commoner, his two friends Prince Edmond the Polignac and Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac play a vital role in structuring the text. Together, the three Frenchmen spent some time in London in 1885, but this is not the main focus of the text, it's more of a launching trajectory: Spreading from the narratives about the lives of these three men, Barnes embarks on a journey through Belle Epoque society, history, art, and culture. The sprawling narrative underlines the abundance of new thoughts and ideas, of fascinating events and extravagant characters populating the scenes, and his three leading men are excellently chosen. Only to give a few examples of Barnes' extrapolations: Pozzi's assistant was the father of one Marcel Proust, who later wrote about Montesquiou; Montesquiou is also the real-life person after whom Joris-Karl Huysmans modelled his protagonist in Against Nature; Polignac, a great music lover, composer and closeted homosexual, met Wagner and was a staple in the highest spheres of society. Accordingly, Barnes takes up the opportunities and runs with them, digressing into interesting sub-narratives, anecdotes, touching upon letters, novels, paintings, biographies etc. - the research required to write a book with such a plethora of inter-connected details must have been immense. We meet Oscar Wilde and world-famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, we hear about the Dreyfus affair, we hang out with scandalous gossip Jean Lorrain (who called himself "The Ambassador from Sodom"), but we also learn about the achievements of Florence Nightingale and Nobel winner Alexis Carrel, who was a protégé of Pozzi, as well as the life-saving medical innovations brought about by Pozzi himself. Another aspect that renders this book so intriguing is the meta-narrative Barnes inserts: Again and again, he makes personal statements and ponders the nature of historical writing, he muses about possible interpretation of his material and makes educated guesses about things we will never know for sure; regarding the disappearance of Sarah Bernhardt's amputated leg and the bullet that killed Pushkin as well as the questionable truth about Montesquiou's gilded live tortoise, Englishman Barnes notes with French nonchalance: "You lose a leg and a bullet, but gain a tortoise: there are more uncertainties in nonfiction than in fiction.". Particularly Pozzi, this daring, intelligent, but also flawed man, becomes more and more interesting the more we know (and don't know) about him.And then there's Brexit, which is the counterpoint to this polyphonic symphony of a book - Barnes only explicitly mentions it in the afterword, but that he was struggling with current English politics while writing this text is already apparent in the set-up. When I requested the ARC, I wrote to the publisher that this sounds like the kind of text I, a German with French ancestors, need in these dire times of Brexit, and Barnes, a Francophile with a degree in Modern Languages, did not disappoint. Barnes has written a book that, filled to the brim with facts, shows how England and the continent have always enriched each other, a book that celebrates main characters who looked down upon national chauvinism, and their openness, curiosity and enthusiasm helped them achieve greatness. So this might be a colorful, entertaining, and highly intelligent book about the Belle Epoque, but Barnes' message is for today, directed at us. Highly recommended. Disclaimer: Do yourself a favor and buy the printed version, so you can really enjoy the many images that illustrate the text - it's almost a crime to look at these wonderful paintings on a black-and-white kindle.
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  • David Wineberg
    January 1, 1970
    I am not in the habit of picking up biographies of people I never heard of and have no idea why I should. But Julian Barnes proved me quite wrong. He did it in an unusual way, with a dramatic portrait by John Singer Sargent of Sargent’s friend Dr. Samuel Pozzi when they were both young men. Entering that world, Barnes leads the reader on a branching journey of infinite connections to everyone who meant anything in the Belle Epoque in France (1870-1914). Barnes sets it up as a mystery, piecing I am not in the habit of picking up biographies of people I never heard of and have no idea why I should. But Julian Barnes proved me quite wrong. He did it in an unusual way, with a dramatic portrait by John Singer Sargent of Sargent’s friend Dr. Samuel Pozzi when they were both young men. Entering that world, Barnes leads the reader on a branching journey of infinite connections to everyone who meant anything in the Belle Epoque in France (1870-1914). Barnes sets it up as a mystery, piecing together clues. For someone who has never heard the name Pozzi before, it is quite a revelation and quite a trip.It reads like a Six Degrees of Separation. Pozzi’s connections alone were more than sufficient to tell the story, but Barnes connects to his connections’ connections, their friends, lovers, haters, critics, customers, managers and acquaintances. And then their connections too. The connections circle back, and everyone seems to have been connected to everyone else. There are dozens of them profiled here. They range from Oscar Wilde to the Mayo Brothers to Dreyfus, Bernhardt, Degas and Rodin.This sweeping expanse is doled out piecemeal, in anecdotes and threads that follow one of the personages through some stage or event. It also gives Barnes a platform to spout some of his own perspectives. Here’s one on the ways the English and the French regard each other:“…Charles de Gaulle’s obstreperous and infuriating (translate into French as ‘determined and patriotic’) behavior during his London wartime exile, then later in his stubbornly vindictive (‘principled and statesmanlike’) triple refusal to allow Britain to join (‘disrupt’) the European Common Market...”Pozzi was handsome and talented. He spoke English and French. He travelled widely, gathering new medical techniques as he went. He was fast to innovate, devoted himself to otherwise neglected women’s health and initiated new abdominal surgical procedures that saved numerous lives. He was charming, seductive, available and everywhere. He was there for the famous and nonfamous, there for the events, the history, and the parties. His own house held a popular salon where many of his connections reconnected and new connections made.He led a wonderfully full life, outside his own family, where everything was tense and strained. His daughter in particular was a vicious piece of work, full of self hate, self pity and self destruction. Pozzi therefore dallied with mistresses, publicly, including with Sarah Bernhardt, the western world’s sweetheart. She called him Docteur Dieu (Doctor God). They hung out for 20 years. Meanwhile, Pozzi developed into a celebrity in his own right. He became a doctor, gynecologist, mayor, senator and surgeon. He reorganized and ran hospital wings and surgeries. He was recognized globally for his medical practices and papers. He learned the critical importance of cleanliness and antiseptics directly from Dr. Lister in Scotland, and brought those practices to France. Despite, or because of his open philandering, he was respected by men and desired by women.His attitude to medical innovation was “Chauvinism is one of the forms of ignorance.” That is, just because it wasn’t invented here doesn’t mean it’s of no value. This openness was his way of life.Barnes is deeply involved in the Belle Epoque. He was able to post individual photos of most of the people he writes about, which is enormously helpful. And most of the images come from his own collection. At the turn of the century a French chocolate-bar maker began a series of trading cards given away free in the wrapping of every bar. It extended to three series, with hundreds of personalities of the era captured in black and white. It seems that everyone Pozzi knew was famous in his or her own right, at least enough to merit a trading card (and therefore an image in this book).With all the celebrity connections, the cattiness, criticism and outright bashing takes up a lot of space. My favorite: “Degas said of Wilde after a visit to the artist’s studio in Paris: ‘He behaves as if he’s playing Lord Byron in some provincial theatre,’” thus outWilding Wilde for once. There are also lots of betrayals, infidelity, duels and murders. There is faded French royalty, both aggressive and dissolute gays (male and female), marriages of convenience and lots of hypocrisy. Truth that is as wild as fiction. And Pozzi figured centrally in all of it.Barnes followed a lot of leads in filling out his stories, from diaries to newspaper coverage and biographies. But in the end he faced several pages of unanswered questions. They can never be answered, and it really doesn’t matter, but it shows his devotion to the period and the players. So it’s not really about starting with a dramatic painting, tracking down the subject and finding out a little about him and his circle. This is Barnes’ passion and expertise, and Pozzi has figured centrally in it for quite some time. Still a neat concept though, and Barnes presents it dramatically and entertainingly.Oddly, the conclusion features, of all things, Brexit, and how the British government is screwing up the country and its future. No argument from me, but it sits uncomfortably with such in-depth profiles of rich characters from a hundred and fifty years ago. And mostly French at that.David Wineberg
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    I completely misjudged this one: I thought it would be historical fiction, but it's actually narrative nonfiction about an obscure historical figure. I found it dull and impenetrable and gave up after just nine pages.
  • Marcus Hobson
    January 1, 1970
    In 2013 Julian Barnes published a book called Levels of Life, which as well as confronting the death of his wife, also told tales of early balloon flights over France, early photography and some of the loves of the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Some is fact and some is fiction. It is a great narrative of humour and minute observations. From the description of this new book, I thought that it might be similar. In some ways it was, only with a little less magic.It took me a little while to figure out In 2013 Julian Barnes published a book called Levels of Life, which as well as confronting the death of his wife, also told tales of early balloon flights over France, early photography and some of the loves of the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Some is fact and some is fiction. It is a great narrative of humour and minute observations. From the description of this new book, I thought that it might be similar. In some ways it was, only with a little less magic.It took me a little while to figure out who exactly is the central character of “The Man in the Red Coat’. We dwell a good deal on the visit of three Frenchmen to London in the summer of 1885. Expecting a few days of shopping are a prince, a count and a doctor. We refer to them frequently throughout the narrative. The doctor was Samuel Pozzi, who was painted by John Singer Sargent in a work called Dr Pozzi at Home wearing the red coat of the title, although it could also be called a house coat or even a dressing gown. Pozzi was, among other things, a society doctor, pioneering gynaecologist and free-thinker. Sargent had provided the three men with a letter of introduction to the novelist Henry James. So begins a long list of famous folk who appear between the covers of this lavishly illustrated book. While this tour of the Belle Epoque in Paris takes in many native celebrities of the time, it also throws in a number of travelers, such as Oscar Wilde. To this stage Barnes also brings his own commentary, reflecting his own Francophile preferences and a fine grasp of the history and scandals of the period. The small asides and fragmentary stories are enjoyable and excellent. For example, “The fact the France was generally a source of Filth was common English knowledge by the time of the Wilde trials.” As the publisher of Zola’s novel ‘The Earth’ found when put on trial. That novel was declared to be ‘filthy from beginning to end’ and while a ‘filthy’ book might contain two or three passages of filth, this was said to contain twenty-one. At the trial the publisher’s plea was changed to guilty to spare the jury from having to hear all twenty-one read out.This gem of a story is one of the many I enjoyed. “In 1896, during the Scramble for Africa, an expeditionary force of eight French and 120 Senegalese soldiers crossed the continent from west to east: their target was a ruined fort on the Sudanese Upper Nile. Frenchly, they set off with 1,300 litres of claret, fifty bottles of Pernod, and a mechanical piano. The journey took them two years…They raised the tricolore at the ruined fort of Fashoda, and seemed to have no more geopolitical purpose than to annoy the British. This they did, just a little…” Got to love a bit of historical trivia.Barnes notes the imbalance of fugitives and exiles between France and Britain. France exiled four heads of state, and among others Chateaubriand, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Monet, Pissarro, Rimbaud, Verlaine and Zola. “The main reason Britons sought exile in France was to escape scandal (and be able to carry on their scandalous ways): it was the place to go for the upper-class bankrupt, bigamist, cardsharp and homosexual. They sent us their ousted leaders and dangerous revolutionaries; we sent them our posh riff-raff.” It seems the French were appalled and depressed by London and one of them described it thus: he “conjured up a picture of London as an immense, sprawling, rain-drenched metropolis, stinking of soot and hot iron, and wrapped in a perpetual mantle of smoke and fog… Along every street, big or small, in an eternal twilight relieved only by the glaring infamies of modern advertising, there flowed an endless stream of traffic between two columns of earnest, silent Londoners, marching along with eyes fixed ahead and elbows glued to their sides.” The book gradually expands the story of Pozzi and his family. Barnes’ observations on biography are interesting. “ ‘We cannot know.’ If used sparingly this is one of the strongest phrases in the biographer’s language.” And “Biography is a collection of holes tied together with string, and nowhere more so than with the sexual and amatory life.” So when one art magazine labelled Pozzi “ ‘not only the father of French gynaecology but also a confirmed sex addict who routinely tried to seduce his female patients’. I was intrigued by such an apparent paradox: the doctor who helps women but also exploits them.” Pozzi is something of a paradox, generally doing good, but failing to make a success of his personal life and resorting to trips and holidays with his mistress of many years rather than his wife. We should probably stick with his medical success rather than his personal life.One of my favourite features of this book are the illustrations: the colour reproductions of various paintings by John Singer Sargent, not just of Pozzi, but others such as the wonderful portrait of Madame X, and a portrait by Ingres in which the subject appears incredibly grumpy. But more than that, Barnes uses sets of contemporary postcards, given away in packets of sweets and candies, which include most of the famous characters mentioned in the text. There were three collections of these cards by Felix Potin, from 1908 to 1922 with each collection containing 500 cards. Even some English and American characters were included in the collections. They are a wonderful reference point for the multitude of subjects in the book.
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  • Mshelton50
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting look at the life of Dr. Samuel Pozzi, the subject of John Singer Sargent's 1881 painting "Dr. Pozzi at Home." I say "a look at the life" because the book is not, strictly speaking, a biography. I get the feeling that Julian Barnes was interested in and admired Dr. Pozzi (for reasons I'll go into later), and perhaps considered a novelistic treatment, but decided instead to write about the Belle Epoque in which Pozzi lived and of which he was an ornament. In that "decadent" and An interesting look at the life of Dr. Samuel Pozzi, the subject of John Singer Sargent's 1881 painting "Dr. Pozzi at Home." I say "a look at the life" because the book is not, strictly speaking, a biography. I get the feeling that Julian Barnes was interested in and admired Dr. Pozzi (for reasons I'll go into later), and perhaps considered a novelistic treatment, but decided instead to write about the Belle Epoque in which Pozzi lived and of which he was an ornament. In that "decadent" and "neurotic" time (as Barnes classifies it), Pozzi was a man of reason, a scientist, a republican, a Dreyfusard. He was also a good and beneficent man (as well as a charmer and "bedroom athlete"). Pozzi said "Chauvinism is one of the forms of ignorance." He was a man of Italian extraction who was raised and made his life in France, but was an Anglophile as well as a champion of the progress he saw in America and Argentina in the course of his medical travels. One can see how he would appeal to Julian Barnes at a time of (in Barnes's words), "Britain's deluded, masochistic departure from the European Union." I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in France of the Belle Epoque.
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  • Bettina
    January 1, 1970
    Gelezen in de Nederlandse vertaling. Geweldig boek, ik waande me in Parijs rond 1900.
  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    From BBC radio 4:Book of the Week.Man Booker Prize-winning author Julian Barnes takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi.https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...
  • Sorin Hadârcă
    January 1, 1970
    Well-written and obsessively researched, this biography allows you to immerse in Paris of the Belle Epoque, a fancy perhaps, given that it is Barnes' cup of tea, but also a manifesto: in your face brexiteers. Pozzi (the man in the red coat) is not an illustrious figure, but many other figurantes are: Proust, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde to name a few. A book to enjoy, an epoch to remember.
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  • Caroline Thorley
    January 1, 1970
    This is a hugely enjoyable and informative book. It's not a biography of Dr Samuel Pozzi (the man in the red coat of the portrait by John Singer Sargent which is actually called Dr Pozzi at home) but a portrait of the period of French history called La Belle Epoque. Dr Pozzi does play a large part in this book for, as Julian Barnes says, Pozzi was everywhere. The book is full of famous and less well-known figures from literature, art, music and science - Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and his This is a hugely enjoyable and informative book. It's not a biography of Dr Samuel Pozzi (the man in the red coat of the portrait by John Singer Sargent which is actually called Dr Pozzi at home) but a portrait of the period of French history called La Belle Epoque. Dr Pozzi does play a large part in this book for, as Julian Barnes says, Pozzi was everywhere. The book is full of famous and less well-known figures from literature, art, music and science - Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and his brother Robert, Whistler, the Goncourt brothers, Dr Gilles de la Tourette (Tourette's sydrome) etc. I love the way this book is written. I will certainly read it again. There is a lot of food for thought in this excellent book.
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  • Irina Gkini
    January 1, 1970
    A masterpiece of writing skill, but something went wrong with the story. I very much admired Barnes' skill in meta-analysis (a man we know through a portrait, whose friend is know through his literary Belle Epoque caricature) and I am a big fan of his witty prose and irony. However, the middle part of the book is, as himself so elegantly described "a belle Epoque phone catalogue, where all the subscribers are dead".
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    A story of three Frenchmen - two aristos and a gynecologist, who come to London for intellectual and decorative shopping. This fascinating sidelight on Remembrance of THings Past - just serialized on BBC Radio 4 - is witty and thoroughly researched. Darwin, the bullet that shot Pushkin, Sarah Bernhardt's leg and much more bring the Belle Époque to vibrant life.
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  • O.P. Römer
    January 1, 1970
    Leest niet vlot veel details uit La Belle Époque: groot verschil in Frankrijk en Engeland in emancipatie van homoseksuelen. Veel duels en moddergegooi. Pozzi leeft zijn leven en brengt veel vooruitgang in chirurgie en gynaecologie.
  • Frans Pollux
    January 1, 1970
    Gaap.
  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting historical book, though a little convoluted at times. BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.
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