A NOVEL looking for the first time on the memorable few months one of France’s greatest writers spent in the small Suffolk market town of Bungay is to be published shortly by a Suffolk author.

Vicomte Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand was an émigré from the French Revolution in the final decade of the 18th century – an aristocrat destined, on his return to France, to become one of his country’s, and Europe’s, greatest statesmen and writers. He is widely acknowledged as the man who gave birth to the age of Romanticism in French and European literature.

And indeed it was his romantic involvement with the 15-year-old daughter of a Bungay clergyman in 1795-96 which had a huge influence on him. During his exile, he stayed as a guest at the home of the Rev and Mrs John Ives, and their daughter, Charlotte, in Bridge Street, Bungay, while recovering from a fall from his horse. In his autobiography, Memoires d’Outre Tombe, a classic French work, he writes for several pages, with great affection and emotion, of his relationship with Charlotte – of a love that could never be.

It is that time in Bungay on which retired journalist and author Terry Reeve, a local journalist for 47 years until retiring two years ago, has focussed this fact-based historical novel, and on that love, looking at it largely through the eyes of the adolescent and impressionable Charlotte – how her hopes are driven by the simplest of actions, how they are dramatically dashed, but how she cannot bring herself to forget, even as a mature woman, the seemingly ordinary Frenchman who came suddenly into her life. The story spans 26 years in all, with the Revolution, and Nelson’s Navy, as a background.

“In his memoirs Chateaubriand poses the question: What happened to Charlotte after he left Bungay, in dramatic circumstances, and eventually returned to France to make his name?”

said Mr Reeve, who was born and still lives in Bungay.

“We only have his account of their relationship, and I felt there was a novel to be written looking at it from Charlotte’s point of view, re-creating what it could have been like for her and her family before he arrived in their home, during his stay there and after he left. It is clear from his autobiography that she left a huge impression on him, and it must have been the same for her. It is a story that has always fascinated me.”

He said the novel relied on the basic facts as outlined by the French aristocrat, but there was much literary licence and inevitably much fiction involved.

“As far as I know it is the first time anyone has attempted a novel on this subject. It is set in Bungay, and Ditchingham, Paris and London, and I hope local people will enjoy that, while those further afield will be interested in this look at the time such an eminent figure in French and European history spent in this country, and Suffolk,” he said.
“It is written in a simple style – there are no sub-plots and I think the story is dramatic enough in itself not to need wildly fictional scenes introduced. And I hope I have written it sensitively and with the tenderness it deserves.”

Mr Reeve, whose career as a local journalist with Archant included stints at several offices throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, has written a number of non-fiction books on aspects of Bungay’s past, before trying his hand a fiction. His first novel, Spirit of the Fen, is set in Bungay and looks at the modern world of property development. Only the Springtime is his third. He has not decided yet whether to publish the second he wrote, titled The Last thing on My Mind.

Only the Springtime will be published in early October by Fast-Print Publishing in paperback at £8.

Mr Reeve can be contacted via email: [email protected] or on 01986 896416 or mobile: 07873419535.

The book will be available at most bookshops.

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