Thursday 19 November 2020

Review by James Holden of "Paris Bride" by John Schad

A woman, a bride even, or at least a ‘supposed bride,’ walks through the bustling streets of London on her way to see a doctor. Then, another day, this same woman walks into a bustling court room and, a short while later, walks out a bride no longer, neither supposed nor legally. The woman who walked in as Marie Schad walks out as Marie Wheeler, born again as the person she had once been.

At the same time, this Marie walks out of history. In Paris Bride, our author, John Schad, walks behind her, following her or finding her as she progresses through literary history – in the pages of works by Woolf, Kafka, Mallarmé and more. He finds her back in Paris, only a Paris that has become a ‘manuscript of a city,’ a modernist space in which identities are rewritten, so that our Marie becomes, amongst others, Marie, the wife of Ferdinand de Saussure, one of Mallarme’s four Maries, and a thinker of the words of Dr Marie Stopes. She is spotted by surrealists and wanders by Walter Benjamin. Here, for John Schad, to quote one of his major intellectual preoccupations, the philosopher Jacques Derrida, ‘there is nothing outside of the text.’ Or, rather, Schad works under the same assumption as that most Parisian of modernists, albeit one not mentioned in Paris Bride, Marcel Proust, which is to say he seems to believe that ‘real life, life finally uncovered … is literature.’ The real life of Marie Schad, née Wheeler, was, for John Schad, lived in literature, and can be uncovered, and perhaps even finally regained, amongst its pages.

Paris Bride asks throughout the question of legitimacy: the legitimacy of Johannes and Marie Schad’s marriage; the legitimacy of Johannes's ‘second’ marriage to the other Marie, and, by extension, the children that issued from it; and, more broadly, the legitimacy of literary criticism. Here, via Kafka, the university is shown to be a court. But more, Paris Bride puts university scholars in court, and watches as they prosecute themselves. John Schad says of himself that he is a ‘bad’ scholar. Not for him what Benjamin calls the ‘conventional scholarly attitude.’ Instead, Schad is, he declares, in possession of ‘useless papers … found somewhere toward the broken back of a broken drawer’ and is ‘guilty of misreading.’

And yet, to read Paris Bride and its author in this way is to misread them. This book asks not for ‘an impromptu or hasty reading’ but for something altogether more ‘exquisite.’ For what ‘Scholar Schad’ offers here, with consummate skill, is a legitimate and sophisticated marriage of scholarship and storytelling.

About the reviewer
James Holden is an independent academic and writer. He is a Lisztian, a Proustian, and a proud nerd. The author of In Search of Vinteuil: Music, Literature and a Self Regained, his recent work has focused on the piano playing and aesthetics of the Romantics. His website is:

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