Frontispiece to the book ‘Brest’ by Pierre Mac Orlan, 1926, Paris, ed. Emile-Paul frères, coll. part.

Pierre Mac Orlan (1882-1970), a writer who frequented the Parisian bohemian scene, devoted a novel to the city of Brest, which was published in Paris in the collection “Portrait de la France”.

The poet, who was sensitive to the picturesque charm of working-class neighbourhoods and ports, stayed in Brittany several times. In his book, he recounts his wanderings and encounters in the city of Brest, with which he seems to have had an ambiguous relationship. Sometimes he claims to love it “more than any other city in France”, thanks to the friendships he made there, while at other times he judges it rather severely in terms of its architecture and urban planning which he considered were without any notable qualities.

In the mid-1920s, Brest was oscillating between its enduring past and the modernity that was slowly approaching. The sound of hooves on the cobblestones of the Rue de Siam mingled with that of jazz music. Mac Orlan thought that the march of progress was inevitable, even if “Brest is a city that belongs to the past and that the past regains every day”. He predicted that one day “all languages will be spoken in a port of crystal, steel and brass sheathed in silk”. In the meantime, the city “whose configuration allows the imagination so many economic and literary hypotheses” seemed to him to be “dozing in a temporary sleep”…

Sonia de Puineuf