From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beginnings (13)—Indiana

[a] Bucolic
Nope, this will not be a post about Hoosiers, frugal or otherwise. Not even close. Although the picture above may appear to be somewhere near Terre Haute...well, it's about six time zones away (for most of the state of Indiana, which is not on Daylight Savings Time).  No, I refer here instead to a profound narrative written by the novelist Amandine Aurore Dupin (1804-1876). She knew terre haute, but never went to Indiana, USA.

Readers know her as George, and Indiana is the first novel she published under the name George Sand.

[b] George Sand
Sand was an exquisite writer, and I admired her prose even before I knew of her close friendship with my literary hero, Gustave Flaubert (more on that in future posts).  I first heard of her when reading Swann's Way—way back in a fit of literary "catch-up" during the summer after my sophomore year in college. There, thirty pages into C.K. Scott Moncrieff's quaint translation of The Remembrance of Things Past, I learned how deeply the young character was affected by Sand's writing.  It was in the middle of a long anecdote about spending time with "Mamma" before bedtime, and fighting off sleep.

I could not help but notice the title of a book that seemingly scandalized the young boy's father (and which he, in his way, forbade the boy to read at that tender age).  I was transfixed by the swirling cross-cultural notions of books as gifts, of "age-appropriate reading," and of the grandmother (she had my immediate admiration) who could not bear to give texts that did not contain good writing.  Now that is my kind of gift-giver.

“Would you like me to get out the books now that your grandmother is going to give you for your birthday? Just think it over first, and don’t be disappointed if there is nothing new for you then.” 

I was only too delighted, and Mamma went to find a parcel of books in which I could not distinguish, through the paper in which it was wrapped, any more than its squareness and size, but which, even at this first glimpse, brief and obscure as it was, bade fair to eclipse already the paint-box of last New Year’s Day and the silkworms of the year before. It contained [four “lighter” books by George Sand].

[c] Young Proust
My grandmother, as I learned afterwards, had at first chosen Musset’s poems, a volume of Rousseau, and Indiana; for while she considered light reading as unwholesome as sweets and cakes, she did not reflect that the strong breath of genius must have upon the very soul of a child an influence at once more dangerous and less quickening than those of fresh air and country breezes upon his body. But when my father had seemed almost to regard her as insane on learning the names of the books she proposed to give me, she had journeyed back by herself to Jouy-le-Vicomte to the bookseller’s, so that there should be no fear of my not having my present in time…

“My dear,” she had said to Mamma, “I could not allow myself to give the child anything that was not well written.” [1]

[d] Scandaleux
I put down the translation of Swann's Way.  What was this book with the strange title of Indiana? And why did "dad" think "grandma" just short of insane to consider giving it to the young boy?  I could not wait to read it.

When I finally found a copy, it was not hard to see just what "dad" found objectionable for the young man.  It was different for me at twenty, though.  Indiana, from its first pages on, struck me as the kind of bucolic novel that could channel love, tenderness, pathos, and bitterness in one enduring story.  I still cannot read the end without emotion, and am struck by just how good Sand was at setting a scene—both miserable and (as you will see in a moment) emotionally frayed.

Let's take a look at the opening of George Sand's Indiana.  Like all good beginnings, it "places" the characters and raises questions that will take many pages to answer.  What I like the most, though, is the supple social imagination at work. It takes individual peculiarities and throws them into the infinitely more complex winds and waves of group behavior. Above all, savor the details when reading these lines. I am tempted to highlight them here, but two-thirds of the passage would then be in italics. If you are going to read it, take the time to read it slowly (or, better yet, to read it twice...or—best of all readerly options—thrice). I am not kidding, as many of you already know.

And, for the love of literature, please read the last paragraph carefully, in order to soak in the full effect.

George Sand
[e] Indiana (Anglais)
On a chilly wet autumn evening, in a little manor house in Brie, three people, lost in thought, were solemnly watching the embers burn in the fireplace and the hands make their way slowly round the clock. Two of these silent individuals seemed submissively resigned to the vague boredom that oppressed them. But the third showed signs of open rebellion; he moved about restlessly in his chair, half stifled a few melancholy yawns, and struck the crackling logs with the tongs, obviously trying to fight against the common enemy.

This person, who was much older than the other two, was the master of the house, Colonel Delmare, a retired army officer, who had once been handsome but now was heavy and bald with a grey moustache and a fierce look; he was an excellent master who made everyone tremble, wife, servants, horses, and dogs.

At last he left his chair, having obviously lost his patience at not knowing how to break the silence, and began to tramp up and down the room. But he did not for a moment relax the stiff movements of an old soldier, keeping his back straight, turning in one movement with the permanent smugness typical of the parade officer on duty.

But those brilliant days when Lieutenant Delmare breathed victory in the air of military camps, those days had gone. The retired senior officer, now forgotten by his ungrateful country, found himself condemned to endure all the consequences of marriage. He was the husband of a pretty young woman, the owner of a comfortable country house and its outbuildings, and in addition a successful industrialist. So the Colonel was in a bad mood, especially that particular evening, for the weather was damp and he was rheumatic.

He strode solemnly up and down his old drawing room, which was furnished in Louis XV style. At times he would stop in front of a door surmounted by a fresco of naked cupids hanging chains of flowers round the necks of well-behaved does and tame boars; at times he would pause in front of a panel overdecorated with carvings of thin, tormented figures; one would have wearied one's eyes in vain, trying to follow their tortuous antics and endless intertwinings. But these vague, fleeting distractions did not prevent the Colonel, each time he turned in his walk, from casting a clear-sighted, penetrating glance at the two companions of his silent vigil, his attentive eyes going from one to the other, eyes, which for three years had kept watch over a fragile, precious treasure, his wife.

For his wife was nineteen years old, and if you had seen her deep in the chimney corner beneath the huge, white marble mantelpiece incrusted with burnished copper, if you had seen her, so slender, pale, and sad, her elbow on her knee, so young a girl in this old house, beside her old husband, like a newly opened flower in an antiquated vase, you would have pitied Colonel Delmare's wife, and perhaps the Colonel even more. [2]

George Sand
[f] Indiana
Par une soirée d'automne pluvieuse et fraiîche, trois personnes rêveuses étaient gravement occupées, au fond d'un petit castel de la Brie, à regarder brûler les tisons du foyer et cheminer lentement l'aiguille de la pendule. Deux de ces hôtes silencieux semblainent s'abandonner en toute soumission au vague ennui qui pesait sur eux; mais le troisième donnait des marques de rébellion ouverte: il s'agitait sur son siège, étouffait à demi haut quelques baîllements mélancoliques, et frappait la pincette sur les bûchhes pétillantes, avec l'intention marquée de lutter contre l'ennemi commun.

Ce personnage, beaucoup plus âgé que les deux autres, était le maître de la maison, le colonel Delmare, vielle bravoure en demi-solde, homme jadis beau, maintenant épais, au front chauve, à la moustache grise, à l'oeil terrible; excellent maître devant qui tout tremblait, femme, serviteurs, chevaux et chiens.

Il quitta enfin sa chaise, évidemment impatienté de ne savoir comment rompre le silence, et se prit à marcher pesamment dans toute la longueur du salon, sans perdre un instant la roideur convenable à tous les mouvements d'un ancient militaire, s'appuyant sur les reins et se tournant tout d'une pièce, avec ce contentement perpétuel de soi-même qui caractérise l'homme de parade et l'officier modèle.

Mais il étaient passés, ces jours d'éclat où le lieutenant Delmare respirait le triomphe avec l'air des camps; l'officier supérieur en retraite, oublié maintenant de la patrie ingrate, se voyait condamné à subir toutes les conséquences du mariage. Il était l'époux d'une jeune et jolie femme, le propriétaire d'un commode manoir avec ses dépendances, et, de plus, un industriel heureux dans ses spéculations; en conséquence de quoi, le colonel avait de l'humeur, et ce soir-là surtout; car le temps était humide, et le colonel avait des rhumatismes.

Il arpentait avec gravité son vieux salon meublé dans le gouˆt de Louis XV, s'arrêtant parfois devant une porte surmontée d'Amours nus, peints à fresque, qui enchaiˆnaient de fleurs des biches fort bien élevées et des sangliers de bonne volonté, parfois devant un panneau surchargé de sculputres maigres et tourmentées, dont l'oeil se fuˆt vainement fatigué à suivre les caprices torueux et les enlacements sans fin. Mais ces vagues et passagères distractions n'empêchaient pas que le colonel, à chaque tour de sa promenade, ne jetaˆt un regard lucide et profonde sur les deux compagnons de sa veillée silencieuse, reportant de l'un à l'autre cet oeil attentif qui couvait depuis trois ans un trésor fragile et précieux, sa femme.

Car sa femme avait dix-neuf ans, et, si vous l'eussiez vue enfoncée sous le manteau de cette vaste cheminée de marbre blanc incrusté de cuivre doré; si vous l'eussiez vue, toute fluette, toute pâle, toute triste, le coude appuyé sur son genou, elle toute jeune, au milieu de ce vieux ménage, à côté de ce vieux mari, semblable à une fleur née d'hier qu'on fait éclore dans un vase gothique, vous eussiez plaint la femme du colonel Delmare, et peut-être le colonel plus encore que sa femme. [3]
[g] Happy trios are all alike...
[1] Marcel Proust, Swann's Way [C.K. Scott Moncrieff, transl] (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), 30.
[2] George Sand, Indiana [Sylvia Raphael, transl] (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 15-16.
[3] George Sand, Indiana (Gloucester UK: Dodo Press, 2008), 1-2.

Proust, Marcel. Swann's Way [C.K. Scott Moncrieff, transl]. New York: Vintage Books, 1970.
Sand, George. Indiana [Sylvia Raphael, transl]. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Sand, George. Indiana. Gloucester UK: Dodo Press, 2008.

No comments:

Post a Comment