Louis de Bernieres

"How strange that the world should change because of words, and words change because of the world"1 —the quote on the home page of Louis de Bernières's website speaks to his lasting impact as a writer. Louis de Bernières (1954-present) is most famous for his 1994 novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin. In addition to this historical fiction piece, de Bernières has written ten other novels as well as poetry and short story collections. He is also an ardent supporter of equality for fathers in family law. 

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Contents
Table of contents

    Louis de Bernières Biography

    Louis de Bernières was born into a military family in London in 1954. At the age of 8, he was sent to Grenham House prep school in Kent. His education was overshadowed by the abusive headmasters, one of which was a sadist, and the other was a pedophile. After Grenham House, De Bernières continued his education at Bradfield College before joining the army at 18. But de Bernières was not fated to follow in his family's footsteps, and he left after four months of officer training in Sandhurst.

    Louis de Bernières, UK military vehicles on dirt road, StudySmarter

    Fig. 1: De Bernières was born into a military family but realized he did not want to carry on the family tradition, pixabay

    Young and jobless, de Bernières traveled to Colombia, where he found work as a tutor on an Englishman's ranch. The trip proved short-lived, but Colombia's culture deeply influenced de Bernières's early novels. His first three novels all have notes of magical realism, common in South American literature.

    In magical realism, magical and supernatural elements are interwoven into a realistic, plausible world.

    De Bernières returned to England to pursue his bachelor's degree and graduated from Victoria University of Manchester in 1977. He financed his own education by working as a landscaper. He took a postgraduate degree in Education at Leicester Polytechnic, preparing for his future career as a teacher. De Bernières earned his MA at the University of London in 1985.

    Before he began writing, de Bernières worked a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet. He found work as a car mechanic, carpenter, and hospital porter. He also went back to Colombia to teach English. De Bernières's first novel, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, was published in 1990. It was followed in quick succession by the novels Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord in 1991 and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman in 1992. After his third novel was published, de Bernières was making enough money off writing full-time to quit his other jobs.

    Louis de Bernières, Car mechanic under hood, StudySmarter

    Fig. 2: Before writing full-time, de Bernières worked a series of odd jobs, including as a mechanic, unsplash

    De Bernières's fourth novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin (1994), was an instant success. In addition to being an international bestseller, it also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book and was shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year. It has since been translated into 30 languages and adapted into a film.

    De Bernières went on to write seven additional novels, two short story collections, three works of poetry, a play, and a work of nonfiction. His latest work is a 2020 novel entitled The Autumn of the Ace.

    In addition to writing, de Bernières is also a passionate musician. He plays mandolin, guitar, flute, and clarinet. His love for music can be found in the many references to composers and musical pieces in his literary works.

    De Bernières suffers from dystonia, a movement disorder in which a person experiences involuntary muscle contractions, causing repetitive and abnormal movements.

    Louis de Bernières Family

    De Bernières and his partner of 11 years, theater director Cathy Gill, separated in 2009. The split was difficult and resulted in a custody battle over their children, Robin and Sophie. The children were extremely young, just 4 and 1 years old when their parents separated.

    At first, Gill gained full custody of the children. Eventually, de Bernières earned equal custodial rights for his children, but it was not an easy battle. De Bernières said he had nightmares about losing his children for years, and he bemoans the sexism in family law. Because of his struggles with custody battles, de Bernières has become an avid equal-rights advocate for fathers seeking equal custody.

    Louis de Bernières, Rip between mother and father, StudySmarter

    Fig. 3: De Bernières suffered a difficult custody battle and now advocates for equality in family law, pixabay

    Louis de Bernières Novels

    Two of de Bernières's most famous novels are Captain Corelli's Mandolin (1994) and Red Dog (2002).

    Captain Corelli's Mandolin (1994)

    Captain Corelli's Mandolin is set on the Greek island of Cephalonia towards the beginning of World War II. Pelagia lives on the island with her father, Dr. Iannis, from whom she learns about medicine and healing. When the Italians invade under Benito Mussolini, Pelagia becomes involved with the Italian army officer Antonio Corelli. Pelagia's fiancé comes home from the war and she realizes she no longer loves him, which makes him hostile.

    When German forces invade the island and begin a massacre of Italian forces, Corelli leaves his beloved mandolin behind with Pelagia, telling her he will be back to marry her. After the occupation of the island is over, though, Corelli doesn't return, and Pelagia raises an abandoned baby alone. At the end of the novel, Corelli comes back to the island as a famous mandolin player. He reveals he saw Pelagia with a baby and assumed she was married, so he left.

    A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument originating from Italy.

    Red Dog (2002)

    De Bernières wrote Red Dog after seeing a statue of a dog in Western Australia. The novella follows the life of Red Cloud Kelpie, a dog who becomes a legend and a beloved part of his town. Red Dog leaves his original owners at a picnic and befriends John, who is living in a small but rapidly growing mining town. Red Dog survives being shot, and the locals fall in love with him as he builds his own independent life.

    When John dies, Red Dog wanders around looking for him. He spends time with his other friend, Nancy, but she is thrown out of her caravan park because dogs are not allowed. The townspeople come together and kick the cruel caretakers out of town. They can't, however, save Red Dog after he is poisoned. After his death, they build a monument in honor of him.

    Louis de Bernières, Red golden retriever puppy, StudySmarter

    Fig. 4: Red Dog is based on a real dog that lived in Western Australia in the 1970s, unsplash

    Louis de Bernières Poetry

    De Bernières's love of literature first started with poetry, despite ironically having only three published poetry collections compared to 11 novels. De Bernières has said he plans to write more poetry in the years to come. Two of his poetry collections include Imagining Alexandria (2013), and Of Love and Desire (2016).

    The poems in Imagining Alexandria are largely influenced by the Mediterranean region. Examining themes like nostalgia, sexuality, and the past, this collection is a homage to one of de Bernières's favorite poets, Constantine Cavafy. De Bernières read the Greek poet's work every day for 30 years. Imagining Alexandria includes illustrations by Donald Sammut.

    Of Love and Desire, also illustrated by Sammut, is a collection of love poems spanning de Bernières's entire life. The poems focus on all aspects of love—not just connection, lust, and happiness—but also rejection, heartbreak, and dejection.

    Louis de Bernières, Red rose on sheets of paper, StudySmarter

    Fig. 5: Of Love and Desire is a collection of love poems, unsplash

    Louis de Bernières Quotes

    Below are some of de Bernières's most famous quotes.

    Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being 'in love' which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident." (Chapter 47)

    In this famous quote from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Dr. Iannis discusses the true nature of love with his daughter, who is yearning for Corelli. At this section in the novel, Pelagia is still engaged to Mandras, but her father can sense the passion between her and the captain. At the end of the novel, Pelagia and Corelli do not end up together because fate drags them apart. Even when they have the opportunity to get back together, Corelli stays away because he is jealous of the husband he believes Pelagia has.

    We should care for each other more than we care for ideas, or else we will end up killing each other." (Chapter 9)

    Also spoken by Dr. Iannis in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, this quote speaks to the necessity for humanity. While everyone else on the island fights one another over different opinions and ideologies, Dr. Iannis treats everyone without discrimination. He believes people should care more about the well-being of one another as individuals rather than how they fit into some abstract philosophy.

    Where does it all begin? History has no beginnings, for everything that happens becomes the cause or pretext for what occurs afterwards...there is therefore an infinite chain of blame that winds its circuitous route back and forth across the path and under the feet of every people and every nation, so that a people who are the victims of one time become the victimisers a generation later, and newly liberated nations resort immediately to the means of their former oppressors." (Chapter 50)

    This quote is from chapter 50 of the novel Birds Without Wings (2004). In this quote, de Bernières speaks to the circular condition of humanity and history. Everything comes back around and informs the "history" of the next generation. It is reminiscent of the adage "History is written by the victors." Contemporary understanding of history (and even current events) is not based on indisputable fact but on how society has been socialized to perceive events. This makes it difficult to know who is right or wrong, as history is not black and white. But it also reminds readers that, at its core, humanity and its history are biased and subjective, so we should treat everyone as equal regardless of their history.

    Louis de Bernieres - Key Takeaways

    • Louis de Bernières was born in London in 1954.
    • He is now a major advocate for equality in family law after fighting for custody of his children in 2009. He believes the law needs to treat fathers equally to mothers.
    • He is the author of the famous novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Red Dog, a fictionalized story based on a real Australian dog's independent life.
    • His first love was poetry, and he has three poetry collections.
    • His most famous quote is from Captain Corelli's Mandolin: "Love is a temporary madness."

    References

    1. "Louis de Bernières." Louis de Bernieres Official. https://www.louisdebernieresofficial.com/
    2. "About Louis." Louis de Bernieres Official. https://www.louisdebernieresofficial.com/
    3. Sethi, Anita. "Louis de Bernières: My family values." The Guardian. 29 June 2012.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Louis de Bernieres

    What nationality is Louis de Bernières?

    Louis de Bernières is British. 

    Who is Louis de Bernieres?

    Louis de Bernières is an English novelist, poet, short story writer, playwright, and nonfiction writer. 

    What inspired Louis de Bernières to write Red Dog?

    Louis de Bernières was inspired to write Red Dog after seeing a statue of a dog and learning about its legend in Western Australia. 

    Where did Louis de Bernieres go to school?

    De Bernières went to school at Grenham House (prep school), Victoria University of Manchester (BA), Leicester Polytechnic (postgrad degree in Education), and the University of London (MA).

    Who wrote Love is a Temporary Madness?

    This quote come from de Bernières's novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin (1994). 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: Louis de Bernières came from a military family

    What country deeply inspired de Bernières's early novels? 

    True or false: de Bernières worked a series of odd jobs before he started writing full time

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