When I saw these images of the Christian Dior Suite at the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic in Cannes, designed by Kirei Studio, I knew who simply had to check in for this literary design adventure. Not only would they enjoy the 180-degree views from the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean and the storied location in the heart of the French Riviera, they’d adore the comfortably elegant furnishings and the airy sophistication achieved by the Parisian-based design firm. It would simply be a bonus that they are staying in the only suite in Europe infused with the famous Parisian label’s panache.
A Literary Design Adventure Cannes
This man and this woman exhibited signs that they would be literary greats at a startlingly young age. She read George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda the year it came out at the age of fourteen despite the fact it was considered unladylike in her stratosphere of society in 1876. He was so fascinated by the stage from the age of eight that everything passing through his brain came out structured in scenes. What he could not absorb from the theater, he gleaned from books and magazines, mostly from Europe—his literary appetite including Balzac, Turgenev, Dickens and George Eliot as a young boy.
He was in his fifties and she was in her thirties when they wrote their first letters to each other. Once they met, it was a May/December affair of the intellectual kind, a bond the two passionate writers treasured. Their correspondence was filled with explorations of literature, as well as advice, support and excitement concerning each other’s work.
Edith Wharton and Henry James
at Le Majestic Cannes
This magnetic connection is why I have Edith Wharton and Henry James checking into the Christian Dior Suite at the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic, a fictive stay during which they will discuss Edith’s work.
Day One at Le Majestic in Cannes
Though this is an imaginary conversation, the exchanges could easily be real since James sent the advice I’m presenting here in his letters to Wharton. Let’s listen in as the great novelists, seated on the sectional in the tony suite facing each other, begin my make-believe work-shopping of the younger writer’s compositions:
“Oh, by the way,” Henry remarks. “Just before I left Lamb House, I asked Scribner’s to send you a rather long-winded (but I hope not hopelessly heavy) novel of mine that they are to issue by the end of this month, a thing called The Wings of the Dove.”
“This is the one set in Venice, isn’t it?” Edith responds. “I can’t wait to read it,”
“Yes, it is; and I want to hear everything you have to say about it.”
“You know I’m not at all shy to tell you how I feel about your writing!”
“You certainly are not,” he says, chuckling. “But now I want to talk about your writing, particularly The Valley of Decision. I read it with such high appreciation and received so deep an impression from it!”
“Is this true, Cher Maître?”
He smiles at the endearment, so fondly remembering the first time she called him dear master. “It is. But…”
“Does there always have to be a but?”
“No, not always, but in this instance, yes. You see, your book gives one too much to say, and the number of reflections it made me make as I read, the number of remarks that, in the tone of the highest sympathy, highest criticism, highest consideration and generally most intimate participation, I articulated, from page to page, for your absent ear, has so accumulated on my consciousness as to render me positively helpless.”
“Did you bring your marked-up copy?”
“Fortunately, I did,” he answered, standing to retrieve his attaché.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we have made this happen, my dear,” he remarked as he returned to his place on the sofa. “I so long for the connection when we are apart.”
Pages open, they bowed their heads in concentration, going over Henry’s notes. Edith nodded her head as he shared his wisdom with the younger, less seasoned novelist. They worked long into the afternoon, discussing every thought he’d had. When the discussion wound down, they took a stroll on the boardwalk and had an early dinner.
Day Two at Le Majestic in Cannes
“So today, dearest Edith, I thought we’d go over ‘The Line of Least Resistance’,” he says loudly enough that she can hear him from her bedroom.
“Perfect!” she says as she slides the pocket door into the wall. “But afterwards let’s go and enjoy some more of the ocean air. May I treat you to lunch?”
“But of course,” he answers, “after our work is done.”
“Slavedriver,” she mutters under her breath, drawing a chuckle from the determined man.
“This story has an admirable sharpness and neatness, and infinite wit and point,” he says as her hand unconsciously strokes the luxurious fabric on the sumptuous cushion that cups her body. “It only suffers a little, I think, from one’s not having a direct glimpse of the husband’s provoking causes—literally provoking one.”
“Go on,” she says, draping her silk scarf over her shoulder as she smiles at his creased forehead—his seriousness with her work bringing such a blessing to her life.
“You may very well say that there are two sides to that; that one can’t do everything in 600 words, one must narrowly choose…” he trails off as he searches her face for a reaction.
“You know me well enough to know that this is exactly what I would say,” she shoots back, studying her purse perched upon the edge of the sofa to keep her expression from turning rebellious.
“Yes, well,” he hesitates, then decides he’s too good a friend to hold back: “The subject is really a big one for the canvas—that was really your difficulty. But the thing is done. And I applaud, I mean I value, I egg you on in, your study of the American life that surrounds you. Let yourself go in it—it’s an untouched field, really: the folk who try, over there, don’t come within miles of any civilized, however superficially, any ‘evolved’ life.”
“So you believe I’ve only scratched the surface?” she asks as she stands and strolls over to a chair to trace its rounded back with her finger, trying to process all that he is saying.
He nods his head and adds: “And use to the full your ironic and satiric gifts; they form a most valuable and beneficent engine. Only, the Lippincott tale* is a little hard, a little purely derisive. But that’s because you’re so young, and, with it, so clever. Youth is hard—and your needle-point, later on, will muffle itself in a little blur of silk. It is a needle-point!”
She’s pacing now, stopping for a moment at the windows overlooking the sea. He’s watching her to see if he’s gone too far but she turns and smiles at him, dropping the silk scarf on a chair pulled up to the intimate dining table, and says, “Let’s go have that lunch now, shall we?”
“But I’m not finished.”
“Your point is made,” she insists. “Bring the story and we’ll discuss it over seafood and champagne. It will make your much appreciated input easier to swallow!”
“See, there’s that cleverness I was speaking of!” he asserts.
Day Three at Le Majestic in Cannes
“You’re already up,” she says as she comes striding out of the bedroom.
“I can’t remember feeling quite this good: this place is a little slice of heaven!”
“I agree, and I have an idea for the afternoon that I believe will please you.” Eyeing the copies of Scribner’s Magazine* stacked upon his side of the round table, she adds, “I see you are anxious to get to our morning critique.”
“You’ll like this one.”
“Oh, good! Yesterday’s was a tad tough.”
“I know but you said you want me to be candid with you.”
“I do; it’s just not always easy to hear.”
“I think this will strike your ear as melodious,” he declares: “how do you like hearing that I very much admire that fiction, and especially the last three numbers of it; finding it carried off with a high, strong hand and an admirable touch, finding it altogether a superior thing.”
She leaned back in the curvaceous chair, breathed a long sigh and clasped her hands in front of her chest. “I must say I like that very much.”
“The book remains one that does you great honour—though it is better written than composed; it is indeed throughout extremely well written, and in places quite ‘consummately.’”
“That’s a word you don’t use lightly.”
“You’re correct; I don’t,” he says with gusto. “Your Lily Bart is very big and true—and very difficult to have kept true—and big; and all your climax is very finely handled.”
“I’m speechless,” she responds, smiling through tears. “I’m just so grateful to have you to speak with about this life we both care so deeply for—the world lived fully for the effort of writing.”
“You give as much as you receive, dearest Edith,” he responds, rising from his seat to place the stack of magazines on the dining room table. “So what is your idea for our afternoon?”
“I thought we’d take Pagello* and see a bit of the coast.”
“Marvelous idea! I’ll get my jacket and my hat. I’ll spend the afternoon regaling you about my last visit from Mrs. Jones and Beatrix.”*
“I am worried about Trix,” Edith remarks as she retrieves her slender clutch and sunglasses from the vanity, stepping across the threshold as he holds open the door.
“I thought she was less well than she ought to be,” he responds as he closes the door behind them.
Day Four at Le Majestic in Cannes
“It’s our last day, Cher Maître,” Edith says as she exits the bedroom.
“It is indeed and I have a confession to make.”
“I want to spend it talking about our most favorite subject beyond our own writing,” he answers.
“You mean Madame Sand?”
“Precisely her, though she’d despise you for the title!” he says, grinning. “Have you read the luridly interesting little volume George Sand et sa fille d’après leur correspondence?”
“I have not.”
“Then the little gift I brought for you has not been at all in vain,” he says, handing her a small wrapped package.
“Oh, I love gifts, especially when they involved the delightfully wicked Sand!” she exclaims, untying the ribbon and rubbing her hand over the small book.
“It’s a wonderful read about the relationship between the novelist and her daughter, and their association with Chopin.”
“Now I have something fascinating to read on the beach today,” she says as she walks into her room to retrieve her glasses.
When she returns, leafing through the pages, he says, “I have what I believe to be a superb idea.”
“Is that a twinkle in your eye?” she asks, chuckling at his devious grin.
“Let’s take a detour when we leave—we could stop by Sand’s home in Nohant. It isn’t so far out of the way.”*
“What a brilliant idea; well done, you! I’ve always wanted to walk through those delightful gardens.”
“We’ll spend the day on the beach reading and discussing Ms. Sand, have our fill of oysters—I know just where we should go, and let Pagello swoop us away tomorrow on a new adventure!”
“I adore how well you know your way around here, my dear,” he says as he opens the door for her.
“Those girlhood years here are paying off, aren’t they?”
“They are indeed,” she answers as the door closes gently behind them.
I hope you enjoyed reading this contrivance as much as I enjoyed creating it. Here are my footnotes marked with asterisks above in order as they appear: 1) In October 1900 Lippincott’s Magazine published “The Line of Least Resistance,” a story about an unfaithful wife and a [weak-willed] rich husband set in Newport, Rhode Island. 2) Wharton’s novel The House of Mirth was published in Scribner’s Magazine from January through November in 1905. 3) Pagello was Edith Wharton’s motorcar. 4) Mary Cadwalader Jones was Edith Wharton’s sister-in-law and the mother of Beatrix Farrand, the niece with whom Wharton had a close bond over gardening. 5) George Sand was a favorite of both novelists and they did visit Nohant together during a three-week motor tour of France in 1907.
Kirei Studio’s Dior Suite at Le Majestic
And now for the style notes of the Dior Suite:
Interior designer Nathalie Ryan comes to this project supremely well informed because she translated the image of the internationally renowned fashion house of Christian Dior around the world for 10 years by designing the company’s iconic boutiques.
“Working with Dior was a very creative and enriching experience,” she remarks. “Every city brought its own unique quality to the project.” This was especially the case with the Dior Suite at the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic.
In 2010, Ryan founded Kirei Studio, choosing the Japanese word for beauty to serve as the moniker for her brand, one that certainly fits the elegance she achieved in the Dior Suite. Hts off to her for creating such an inspiring backdrop filled with luxuriant details!
The Diary of an Improvateur and this Literary Design Adventure © design blogger Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon Henry is an author, poet and journalist, as well as a contributor to Architizer. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.by