Francis Stuart (Townsville, Australia, 1902 - Co. Clare, 2000) abandoned wife and children at their home in Laragh, Co. Wicklow in 1937 to go on a drinking binge in the French capital, left Ireland again in 1939 for Nazi Germany, and then crawled back to Paris in disgrace in 1945.
Stuart's 1937 stay in Paris seems to have passed in a drunken haze. He initially stayed in the Hotel Terminus, close to the Gare Lazare, but then moved to a hotel in the rue de Gaîté in Montparnasse to be close to the Dôme (Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement), where he may have met James Joyce one evening. Two young ladies Stuart also met at the Dôme with whom he "indulged in an orgy of drinking and sexual activity" (according to Kevin Kiely) seem to have made a more lasting impression. In his autobiographical novel Black List Section H, his masterpiece, Stuart describes the Paris sojourn of his alter ego, H, in the following terms: "For weeks, H never saw Paris by daylight, leaving the Dôme, they told him, around three or four of a morning and making his short way to the hotel in a drunken trance, always stopping en route, without being able to recall doing so, to buy Italian wine at a shop in the rue Delambre that stayed open all night."
|Le Dôme in the early 1930s|
Much less joyful was his arrival in the city in a train full of refugees in August 1945 after spending much of the war broadcasting propaganda on behalf of the Germans and teaching English in Berlin university. His ex-lover in Berlin, Róisín Ní Mheara, preceded him. In June of that year, she wrote a letter (signed Mrs. R. O'Mara) from, "les Annonciades" in Melun to the Irish Legation, inquiring whether Francis Stuart "has arrived in Paris yet from Germany, or whether you have news of his whereabouts". He was initially sent to a reception area for displaced persons in the villa Rothschild in the rue Leonardo Da Vinci, off the Place Victor Hugo (16th arrondissement) and took his meals around the corner in the rue Leroux. He later moved into a cheap hotel, the Copernic, in the street of the same name (also in the 16th arrondissement) and was given a fawn raincoat by the Quakers in rue des Martyrs (9th arrondissement). He also went to ask for assistance at the Irish Legation in the rue de Villejust (16th arrondissement, now called rue Paul Valéry), but there was told that "his appearance in Paris wasn't a matter of official rejoicing for the representatives of his native land." Still, via the Legation, he did get handouts from his family, including Seán MacBride (half-brother of Stuart’s wife, Iseult). Stuart attempted to go back to Austria to fetch Madeleine, his Berliner girlfriend (real name Gertrud Meissner), but only got as far as Strasbourg before being turned back to Paris, where he went back to the Hôtel Copernic.
|The former Villa Rothschild, rue Leonardo da Vinci|
In November 1945, still in danger of being arrested and tried by the British, Stuart eventually made it back to Austria to see Madeleine. Both were locked up by the French forces of occupation (better them than the British) before making it back to Paris in the summer 1949, where Madeleine found work as a cleaner and they both found lodgings in the attic of an apartment belonging to a Hungarian writer called Ladislas Dormandi at 20, Avenue de Breteuil (7th arrondissement). Stuart and Madeleine struck up a friendship with the writer Liam O’Flaherty and his partner Kitty Tailer before they eventually moved to England in June 1951 and then to Ireland. By that time, Stuart had convinced himself the coast was clear and that neither the British nor the Irish authorities were likely to give him much stick for his wartime activities.
|Francis Stuart and Madeleine Meissner|
According to Kevin Kiely, Stuart again visited Paris in the 1980s. He and a large party decided to go the over-hyped and over-priced Brasserie Lipp on the Boulevard Saint-Germain (sixth arrondissement). This being a Saturday evening and Stuart's party not having reserved, there was no table available. But somebody piped up that Stuart was Ireland's greatest living writer, and suddenly a table was found. (According to Australian author John Baxter, the Brasserie Lipp employs just one person in its kitchens over the weekend, whose task is to heat up dishes that have been prepared in advance. One way to get around extravagant French labour laws and salaries.)
Black List Section H (1975)
States of Mind – Selected Short Prose, 1936-1983 (1984)
Francis Stuart Francis Stuart: A Life (1990)
Francis Stuart: Artist and Outcast (2007)