Connecting the Indian Ocean and Europe: four Mauritian writers in ‘Two Cities’ and ‘Présence Africaine’

Two Cities The African diaspora post-WWII did not only include writers, artists and poets from the African continent, the Caribbean, and the United States of America. There were some major contributors to the literary circle who came from the lesser-known island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius, being an ex-colony of France, and a later colony of Britain, retained a strong connection with Europe and hence many writers from the island were active members of French literary circles. Interestingly, these writers benefited from both a French and English education in their home country due to the history of the island and hence were a great asset in connecting the Francophone and Anglophone worlds. Jean Fanchette, Malcolm De Chazal, Loys Masson and Edouard Maunick were four men who contributed to two post-WWII bilingual magazines, Two Cities and Présence Africaine.

Jean Fanchette (1932-1992) was a medical student in Paris when he met Anaïs Nin. This meeting formed the basis of a  friendship that lasted for years and initiated the launch of Two Cities bilingual magazine in Paris. Two Cities would run from 1959-1964 and aimed to celebrate literature in French and English with offices in Paris, London and New York. The first edition was dedicated to Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) for belonging to more than ‘littérature de son pays’ [literature of his country]. Durell was well-travelled and had lived in many countries, so by dedicating the first edition to him Two Cities sets in motion the necessity to connect literature around the globe with Francophone writers reviewing and paying tribute to Anglophone writers and vice-versa. Jean Fanchette would remain editor of Two Cities until its last publication. The magazine had a range of writers and translators from all continents as well as from different ethnic backgrounds such as Raja Rao, Henry Miller, Fernando Pessoa, Octavia Paz, Erik Lindergren, Gustav Regler, and John Forrester. Fanchette’s brother, Regis, also featured in Two Cities. In 1964 the last edition of Two Cities would be published after two years of silence, with the editors of Two Cities attributing the cause of this ‘silence’ to a lack of funds. Jean Fanchette’s preface in the 1964 edition also refers to the death of Gustav Regler, and how he had travelled to the Soviet Union, lived in Mexico, was misunderstood in America and was unknown in France although he contributed to Two Cities, and finally passed away in India. Through the analogy of Gustav Regler, Fanchette re-iterates the existence of Two Cities as a magazine for world literature. Fanchette’s idea of world literature was further accentuated in the special issue of Autumn 1960 which was devoted to the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

Malcolm De Chazal first appeared in Two Cities in the July 1959 edition. De Chazal was known for his aphorisms and eccentric behaviour. Although away from the literary hub of Europe and France, Malcolm’s writings caught the eye of André Breton, the principal theorist of Surrealism. Sens Plastique published in 1948 by Gallimard would bring him into the limelight of the Parisian literary circle. In a conversation with Dr Khal Torabully, an essayist, director, poet, semiologist and pioneer of the Coolitude concept, he revealed that Saran Alexandrian, André Breton’s right-hand man, ‘was the recipient of Chazal’s long letter to the Surrealists, later published as Ma Révolution. This letter initiated a hot debate in Surrealist midst, Breton decided not to include Chazal in the group as he spoke of God, The homage initially dedicated to him in the first issue of Supérieur Inconnu was abandoned. After Alexandrian visited Mauritius, the incredible thing is that the Supérieur Inconnu was finally launched, with a homage to Chazal’. Dr Torabully went on to initiate the Malcolm De Chazal foundation and directed a film about him.

Loys Masson (1915-1969), brother of the painter Hervé Masson, was also a contributor to Two Cities. He was the General Secretary of Comité national des écrivains (CNE) and Chief Editor of Lettre Françaises in 1945 and 1946 respectively. Loys was a bilingual writer who first started his career writing English poetry then later switched to French. He featured in the first edition of Two Cities. Loys came to Europe with the view of joining the French or British army but was refused entry to both. He thus joined the French Legion étrangère, although he was a British citizen due to Mauritius being under British rule at that time.

Edouard Maunick (1931-2021) first contributed to Two Cities in the Summer 1961 edition when his poem ‘Deux minutes pour Neige’ was published. He also had several publications in Présence Africaine from 1965 until till his death in 2021. Maunick also contributed to Présence Africaine as a translator. Sometimes he translated his own work, publishing his poems in both French and English, as shown in his poem ‘As far as Yoruba land’ or ‘Jusqu’en terre Yoruba’ (Présence Africaine, no.55, 1965).

Farzeen Heesambee

Bibliography

Asgharally, Issa, ‘Balises: Jean Fanchette et Rabindranath Tagore’, (L’Express Dimanche)

Babelio, https://www.babelio.com/auteur/Loys-Masson/42569

Dickow, Alexander, ‘Malcolm de Chazal’s ‘Sens-Plastique’ as Aesthetic Remainder’, French Forum, vol. 40, no. 1 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), pp. 109–22.

Joubert, Jean-Louis. “La Poésie Maurcienne d’aujourd’hui.’ Francofonia, no. 48, (Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki s.r.l., Francofonia. Studi e ricerche sulle letterature di lingua francese, 2005), pp. 125–32.

Ramsurrun, Palad, <http://www.malcolmdechazal.info/>

Sky Blue Press, <http://anaisninblog.skybluepress.com/>

Stella, Rachel, <https://jeanfanchette.wordpress.com/two-cities/>

Torabully, Khal, <https://www.potomitan.info/torabully/souchon.php>

Special thanks to Dr Khal Torabully for sharing his knowledge on Malcolm De Chazal and Dr Issa Asgharally, a close friend of Jean Fanchette for taking time out to contribute to my research on Jean Fanchette.

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