John Schad is Professor of Modern Literature at University of Lancaster. His books include Victorians in Theory (Manchester, 1999), Queer Fish: Christian Unreason from Darwin to Derrida (Sussex, 2004), a memoir, Someone Called Derrida (Sussex, 2007), a novel The Late Walter Benjamin (Bloomsbury, 2012), an experimental biography called Paris Bride (Punctum, 2020), and (with Fred Dalmasso) Derrida | Benjamin: Two Plays (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). He has also had two retrospectives published - Hostage of the Word, 1993-2013 (2013) and John Schad in Conversation (2015). He has read his work on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb and at various literary festivals, and his plays have been performed at The Oxford Playhouse, Duke’s Theatre Lancaster, Watford Palace Theatre, HowTheLight GetsIn (Hay-on-Wye), and the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford. You can find out more information here. You can read an interview with John Schad on Everybody's Reviewing here.
About Paris Bride
By John Schad
In 1905, in Paris, a young woman called Marie Wheeler married, or thought she had married, Johannes Schad, a clerk from Basel. Marie and Johannes then lived together in suburban London until one day, in 1924, they went to the High Court in the Strand, and the marriage ended - or rather was declared never to have been.
The stated reason for what happened in the High Court was, and is, hard to credit. Marie then returned to Paris, with no more known of her. And that is all the official records reveal.
Almost 100 years on, new evidence from Paris reveals quite another version of events. Thus, whilst London gives one account of the nineteen-year-long marriage, or ‘marriage,’ Paris now gives another. Which is true?
Paris Bride investigates and as it does so I, who am Johannes’s grandson, begin to recreate the lost life of Marie, of whom little is known beyond a few legal papers, a number of letters, some photographs, the diaries of a friend, and her obituary.
With so little else known of Marie’s life, I read her back into existence by drawing on a host of contemporaneous modernist texts, each one being uncannily connected with Marie through some coincidence of time, place, or theme.
Paris Bride soon becomes a weave of remarkable lives, loves, and places.
Marie Wheeler, c.1895
From Paris Bride
Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
- Virginia Woolf, 1925
April 7, 1924
Marie said she would buy some flowers, and the trams, the pigeons, and the motor cars all murmured “yes.” She was light upon her feet; quick, careful, lest she should brush against another. None, she thought; there would be none who would know her, though some had smiled. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to.* She would buy the flowers on her way back, and as she walked her head was set low.
She paused to allow a file of children to pass in front of her. Nineteen in all. Two-by-two save one, who turned and looked. It was her hat. Johannes may have bought it in Russia. But she should quicken her step. She never tired of walking, for all her delicacy. On she walked. On. I love walking in London, she thought.
Did Johannes ever come this way? On foot, to his office. He did not like the omnibus and, besides, walking was even more natural than talking, he would say, quoting their friend, the eminent Linguist, Mr. X, as he had been introduced the night they had first met.
The Linguist was an elegant man with a fine moustache, the points of which seemed to quiver as if receiving messages from the air. Some said his name was Ferdinand de Saussure, Professor Ferdinand de Saussure. He certainly spoke with authority; though was inclined, Johannes would say, to mistake language for Switzerland. “A panorama of the Alps,” the Linguist had said, “must be taken from just one point. The same is true of a language.” The Linguist’s great-grandfather, she had heard, was a mountaineer. Among the first to conquer Mont Blanc. But she must be getting on. Such traffic. Piccadilly. Such traffic.
“City of death.” Yes, that was it. That was he had said about Mont Blanc. Shelley, not the Linguist. Shelley, the poet. Strange thing to say, or write, whatever the light. Though he was an unbeliever, Shelley that is, even among the mountains. Especially among the mountains, Johannes had said, pointing out that the unbelieving poet had signed the guest book at Chamonix as “Percy Bysshe Shelley, Atheist.” Ah, and here, right here was Somerset House. Over the Strand the clouds were of mountainous white.
Perhaps, she thought, she should not read so much. After all, there were, these days, so many curious books and so many curious authors. Mrs. Woolf, for instance, or Mr. Eliot, Mr. Eliot-the-Clerk, as Johannes would say. Mr. Eliot, however, she rather liked, seeing that he had written about a woman called Marie. Moreover his Marie, Mr. Eliot’s, was also inclined to read through the night. And then there was Miss Emily Dickinson, the hermit of Amherst, they said. “Our lives are Swiss,” she had written, “So still - so cool.” Yes. “Till some odd afternoon, the Alps neglect their Curtains.” Yes. “And we look further on.”
Marie paused, a little faint, and glimpsed a poster in the window of a shop. “The British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Stadium.” Yes, many would come. Odd, though, that the poster should portray London as a woman in bronze, naked and slim. Marie tugged at her coat. April was indeed a cruel month, just as Mr. Eliot had thought. And, now, a shower was upon them. Rain, rain all over London, she should not wonder, even at the Exhibition. It is nature that is the ruin of Wembley, she thought. The problem of the sky remains, she thought. Is it, one wonders, part of the Exhibition? Marie put up her umbrella. How mountainous those clouds.
Was Johannes out in the rain? Perhaps, but then he was used to weather of all kinds. He travelled so much. What with his languages. French, German, even Russian. The rubber-trade took him to so many places.
January 7, 1927
pleasure and intends doing so in the future.
She did not, herself, like to travel by train; it was not, she had heard, altogether safe. Villains there must be battering the brains of a girl out in a train. The continental trains were, though, very different. She had once said so to the Linguist. He, though, had simply muttered something about trains in general, about how no two trains, whatever we think, are identical. “We [invariably] assign [the same] identity to two [quite different] trains,” he had said. “For instance, ‘the 8.45 from Geneva to Paris.’ One [such train] leaves twenty-four hours after the other, [and yet] we treat it as the ‘same’ train.”
Trafalgar Square was stirring. People of all nations and none, she thought. She had not intended to come this way but paused to open her purse for a man without legs, his upturned cap begging on his behalf. He gazed for a moment. Every man fell in love with her. “The bride is beautiful,” as Johannes would say.
It is true that he would sometimes add “but, she is married to another man.” This, though, had been a jest of his. “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man” were, he would explain, the famous words of a famous telegram. Coded words. The cable, he would say, had been wired from Palestine by two Jewish zealots hot-foot from the world’s first Zionist Congress, a gathering held, strange to say, in Basel. Yes, his Basel. The two zealots had, apparently, gone off in vainest search of Israel. Zion. The Promised Land. And they had found her indeed to be beautiful. But also to be another’s.
The man without the legs smiled. Then touched his cap and smiled again. She must help him. Find a baker’s. Ah, here. That smile, though. Yes that smile, it lifted her up and up when — oh! a pistol shot in the street outside!
“Dear, those motorcars,” said Miss Pym, going to the window to look, and coming back and smiling apologetically as if those motorcars, these tyres of motorcars, were all her fault.
No, thought Marie, it was her fault. She had grown comfortable from the tyres that rubber made, and, in fact, from all that rubber made. Yes, the disturbance in the street was her fault. But she could not stop. She must give the man the sandwich. She could not stop. She was expected at noon. By another man.
Marie’s shoes concerned her. The heels, though modest, were about to give way, and the points of her shoes were worn. Better not to look down; best look up, right up. And why not, seeing that all down The Mall people were looking up into the sky. See, an aeroplane! There it was coming over the trees, letting out white smoke behind, which curled and twisted, actually writing something! The Linguist, how he would have loved these letters. “C was it? And an E? Then an L?” There was, she saw, no “A” in the sky. Don’t tell the Linguist. He had loved the French letter-sound a, handling it like the most fragile shell. “In its consistency,” he had once said, “it is something solid, but thin, that cracks easily if struck.”
The aeroplane above breathed several more letters into the sky. But it was not a day to stand and watch. Not like that day in Palmers Green. The dazzling day. 1912 it was, before they had moved in. “Honeymoon Land,” or so it was called. Newly-minted suburbia. Modern Houses for Modern Couples. This dazzling day, they said, was the day an airman, Italian, heading for Hendon, had found his engine faltering high over Honeymoon Land and, seeing Broomfield Park, had attempted to effect a landing. The aeroplane was, though, by now flying so low that its wings, they said, touched first one roof and then another before finally settling, with a murmur, upon the slates of 75 Derwent Road.
*In this chapter, all italicised quotations come from Woolf (most from Mrs Dalloway, some from her diaries and letters).