For thirty days this year and every year The Fountain in the Forest synchs up with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Tuesday 10 March 2020 converts to Primidi 21 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 21 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 9 of the novel are dedicated to Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum, or Mandragora autumnalis). Mandrake is highly toxic, and associated with many superstitions.
Much of Chapter 9 takes place in the paint frame, a scene painting studio in the stage house of the Royal Palace Theatre, a fictional theatre but one that is closely modeled on the real Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The paint frame is a high-ceilinged and sky-lit scene-painting studio with deep drops on either side, into which large wooden frames or stretchers can be lowered via pulleys, so that all parts of the canvas or gauze are accessible and can be painted from floor level.
My use of the paint frame in The Fountain in the Forest is in part a tribute to Alastair Brotchie, whose studio it is (and who can be seen in the background of Chris Dorley-Brown’s photo above). Brotchie is a founder of the London publishing house Atlas Press – ‘a small publishing house devoted to publishing an “anti-tradition” of avant-garde literary and artistic dissent’ – a Regent of the Collège de ’Pataphysique in Paris, the editor of books and anthologies on Surrealism, Dada, and the Oulipo, and author of the wonderful biography of Alfred Jarry, recently published by MIT.
Theatre researcher Eleanor Margolies wrote a beautiful article about the paint frame in The Fountain in the Forest.
There used to be many more paint frames around London and the rest of the UK, and the Historical Research Committee of the Association of British Theatre Technicians have published a list of paint frames, which is ‘constantly developing’ as more are demolished or fall into disuse.