Archive for April, 2011

The Price

April 23, 2011

Richard H. Barker, in Marcel Proust, A Biography, is puzzled by Proust’s disparagement of the intellect when, in Time Regained, especially, he presses his intellectual concerns to the point of draining the life out of his characters.

The intellect has a curious history in Proust’s novel. Generally, in the earlier volumes, and even in Le Temps retrouvé, it is represented as an inferior function of the mind, one that falsifies and distorts. It is almost invariably contrasted with sensibility, which alone reveals the real world. But now, in discussing his novel, Proust suddenly remarks that the intellect is not after all contemptible. The truths that it draws from reality may at least supplement, may, as it were, “enchase in a grosser substance,” the impressions of sensibility or memory. But as he goes on, Proust indicates that these truths of the intellect are far more than a supplement: they are the very substance of a work of art. For the novelist is a man who instinctively, from his earliest years, has trained himself to see the general in the particular and to ignore everything that is not general. He observes what appear to be childish trifles–“the tone in which a sentence had been spoken, the facial expression and movement of the shoulders of someone about whom perhaps he knows nothing else”–but always because such trifles help him to formulate psychological laws. “He retains in his memory,” Proust says, “only what is of a general character.” There is no suggestion, at this point, that his memory is arbitrary or mystical, or that its exercise is always accompanied by unearthly happiness. In fact, the sense of relief that the novelist feels comes from his intellect, which enables him to understand his suffering, to represent it in its most general form, and thus, in some measure at least, to escape its strangling grip.

The importance that Proust now attaches to the intellect suggests that his ideas about art have undergone a profound change. The conception of involuntary memory, with which he started, was never a very promising one. But in the early drafts of the novel, of which Du Côté de chez Swann is a specimen, it seemed adequate because he chose to rely as little as possible on his intelligence and to give free rein to his sensibility. In the later drafts, however, first represented by A l’Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, his sensibility became less evident and his intelligence much more so. No theory of intuitive perception could account for Sodome et Gomorrhe or La Prisonnière or Albertine disparue. Certainly no theory minimizing the part played by the intellect in art could account for the final chapter in Le Temps retrouvé. For this chapter is quite definitely written to a thesis; it is made up very largely of rather too pat examples designed to illustrate an abstract idea.

The idea is an old one, the Triumph of Time, one of the commonplaces of Renaissance poetry. Time is inexorable; everything changes and decays, including human beings. The scene is the drawing room of the Princesse de Guermantes, but it might well be the country of the Struldbrugs visited by Gulliver. The guests, people whom Marcel (who has long been in a sanatorium) has not seen for years, have suddenly become so old that they are often unrecognizable. Their beards are white; their cheeks are puffy and covered with red blotches; their expressions, once haughty, are now fixed in a perpetual smirk. Very ugly women have resisted old age best, for age is after all a human thing. “They were monsters and did not seem to have changed any more than whales.” Beautiful women sometimes seem to have resisted it too, but when Marcel approaches them he finds that they look quite different,

as happens with the outer surface of a vegetable or a drop of water or blood when placed under the microscope. Then I discerned a multitude of fatty splotches under the skin that I had thought so smooth, but which now sickened me. Nor did the lines of the face withstand this enlargement any better. When viewed at close range, the line of the nose was interrupted and weakened and the same oily spots were here as on the rest of the face, while the eyes were seen to be sunken behind pouches that destroyed the likeness which I thought I had discovered between this face and the one of former days.

The inspiration here seems more obviously Swift–a passage in “A Voyage to Brobdingnag.”

But the changes that Time brings are not only physical: society itself has changed. The old distinctions are no longer observed or even remembered; the aristocracy now mingles with the middle class. The social climbers have risen and the socially prominent have gone down. The Duchesse de Guermantes is one of the latter, having lost both her wit and her exclusiveness; she now runs after actresses, in particular the actress Rachel, her bête noireof other days. Charlus now bows obsequiously to Madame de Saint-Euverte–perhaps, however, without recognizing her, for he has had a stroke. His faculties have been impaired–or rather some of them, for he is still able, when left unguarded, to seduce a child of ten. Odette has risen considerably and is already in the process of descending. At a ripe age (calculations based on the novel seem to show that she must be at least seventy or eighty) she has become the mistress of the Duc de Guermantes. A kept woman in her youth, she is now a kept woman again. Such unlikely characters as Legrandin and Bloch have risen persistently. The latter, having changed his name and become famous, is received everywhere. An even more striking example is Madame Verdurin, once the epitome of the middle class. Since the death of her husband she has been remarrying to advantage. She was for a while the Duchesse de Duras, and she is now–perhaps Proust’s ultimate surprise–the Princesse de Guermantes.

Proust’s interest in Time is certainly not new. Since the beginning of the novel, he has been concerned with the social fluctuations that it brings; he has explored the rise of Odette and the decline of Madame de Villeparisis. But as he represents them, changes in social position often involve changes in character. The elegant aristocratic Swann of the first volume is the complacent middle-class Swann of the second. Despite all the elaborate explanations that are given, one sometimes doubts that he is really the same man. So it is here with the Duchesse de Guermantes and Madame Verdurin. The Duchess who dotes on Rachel can scarcely be identified with the elegant and malicious hostess of the earlier volumes; the Madame Verdurin who has neither a little nucleus to entertain nor a Saniette to torture is just no one at all. In Madame Verdurin’s case, Proust’s failure is particularly obvious since, in the course of a whole chapter devoted to a reception at her house, he gives her only a single remark. “That’s it!” she says, with a metallic rattle in her voice, caused by her false teeth. “We’ll get up a little clan! How I like these intelligent young people who take part in everything! Ah, what a muzhishian you are!” But even in this remark she is not the Madame Verdurin of old. One can scarcely help feeling that on the whole Proust’s interest in Time is too self-conscious, and that the sacrifices it involves are too great.

The chief weakness in Le Temps retrouvéis not, however, the transformations in character that occur at the end; it is the fact that the intellectual element in Proust’s art has become somewhat too prominent. It has been present, no doubt, since the beginning of the novel, and with each succeeding volume its importance has grown. A l’Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs is more intellectual than Du Côté de chez Swann; La Prisonnière and Albertine disparue are more intellectual than Le Côté de Guermantes and Sodome et Gomorrhe. Yet in none of these volumes, even in the last of them, is the balance between sensibility and intellect quite upset. In Le Temps retrouvé it is. The starting point–as in some of Proust’s earliest pieces–is an abstract idea, a favorite theory of the author’s; the narrative, or what narrative remains, becomes little more than a convenient illustration. No one has condemned abstract ideas more strongly than Proust. “A book in which there are theories,” he says, “is like an article from which the price mark has not been removed.” (VI,278) Yet it would be difficult to deny that he himself has here written such a book. In Le Temps retrouvé the price mark is Time. (311-315)

The Bible of Amiens

April 17, 2011

Proust wrestled with the temptation to read Ruskin uncritically, entranced by the beauty and power of his prose. His unique impressionist style owes something to his seeing how Ruskin erred by equating art with lofty ideas. A simple sketch would, for Ruskin, verge on greatness if it depicted an elevated idea. But how do you resist passages like this, describing a wooden panel in the cathedral of Amiens:

Sweet and young-grained wood it is: oak, trained and chosen for such work, sound now as four hundred years since. Under the carver’s hand it seems to cut like clay, to fold like silk, to grow like living branches, to leap like living flame. Canopy crowning canopy, pinnacle piercing pinnacle—it shoots and wreathes itself into an enchanted glade, inextricable, imperishable, fuller of leafage than any forest, and fuller of story than any book. (The Bible of Amiens, 92)

But Ruskin could devote pages to imposing an intellectual order on beauty. Here is the beginning of pages devoted to the statuary of the cathedral (what he identifies as the bible of Amiens):

Under the feet of His apostles, therefore, in the quatrefoil medallions of the foundation, are represented the virtues which each Apostle taught, or in his life manifested;—it may have been, sore tried, and failing in the very strength of the character which he afterwards perfected. Thus St. Peter, denying in fear, is afterwards the Apostle of courage; and St. John, who, with his brother, would have burnt the inhospitable village, is afterwards the Apostle of love. Understanding this, you see that in the sides of the porch, the apostles with their special virtues stand thus in opposite ranks.

Now you see how these virtues answer to each other in their opposite ranks. Remember the left-hand side is always the first, and see how the left-hand virtues lead to the right hand:—

Courage            to Faith.
Patience            to Hope.
Gentillesse        to Charity.
Love                  to Chastity.
Obedience        to Wisdom.
Perseverance  to Humility.

Note farther that the Apostles are all tranquil, nearly all with books, some with crosses, but all with the same message,

St. Paul, Faith. Courage, St. Peter.
St. James the Bishop, Hope. Patience, St. Andrew.
St. Philip, Charity. Gentillesse, St. James.
St. Bartholomew, Chastity. Love, St. John.
St. Thomas, Wisdom. Obedience, St. Matthew.
St. Jude, Humility. Perseverance, St. Simon.
(P113)
Proust, though an avowed enemy of the notion of the superiority of the intellect over feelings, did have a love for this sort of list. His love of place names may well have sprung from this passage on Clovis, the Franck ruler who once called Amiens home:
1. Clovis. Frank form, Hluodoveh. ‘Glorious Holiness,’ or
consecration. Latin Chlodovisus, when baptized by St.
Remy, softening afterwards through the centuries into
Lhodovisus, Ludovicus, Louis.2. Albofleda. ‘White household fairy’? His youngest sister;
married Theodoric (Theutreich, ‘People’s ruler’),
the great King of the Ostrogoths.3. Clotilde. Hlod-hilda. ‘Glorious Battle-maid.’ His wife.
‘Hilda’ first meaning Battle, pure; and then passing
into Queen or Maid of Battle. Christianized to Ste
Clotilde in France, and Ste Hilda of Whitby cliff.4. Clotilde. His only daughter. Died for the Catholic faith,
under Arian persecution.

5. Childebert. His eldest son by Clotilde, the first Frank
King in Paris. ‘Battle Splendour,’ softening into
Hildebert, and then Hildebrandt, as in the Nibelung.

6. Chlodomir. ‘Glorious Fame.’ His second son by Clotilde.

7. Clotaire. His youngest son by Clotilde; virtually the destroyer
of his father’s house. ‘Glorious Warrior.’

8. Chlodowald. Youngest son of Chlodomir. ‘Glorious
Power,’ afterwards ‘St. Cloud.’

Proust diagnosed Ruskin’s central problem as idolatry, which would become a key motif in the Search, especially in understanding Swann and his failure, but also in the frustrations of young Marcel struggling to find a sufficiently elevated to write about. He explored this theme first with Ruskin, in the introduction to his translation of The Bible of Amiens (published in English as a chapter in Days of  Reading.)
…there is a sort of idolatry which no one has defined better than Ruskin himself, in a passage from the Lectures on Art: ‘Such I conceive generally, though indeed with good arising out of it, for every great evil brings  some good in its backward eddies–such I conceive to have been the deadly function of art in its ministry to what, whether in heathen or Christian lands, and whether in the pageantry of words, or colours, or fair forms, is truly, and in the deep sense, to be called idolatry–the serving with the best of our hearts and minds, some dear or sad fantasy which we have made for ourselves, while we disobey the present call of the Master, who is not dead, and who is not now fainting under His cross, but requiring us to take up ours.’
 
Now it certainly seems that at the basis of Ruskin’s work, at the root of his talent, one finds this very idolatry. No doubt he never allowed it completely to overly–even as an embellishment,–to immobilize, paralyse and finally to kill his intellectual and moral sincerity. In every line he wrote, as at each moment of his life, one senses this need for sincerity struggling against idolatry, proclaiming its vanity and humbling beauty before duty, be it an unaesthetic duty. I shall not take examples of this from his life (which was not like the lives of Racine, or Tolstoy, or Maeterlinck, aesthetic at first and later moral, but one in which morality established its rights from the outset and in the very heart of his aesthetic–without perhaps ever liberating itself as completely as in the lives of the other Masters I have just named). I have no need to recall its stages, for they are quite well-known, from the early scruples which he felt at drinking tea while looking at Titians, up until the time  when, having swallowed up the five millions left him by his father on his social philanthropic work, he decided to sell his Turners. But there is a more inward form of dilettantism than the active form (which he had overcome) and the real duel between his idolatry and his sincerity was fought out not at certain moments of his life, or in certain passages in his books, but the whole time, in those deep and secret places, unknown almost to ourselves, where our personality receives images from the imagination, ideas from the intellect and words from the memory, and affirms itself in the ceaseless choices it makes from them and ceaselessly wagers in a sense the destiny of our moral and spiritual lives. I have the impression that in those places the sin of idolatry never ceased to be committed by Ruskin. And at the very moment when he was preaching sincerity he lacked it himself, not in what he said but in the manner in which he said it. The doctrines he was professing were moral and not aesthetic doctrines, yet he chose them for their beauty. And as he did not want to present them as beautiful but as true, he was obliged to lie to himself concerning the nature of the reasons which had led him to adopt them. (29-30)
 
 

Sesame and Lilies

April 11, 2011

It seems odd that Proust spent so much of his too short life translating John Ruskin, a writer often given to sanctimoniousness, when he could have started The Search a few years earlier and given us another volume or two. But from Jean Santeuil we know that Proust had conceived of his major themes in some detail but had not yet found an aesthetic that would allow him a way to shape this material. The Ruskin interlude allowed him to concentrate solely on aesthetics.

Sesame and Lilies has a passage, for instance, that states nicely Proust’s conviction that the author’s biographical details are of no use in understanding the writing. A corollary is the (cruel) belief that friendship is at best a distraction from the author’s true calling, solitary creation. Here is Ruskin on what and how to read.

The good book of the hour, then,—I do not speak of the bad ones,— is simply the useful or pleasant talk of some person whom you cannot otherwise converse with, printed for you. Very useful often, telling you what you need to know; very pleasant often, as a sensible friend’s present talk would be. These bright accounts of travels; good-humoured and witty discussions of question; lively or pathetic story-telling in the form of novel; firm fact-telling, by the real agents concerned in the events of passing history;—all these books of the hour, multiplying among us as education becomes more general, are a peculiar possession of the present age: we ought to be entirely thankful for them, and entirely ashamed of ourselves if we make no good use of them. But we make the worst possible use if we allow them to usurp the place of true books: for, strictly speaking, they are not books at all, but merely letters or newspapers in good print. Our friend’s letter may be delightful, or necessary, to-day: whether worth keeping or not, is to be considered. The newspaper may be entirely proper at breakfast time, but assuredly it is not reading for all day. So, though bound up in a volume, the long letter which gives you so pleasant an account of the inns, and roads, and weather, last year at such a place, or which tells you that amusing story, or gives you the real circumstances of such and such events, however valuable for occasional reference, may not be, in the real sense of the word, a “book” at all, nor, in the real sense, to be “read.” A book is essentially not a talking thing, but a written thing; and written, not with a view of mere communication, but of permanence. The book of talk is printed only because its author cannot speak to thousands of people at once; if he could, he would—the volume is mere MULTIPLICATION of his voice. You cannot talk to your friend in India; if you could, you would; you write instead: that is mere CONVEYANCE of voice. But a book is written, not to multiply the voice merely, not to carry it merely, but to perpetuate it. The author has something to say which he perceives to be true and useful, or helpfully beautiful. So far as he knows, no one has yet said it; so far as he knows, no one else can say it. He is bound to say it, clearly and melodiously if he may; clearly at all events. In the sum of his life he finds this to be the thing, or group of things, manifest to him;—this, the piece of true knowledge, or sight, which his share of sunshine and earth has permitted him to seize. He would fain set it down for ever; engrave it on rock, if he could; saying, “This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved, and hated, like another; my life was as the vapour, and is not; but this I saw and knew: this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.” That is his “writing;” it is, in his small human way, and with whatever degree of true inspiration is in him, his inscription, or scripture. That is a “Book.”

Perhaps you think no books were ever so written?

But, again, I ask you, do you at all believe in honesty, or at all in kindness, or do you think there is never any honesty or benevolence in wise people? None of us, I hope, are so unhappy as to think that. Well, whatever bit of a wise man’s work is honestly and benevolently done, that bit is his book or his piece of art. {5} It is mixed always with evil fragments—ill-done, redundant, affected work. But if you read rightly, you will easily discover the true bits, and those ARE the book.

Now books of this kind have been written in all ages by their greatest men:- by great readers, great statesmen, and great thinkers. These are all at your choice; and Life is short. You have heard as much before;—yet have you measured and mapped out this short life and its possibilities? Do you know, if you read this, that you cannot read that—that what you lose to-day you cannot gain to-morrow? Will you go and gossip with your housemaid, or your stable-boy, when you may talk with queens and kings; or flatter yourself that it is with any worthy consciousness of your own claims to respect, that you jostle with the hungry and common crowd for ENTREE here, and audience there, when all the while this eternal court is open to you, with its society, wide as the world, multitudinous as its days, the chosen, and the mighty, of every place and time? Into that you may enter always; in that you may take fellowship and rank according to your wish; from that, once entered into it, you can never be outcast but by your own fault; by your aristocracy of companionship there, your own inherent aristocracy will be assuredly tested, and the motives with which you strive to take high place in the society of the living, measured, as to all the truth and sincerity that are in them, by the place you desire to take in this company of the Dead.

“The place you desire,” and the place you FIT YOURSELF FOR, I must also say; because, observe, this court of the past differs from all living aristocracy in this:- it is open to labour and to merit, but to nothing else. No wealth will bribe, no name overawe, no artifice deceive, the guardian of those Elysian gates. In the deep sense, no vile or vulgar person ever enters there. At the portieres of that silent Faubourg St. Germain, there is but brief question:- “Do you deserve to enter? Pass. Do you ask to be the companion of nobles? Make yourself noble, and you shall be. Do you long for the conversation of the wise? Learn to understand it, and you shall hear it. But on other terms?—no. If you will not rise to us, we cannot stoop to you. The living lord may assume courtesy, the living philosopher explain his thought to you with considerate pain; but here we neither feign nor interpret; you must rise to the level of our thoughts if you would be gladdened by them, and share our feelings, if you would recognise our presence.”

This, then, is what you have to do, and I admit that it is much.
You must, in a word, love these people, if you are to be among them.
No ambition is of any use. They scorn your ambition. You must love
them, and show your love in these two following ways.

(1) First, by a true desire to be taught by them, and to enter into their thoughts. To enter into theirs, observe; not to find your own expressed by them. If the person who wrote the book is not wiser than you, you need not read it; if he be, he will think differently from you in many respects.

(2) Very ready we are to say of a book, “How good this is—that’s exactly what I think!” But the right feeling is, “How strange that is! I never thought of that before, and yet I see it is true; or if I do not now, I hope I shall, some day.” But whether thus submissively or not, at least be sure that you go to the author to get at HIS meaning, not to find yours. Judge it afterwards if you think yourself qualified to do so; but ascertain it first. And be sure, also, if the author is worth anything, that you will not get at his meaning all at once;—nay, that at his whole meaning you will not for a long time arrive in any wise. Not that he does not say what he means, and in strong words too; but he cannot say it all; and what is more strange, will not, but in a hidden way and in parables, in order that he may be sure you want it. I cannot quite see the reason of this, nor analyse that cruel reticence in the breasts of wise men which makes them always hide their deeper thought. They do not give it you by way of help, but of reward; and will make themselves sure that you deserve it before they allow you to reach it. But it is the same with the physical type of wisdom, gold. There seems, to you and me, no reason why the electric forces of the earth should not carry whatever there is of gold within it at once to the mountain tops, so that kings and people might know that all the gold they could get was there; and without any trouble of digging, or anxiety, or chance, or waste of time, cut it away, and coin as much as they needed. But Nature does not manage it so. She puts it in little fissures in the earth, nobody knows where: you may dig long and find none; you must dig painfully to find any.

And it is just the same with men’s best wisdom. When you come to a good book, you must ask yourself, “Am I inclined to work as an Australian miner would? Are my pickaxes and shovels in good order, and am I in good trim myself, my sleeves well up to the elbow, and my breath good, and my temper?” And, keeping the figure a little longer, even at cost of tiresomeness, for it is a thoroughly useful one, the metal you are in search of being the author’s mind or meaning, his words are as the rock which you have to crush and smelt in order to get at it. And your pickaxes are your own care, wit, and learning; your smelting furnace is your own thoughtful soul. Do not hope to get at any good author’s meaning without those tools and that fire; often you will need sharpest, finest chiselling, and patientest fusing, before you can gather one grain of the metal. (From the Project Gutenberg edition.)

Rose

April 3, 2011

The Goncourt brothers may have been Proust’s favorite authors to parody, but that may be because they are such fun to read. Take these two journal entries, on the death of their beloved servant Rose.

16 August

It was this woman, this admirable nurse, whose hands our dying mother put into ours. She had the keys to everything she decided and did everything for us. For as long as we could remember we had made the same old jokes about her ugliness and her ungainly body, and for twenty-five years she had given us a kiss every night. She shared everything with us, our sorrows and our joys. Hers was one of those devotions which one hopes will be there to close one’s eyes when death comes…

Thursday, 21 August

Yesterday I learnt things about poor Rose, only lately dead and practically still warm, which astonished me more than anything else in the whole of my life; things which completely took away my appetite, filling me with a stupefaction from which I have not yet recovered and which has left me positively dazed. All of a sudden, within a matter of minutes, I was brought face to face with an unknown, dreadful, horrible side of the poor woman’s life.

Those bills she signed, those debts she left with all the tradesmen, all had an unbelievable, horrifying explanation.. She had lovers whom she paid. One of them was the son of our dairywoman, who fleeced her and for whom she furnished a room. Another was given our wine and chickens. A secret life of dreadful orgies, nights out, sensual frenzies that prompted one of her lovers to say: ‘It’s going to kill one of us, me or her!’ A passion, a sum of passions, of head, heart, and senses, in which all the unfortunate woman’s ailments played their part: consumption, making her desperate for satisfaction, hysteria, and madness. She had two children by the dairywoman’s son, one of which lived six months. When, a few years ago, she told us she was going into hospital, it was to have a child. And her love for all these men was so sickly, excessive, and overwhelming that she, who was the very soul of honesty, robbed us, yes, robbed us of a twenty-franc piece out of every hundred francs, and all in order to keep her lovers and pay for their sprees.

Then, after these involuntary offences, committed in violent contradiction to her upright nature, she would sink into such despondency, such remorse, such self-reproach, that in this inferno in which she went from one lapse to another without ever finding satisfaction, she started drinking in order to escape from herself, to postpone the future, to flee the present, to sink and drown for a few hours in one of those slumbers, those torpors which used to lay her out for a whole day on a bed on to which she had collapsed while making it.

And what did the unfortunate woman die of? Of having gone to Montmartre one night eight months ago, during the winter, unable to repress her curiosity, in order to spy on the dairywoman’s son, who had thrown her out; a night spent standing at a ground-floor window, trying to see who the woman was who had replaced her; a night from which she had returned soaked to the skin and mortally sick with pleurisy.

Poor woman! We forgive her. Indeed, seeing something of what she must have suffered at the hands of those working-class pimps, we pity her. We are filled with a deep commiseration for her, but also with a great bitterness at this astounding revelation. Remembering our mother, who was so pure and to whom we were everything, and then thinking of Rose’s heart, which we believe belonged to us, we feel something of a disappointment at the discovery that there was great part of it which we did not occupy. Suspicion of the entire female sex has entered into our minds for the rest of our lives: a horror of the duplicity of woman’s soul, of her prodigious gift, her consummate genius for mendacity. (75-76)

Spoonful of Brains

April 2, 2011

At the beginning of Time Regained, Marcel comes across a Goncourt journal entry devoted to a dinner at the Verdurin’s. In this tragi-comic pastiche, we read many details of their household, down to the design of the dinner plates, that the narrator has withheld from us in his accounts of these same soirées. On the other hand, we learn nothing from this journal entry of the vacuity and vulgarity of the participants. But Marcel has yet to discover his writer’s voice and we leave him in a state of despair.

Proust wrote another Goncourt pastiche, include in the collection The Lemoine Affair. No trace of the tragic here, just the fun of a writer who can “see even the words people say, as if I were painting.” (39) Each entry in the collection has as subject the news item that the swindler Lemoine has claimed he knows how to make diamonds in the laboratory. This is from the Goncourt chapter:

21 December 1907.

Dined with Lucien Daudet, who sopke with a touch of mocking gusto about the faulous diamonds seen on the shoulders of mme X…, diamonds being pronounced by Lucien in extremely fine language, upon my word, with an ever-artistic notation, with the savory spelling out of his epithets marking the whollysuperior writer, as being despite everyting a bourgeois stone, a little silly, not at all comparable, for instance, to the emerald or the ruby. And over dessert, Lucien let drop that Lefebvre de Béhaine had told him, Lucien, that evening, contrary to the opinion of the charming woman Mme de Nadaillac, that a certain Lemoine has discovered the secret of making diamonds. This would create, in the business world, according to Lucien, a furious commotion faced withthe possible depreciation of still unsold diamond stocks, a commotion tht could well end up reaching the judicial authorities, and bring about the imprisonment of thie Lemine for the rest of his days in some sort of in pace, for the crime of lèse-jewelry. This is more urgent than the story of Galileo, more modern, more open to the artistic evocation of a milieu, and all of a sudden I can see a fine subject for a play for us, a play that could contain strong things about the power of today’s big business, a power that at bottom drives governemnt and the law, opposing whatever calamitous ting any new invention has in store for it. Like a bouuet, they brought Lucien the news, presenting me with the denouement of the alredy sketched play, that their friend Marcel Proust had killed himself after the fall in diamond shares, a collapse that annihilated a part of his fortune. A curious person, Lucien assured us, tht Marcel Proust, a being who lives entirely in the enthusiam, in the pious adoration, of certain landscapes, certain books, a person for examle who is completely enamored of the novels of Léon Daudet. And after a long silence, in the glow of after-dinner expansiveness, Lucien stated: “No, it’s not because it concerns my brother, do not believe it, Monsieur de Goncourt, absolutely not. But finally the truth must be told.” And he cited this characteristic  that emerged prettily from the illuminated elaboration of his speech: “One day, a gentleman performed an immense favor for Marcel Proust, who, to thank him, brought him to the country to dine. But while they were chatting, the gentleman, who was non other than Zola, absolutely refused to acknowledge that there had been in France only one single truly great writer to whom only Saint-Simon came close, and that his writer was Léon Daudet. Upon which, my word! Proust, forgetting the gratitude he owed Zola, sent him flying ten steps backwards with a pair of blows, and knocked  him flat on his back. The next day they fought, but, despite the interventio of Ganderax, Proust was firmly opposed to any reconciliation.” And all of a sudden, in the clutter of the coffee cups being passed round, Lucien whispered in my ear, with a comic whine, this revelation: “Don’t you see, Monsieur de Goncourt, if even despite La Fourmilière I’m not aware of this fashion, it’s because I can see even the words people say, as if I were painting, in the capture of a nuance, with the same sfumato as Chanteloup’s pagoda.” I left Lucien, my head all excited by this affair of the diamond and of suicide, as if  spoonfuls of brain had just been poured into me. And on the staircase I met the new ambassador from Japan who, seeming ever so slightly freakish and decadent, making him resemble a samurai holding , abov my folding Coromandel screen, the two pincers of a crayfish, graciously told me he had long been on assignment in the Honolulu Islands where reading our books, my brother’s and mine, was the only ting capable of rearing the natives away from the pleasures of caviar, a reading that was prolonged till very late at night, in one go, with interludes consisting only of chewing some cigars of the country that come encased in long glass tubes, which are supposed to protect them during the crossing from a certain distemper the sea gives them. And the minister confessed to me his taste for our books, admitting he had known in Hong Kong a very gret lady there who had only two books on her night table: La Fille Elisa and Robinson Crusoe.

22 December.

I woke from my fouir o’clock siesta with the presentiment of some piece of bad news. I had dreamt that the tooth that had made me suffer so when Cruet pulled it out, five years ago, had grown in again.And straightaway Pélagie came in, with this news brought by Lucien Daudet, news she hadn’t come to tell me earlier so as not to disturb my nightmare: Marcel Proust has not killed himself, Lemoine has invented nothing at all, is nothing but a conjurer who isn’t even very clever, a kind of Robert-Houdin with no hands. Just our luck! For once the present workaday, dull life had taken on some artistry, offered us a subject for a play! Facing Rodenbach, who was waiting for me to wake up, I was not able to contain my disappointment, though I recovered myself sufficiently to become animated, to give vent to some already-composed tirades that the false news of the discovery and of the suicide had inspired in me, false news that was more artistic, truer, than the too-optimistic and public outcome, an outcome a la Sarcey, wich Lucien told Plagie was the real one. (37-40)