Archive for the ‘The Lemoine Affair’ Category

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)