Jan Gordon: Disguise and Misdirection

Jan Gordon's novels and magazine articles are abundantly rich in more or less oblique references to actual historical events and real biographical details. These are usually disguised, however, by obscuring the identities of characters and places, changes in the timing of events and narrative adaptations and distortions of the events themselves.

Here are some examples.


1. Hidden identities:

a) Replacing the surname of a real historical character with the capitalised first letter of the surname followed by a dash, examples being "De M" for de Max, "M-" for Manuel and so on.

b) Occasionally using a different capitalised letter to that of the actual surname, presumably when Gordon felt a greater need to disguise the connection with the person in question. An example is the disguise of Andre Salmon as "K-", in this seemingly combining his characteristics with those of Francis Carco.

c) Use of nicknames, such as Ratapouf, Gruke, Harraden Scar, Praps, sometimes "sounds-like" names, in other cases as a result of connections or whims now no longer decipherable.

d) Modifying place names, e.g. the catalogue for the 1908 Salon des Beaux Arts gives Cora Turner's address as 9, rue Campagne-Première (XIV), but in "A Girl in the Art Class" it is rendered "6 Rue Villegeature Seconde," inverting the 9, replacing "countryside" with "holiday resort" and exchanging first for second.


2. Changes in timing of events:

a) A deliberately misleading note in A Girl in the Art Class, which states that "The principal action in this book takes place during the years 1911 and 1912," whereas the marriage of the Gordons, which is described at the end of the book, in fact took place on July 7th 1909 at the Parish Church of Saint Luke, Chelsea.

b) Conflating events to improve the story, such as the merging of the two Galerie Manuel shows.

c) Mixing the order of events in "Gradus ad ... Montparnassum" (Blackwoods 1929), such that the Baillie Gallery show actually took place before the 1913 Galerie Manuel shows, rather than later, as indicated in the text.


3. Modifications of actual events:

An example of this is his representing Cora Josephine's actual "La sorcière" drawing with a story (in "A Girl in the Art Class") about a drawing of Nyssia from "Le Roi Candaule."

The novel "Beans Spilt in Spain" is also full of adapted accounts from their earlier travel experiences in Spain.


Calibration of the accounts with the actual records provides a measure of how literally to take the books and articles. In short, details of timing and specifics of stories are not always reliable, though the character of the narratives does seem very faithful to this period of history and the personalities of the real-world individuals portrayed seem largely authentic.

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