Sunday, December 04, 2011

Mimi's death


Before leaving for the hospital, she wanted her friends the Bohemians to stay and pass the evening with her.
"Make me laugh," said she, "cheerfulness is health to me. It is that wet blanket of a viscount made me ill. Fancy, he wanted to make me learn orthography; what the deuce should I have done with it? And his friends, what a set! A regular poultry yard, of which the viscount was the peacock. He marked his linen himself. If he ever marries I am sure that it will be he who will suckle the children."
Nothing could be more heart breaking than the almost posthumous gaiety of poor Mimi. All the Bohemians made painful efforts to hide their tears and continue the conversation in the jesting tone started by the unfortunate girl, for whom fate was so swiftly spinning the linen of her last garment.
The next morning Rodolphe received the order of admission to the hospital. Mimi could not walk, she had to be carried down to the cab. During the journey she suffered horribly from the jolts of the vehicle. Admist all her sufferings the last thing that dies in woman, coquetry, still survived; two or three times she had the cab stopped before the drapers' shops to look at the display in the windows.
On entering the ward indicated in the letter of admission Mimi felt a terrible pang at her heart, something within her told her that it was between these bare and leprous walls that her life was to end. She exerted the whole of the will left her to hide the mournful impression that had chilled her.
When she was put to bed she gave Rodolphe a final kiss and bid him goodbye, bidding him come and see her the next Sunday which was a visitors' day.
"It does not smell very nice here," said she to him, "bring me some flowers, some violets, there are still some about."
"Yes," said Rodolphe, "goodbye till Sunday."
And he drew together the curtains of her bed. On hearing the departing steps of her lover, Mimi was suddenly seized with an almost delirious attack of fever. She suddenly opened the curtains, and leaning half out of bed, cried in a voice broken with tears:
"Rodolphe, take me home, I want to go away."
The sister of charity hastened to her and tried to calm her.
"Oh!" said Mimi, "I am going to die here."
On Sunday morning, the day he was to go and see Mimi, Rodolphe remembered that he had promised her some violets. With poetic and loving superstition he went on foot in horrible weather to look for the flowers his sweetheart had asked him for, in the woods of Aulnay and Fontenay, where he had so often been with her. The country, so lively and joyful in the sunshine of the bright days of June and July, he found chill and dreary. For two hours he beat the snow covered thickets, lifting the bushes with a stick, and ended by finding a few tiny blossoms, and as it happened, in a part of the wood bordering the Le Plessis pool, which had been their favorite spot when they came into the country.
Passing through the village of Chatillon to get back to Paris, Rodolphe met in the square before the church a baptismal procession, in which he recognized one of his friends who was the godfather, with a singer from the opera.
"What the deuce are you doing here?" asked the friend, very much surprised to see Rodolphe in those parts.
The poet told him what had happened.
The young fellow, who had known Mimi, was greatly saddened at this story, and feeling in his pocket took out a bag of christening sweetmeats and handed it to Rodolphe.
"Poor Mimi, give her this from me and tell her I will come and see her."
"Come quickly, then, if you would come in time," said Rodolphe, as he left him.
When Rodolphe got to the hospital, Mimi, who could not move, threw her arms about him in a look.
"Ah, there are my flowers!" said she, with the smile of satisfied desire.
Rodolphe related his pilgrimage into that part of the country that had been the paradise of their loves.
"Dear flowers," said the poor girl, kissing the violets. The sweetmeats greatly pleased her too. "I am not quite forgotten, then. The young fellows are good. Ah! I love all your friends," said she to Rodolphe.
This interview was almost merry. Schaunard and Colline had rejoined Rodolphe. The nurses had almost to turn them out, for they had overstayed visiting time.
"Goodbye," said Mimi. "Thursday without fail, and come early."
The following day on coming home at night, Rodolphe received a letter from a medical student, a dresser at the hospital, to whose care he had recommended the invalid. The letter only contained these words:—
"My dear friend, I have very bad news for you. No. 8 is dead. This morning on going through the ward I found her bed vacant."
Rodolphe dropped on to a chair and did not shed a tear. When Marcel came in later he found his friend in the same stupefied attitude. With a gesture the poet showed him the latter.
"Poor girl!" said Marcel.
"It is strange," said Rodolphe, putting his hand to his heart; "I feel nothing here. Was my love killed on learning that Mimi was to die?"
"Who knows?" murmured the painter.
Mimi's death caused great mourning amongst the Bohemians.
A week later Rodolphe met in the street the dresser who had informed him of his mistress's death.
"Ah, my dear Rodolphe!" said he, hastening up to the poet. "Forgive me the pain I caused you by my heedlessness."
"What do you mean?" asked Rodolphe in astonishment.
"What," replied the dresser, "you do not know? You have not seen her again?"
"Seen whom?" exclaimed Rodolphe.
"Her, Mimi."
"What?" said the poet, turning deadly pale.
"I made a mistake. When I wrote you that terrible news I was the victim of an error. This is how it was. I had been away from the hospital for a couple of days. When I returned, on going the rounds with the surgeons, I found Mimi's bed empty. I asked the sister of charity what had become of the patient, and she told me that she had died during the night. This is what had happened. During my absence Mimi had been moved to another ward. In No. 8 bed, which she left, they put another woman who died the same day. That will explain the mistake into which I fell. The day after that on which I wrote to you, I found Mimi in the next ward. Your absence had put her in a terrible state; she gave me a letter for you and I took it on to your place at once."
"Good God!" said Rodolphe. "Since I thought Mimi dead I have not dared to go home. I have been sleeping here and there at friends' places. Mimi alive! Good heavens! What must she think of my absence? Poor girl, poor girl! How is she? When did you see her last?"
"The day before yesterday. She was neither better nor worse, but very uneasy; she fancies you must be ill."
"Let us go to La Pitie at once," said Rodolphe, "that I may see her."
"Stop here for a moment," said the dresser, when they reached the entrance to the hospital, "I will go and ask the house surgeon for permission for you to enter."
Rodolphe waited in the hall for a quarter of an hour. When the dresser returned he took him by the hand and said these words:
"My friend, suppose that the letter I wrote to you a week ago was true?"
"What!" exclaimed Rodolphe, leaning against a pillar, "Mimi—"
"This morning at four o'clock."
"Take me to the amphitheatre," said Rodolphe, "that I may see her."
"She is no longer there," said the dresser. And pointing out to the poet a large van which was in the courtyard drawn up before a building above which was inscribed, "Amphiteatre," he added, "she is there."
It was indeed the vehicle in which the corpses that are unclaimed are taken to their pauper's grave.
"Goodbye," said Rodolphe to the dresser.
"Would you like me to come with you a bit?" suggested the latter.
"No," said Rodolphe, turning away, "I need to be alone."

Henry Murger, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beethoven: Kreutzer Sonata

And how could he repulse her?


Shortly after his final rupture with Mademoiselle Mimi, who had left him, as may be remembered, to ride in the carriage of Vicomte Paul, the poet Rodolphe had sought to divert his thoughts by taking a new mistress.
She was the same blonde for whom we have seen him masquerading as Romeo. But this union, which was on the one part only a matter of spite, and on the other one of fancy, could not last long. The girl was after all only a light of love, warbling to perfection the gamut of trickery, witty enough to note the wit of others and to make use of it on occasion, and with only enough heart to feel heartburn when she had eaten too much. Add to this unbridled self-esteem and a ferocious coquetry, which would have impelled her to prefer a broken leg for her lover rather than a flounce the less to her dress, or a faded ribbon to her bonnet. A commonplace creature of doubtful beauty, endowed by nature with every evil instinct, and yet seductive from certain points of view and at certain times. She was not long in perceiving that Rodolphe had only taken her to help him forget the absent, whom she made him on the contrary regret, for his old love had never been so noisy and so lively in his heart.
One day Juliet, Rodolphe's new mistress, was talking about her lover, the poet, with a medical student who was courting her. The student replied,—
"My dear child, that fellow only makes use of you as they use nitrate to cauterize wounds. He wants to cauterize his heart and nerve. You are very wrong to bother yourself about being faithful to him."
"Ah, ah!" cried the girl, breaking into a laugh. "Do you really think that I put myself out about him?"
And that very evening she gave the student a proof to the contrary.
Thanks to the indiscretion of one of those officious friends who are unable to retain unpublished news capable of vexing you, Rodolphe soon got wind of the matter, and made it a pretext for breaking off with his temporary mistress.
He then shut himself up in positive solitude, in which all the flitter-mice of ennui soon came and nested, and he called work to his aid but in vain. Every evening, after wasting as much perspiration over the job as he did in ink, he produced a score of lines in which some old idea, as worn out as the Wandering Jew, and vilely clad in rags cribbed from the literary dust heap, danced clumsily on the tight rope of paradox. On reading through these lines Rodolphe was as bewildered as a man who sees nettles spring up in a bed in which he thought he had planted roses. He would then tear up the paper, on which he had just scattered this chaplet of absurdities, and trample it under foot in a rage.
"Come," said he, striking himself on the chest just above the heart, "the cord is broken, there is nothing but to resign ourselves to it."
And as for some time past a like failure followed all his attempts at work, he was seized with one of those fits of depression which shake the most stubborn pride and cloud the most lucid intellects. Nothing is indeed more terrible than these hidden struggles that sometimes take place between the self-willed artist and his rebellious art. Nothing is more moving than these fits of rage alternating with invocation, in turn supplicating or imperative, addressed to a disdainful or fugitive muse.
The most violent human anguish, the deepest wounds to the quick of the heart, do not cause suffering approaching that which one feels in these hours of doubt and impatience, so frequent for those who give themselves up to the dangerous calling of imagination.
To these violent crises succeeded painful fits of depression. Rodolphe would then remain for whole hours as though petrified in a state of stupefied immobility. His elbows upon the table, his eyes fixed upon the luminous patch made by the rays of the lamp falling upon the sheet of paper,—the battlefield on which his mind was vanquished daily, and on which his pen had become foundered in its attempts to pursue the unattainable idea—he saw slowly defile before him, like the figures of dissolving views with which the children are amused, fantastic pictures which unfolded before him the panorama of his past. It was at first the laborious days in which each hour marked the accomplishment of some task, the studious nights spent in tete-a-tete with the muse who came to adorn with her fairy visions his solitary and patient poverty. And he remembered then with envy the pride of skill that intoxicated him of yore when he had completed the task imposed on him by his will.
"Oh, nothing is equal to you!" he exclaimed. "Voluptuous fatigues of labor which render the mattresses of idleness so sweet. Not the satisfaction of self-esteem nor the feverish slumbers stifled beneath the heavy drapery of mysterious alcoves equals that calm and honest joy, that legitimate self satisfaction which work bestows on the laborer as a first salary."
And with eyes still fixed on these visions which continued to retrace for him the scenes of bygone days, he once more ascended the six flights of stairs of all the garrets in which his adventurous existence had been spent, in which the Muse, his only love in those days, a faithful and persevering sweetheart had always followed him, living happily with poverty and never breaking off her song of hope. But, lo, in the midst of this regular and tranquil life there suddenly appears a woman's face, and seeing her enter the dwelling where she had been until then sole queen and mistress, the poet's Muse rose sadly and gave place to the new-comer in whom she had divined a rival. Rodolphe hesitated a moment between the Muse to whom his look seemed to say, "Stay," whilst a gesture addressed to the stranger said, "Come."
And how could he repulse her, this charming creature who came to him armed with all the seductions of a beauty at its dawn? Tiny mouth and rosy lips, speaking in bold and simple language, full of coaxing promises. How refuse his hand to this little white one, delicately veined with blue, that was held out to him full of caresses? How say, "Get you gone," to these eighteen years, the presence of which already filled the home with a perfume of youth and gaiety? And then with her sweet voice, tenderly thrilling, she sang the cavatina of temptation so well. With her bright and sparkling eyes she said so clearly, "I am love," with her lips, where kisses nestled, "I am pleasure," with her whole being, in short, "I am happiness," that Rodolphe let himself be caught by them. And, besides, was not this young girl after all real and living poetry, had he not owed her his freshest inspirations, had she not often initiated him into enthusiasms which bore him so far afield in the ether of reverie that he lost sight of all things of earth? If he had suffered deeply on account of her, was not this suffering the expiation of the immense joys she had bestowed upon him? Was it not the ordinary vengeance of human fate which forbids absolute happiness as an impiety? If the law of Christianity forgives those who have much loved, it is because they have also much suffered, and terrestrial love never became a divine passion save on condition of being purified by tears. As one grows intoxicated by breathing the odor of faded roses, Rodolphe again became so by reviving in recollection that past life in which every day brought about a fresh elegy, a terrible drama, or a grotesque comedy. He went through all the phases of his strange love from their honeymoon to the domestic storms that had brought about their last rupture, he recalled all the tricks of his ex-mistress, repeated all her witty sayings. He saw her going to and fro about their little household, humming her favorite song, and facing with the same careless gaiety good or evil days.
And in the end he arrived at the conclusion that common sense was always wrong in love affairs. What, indeed, had he gained by their rupture? At the time when he was living with Mimi she deceived him, it was true, but if he was aware of this it was his fault after all that he was so, and because he gave himself infinite pains to become aware of it, because he passed his time on the alert for proofs, and himself sharpened the daggers which he plunged into his heart. Besides, was not Mimi clever enough to prove to him at need that he was mistaken? And then for whose sake was she false to him? It was generally a shawl or a bonnet—for the sake of things and not men. That calm, that tranquillity which he had hoped for on separating from his mistress, had he found them again after her departure? Alas, no! There was only herself the less in the house. Of old his grief could find vent, he could break into abuse, or representations—he could show all he suffered and excite the pity of her who caused his sufferings. But now his grief was solitary, his jealousy had become madness, for formerly he could at any rate, when he suspected anything, hinder Mimi from going out, keep her beside him in his possession, and now he might meet her in the street on the arm of her new lover, and must turn aside to let her pass, happy no doubt, and bent upon pleasure.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Controlar e intimidar (acerca de O Primo Basílio)


O que é que eu disse? Coisas muito simples. Por exemplo: o que significa controlar? Eu controlo-me para não sair fora de mim, para não me comportar desrespeitando excessivamente as normas que regulam as situações em que me encontro. Não quero aborrecimentos. Não quero chocar ninguém. E acrescentei: os sinais de trânsito controlam-nos. Sem eles, andar de automóvel transformar-se-ia numa aventura arriscada e as cidades, por exemplo, viveriam numa permanente barafunda. Ora bem, disse eu ainda, se você diz que o Jorge do Primo Basílio do Eça está a querer controlar a mulher quando mostra o seu desagrado por ela se dar com a Leopoldina, eu não digo que você não tenha razão. E mais tarde, estou de acordo consigo, quando o Jorge pede ao Sebastião, um amigo, que vigie a mulher e a aconselhe, está ainda certamente a querer “controlar” o comportamento dela. Mas o que é controlar? Ele é o marido, ela é a esposa. Eles amam-se, mas ele conhece-a o suficiente para saber que ela é ingénua, não tem experiência da maldade. O que ele diz à mulher é o que um pai diria à filha. É correcto, é incorrecto? Pelo que compreendi ao ouvi-la falar a si, este tipo de atitude é inadmissível porque ninguém tem o direito de controlar ninguém. É possível que você tenha razão. Que você me acuse de querer controlá-la a si só porque eu tenho sobre esta questão um ponto de vista diferente do seu também não me surpreende inteiramente. Vocês, americanos, provavelmente vivem na sociedade mais controlada que alguma vez existiu. E reagem contra esse domínio que se exerce sobre cada um de vocês neste país ficando hipersensíveis a todo e qualquer uso de poder. Mas eu acho que vocês exageram. E sobretudo surpreende-me que você não queira compreender ou seja incapaz de compreender que controlar tem a ver com a lei, que a lei é sempre repressiva, que deve haver por conseguinte boas e más formas de controle. O Jorge não ameaça a mulher, não lhe bate, não lhe fala com rispidez. Antes pelo contrário, acho-o suave na maneira como exprime o seu desacordo sobre as relações de Luísa com Leopoldina. Se eu lhe lembrar que o que acontece a seguir no romance dá razão a Jorge, você diz-me o quê? Que a Luísa tinha o direito de trair o marido e de ir para a cama com o primo? Mas não são vocês, americanos, que exigem fidelidade absoluta nas relações amorosas e acham inaceitável qualquer forma de cheating? São. Se quer que lhe diga, estou um pouco farto destas conversas. Não entendo as vossas histórias. Este país vive de contradições mal resolvidas, que coexistem absurdamente umas com as outras. Você dá-se conta de que ao acusar-me de a querer controlar só porque defendo um ponto de vista diferente do seu me está a intimidar? Por que razão é que vocês, americanos, passam a vida a intimidar as outras pessoas, a defender-se ou proteger-se de ataques exteriores imaginários? Porque razão é que vocês interpretam as relações humanas sempre a partir de critérios do tipo “luta pelo poder”, “tentativa de controlar”, “abuso”, "lack of self esteem", "sociedade patriarcal"? Não tenho paciência. Não se pode falar consigo. É impossível. Você está sempre desconfiada, baixa a cabeça quando não está de acordo para que não a aborreçam, mas não muda de ideias. Se pensa que me vai controlar dessa maneira e intimidar-me com a sua atitude inflexível e os seus exageros de militante feminista está enganada. Fique lá com a sua opinião, deixe-me ficar com a minha. E repare que a maior parte das suas colegas que participaram nesta discussão não está de acordo consigo. O que prova que quando pensamos conhecer um país conhecemos apenas uma parte dele. Parece-me uma boa conclusão, fico-me por aqui.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Discourse: a form of social practice


The notion of discourse as a form of social practice that effectively constructs the object it purports to describe was first articulated by Michel Foucault in his 1969 work L'Archeologie du Savoir. This was a revolutionary idea at the time, not only for linguistics (in that it shifted the focus away from the word and sentence to much larger units of text) but also politically, as it suggested that language is always inescapably ideological. That is to say, the syntax and lexis of the simplest sentence can be shown to contain value judgements that relate it synchronically and diachronically to other texts in the system, constructing a complex web of interconnections, which, when institutionalized, may form a coherent 'discursive formation' (Foucault: 2002:41) with its own ideology, history and agenda.

These observations went on to inform an approach to textual analysis that has come to be known as Critical Discourse Theory (Kress & Hodge, Language and Ideology, 1981). Within this perspective, Kress (1985:7) describes discourse as follows:

Discourses are systematically organised sets of statements which give expression to the meanings and values of an institution. Beyond this, they define, describe and delimit what it is possible to say and not possible to say (and by extension - what it is possible to do or not to do) with respect to the area of concern of that institution, whether marginally or centrally. A discourse provides a set of possible statements about a given area, and organises and gives structure to the manner in which a particular topic, object, process is to be talked about. In that it provides descriptions, rules, permissions and prohibitions of social and individual actions ( Kress, 1985:7)

This leads on to another important feature of discourses, namely that they are inherently totalitarian in mission ('discourses tend towards exhaustiveness and inclusiveness', Idem) and imperialistic in reach, constantly aiming to explain and control as much area as possible. This is an important aspect to be borne in mind when attempting to map out the terrain of academic writing practices in Portugal. For EAD has systematically ousted rival academic discourses in many parts of the globe and with them alternative ways of construing knowledge. It is of interest to this study to determine the extent to which the traditional Portuguese approach is now under threat.

When the notion of discourse first began to be applied to the sphere of academic production, the concept of the 'discourse community' soon acquired a central role.

Use of the term 'discourse community' testifies to the increasingly common assumption that discourse operates within conventions defined by communities, be they academic disciplines or social groups. The pedagogies associated with writing across the curriculum and academic English now use the notion of 'discourse communities' to signify a cluster of ideas: that language use in a group is a form of social behaviour, that discourse is a means of maintaining and extending the group's knowledge and of initiating new members into the group, and that discourse is epistemic or constitutive of the group's knowledge. (Herzberg, cit. Swales, 1990:21).

Hence, by the mid '80s, academic writing was no longer considered an individual enterprise, crafted by lone scholars in pursuit of some referential truth. Instead, it was perceived above all as an interpersonal activity, a means of achieving membership of a community that would then endorse one's own production by conferring upon it the status of knowledge.

Karen Benett, Academic Writing in Portugal, 1: Discourses in Conflict, Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 2011


O que aqui é dito ajuda a entender de maneira bastante clara o que é a poesia e o que é a literatura (que são "instituições") em geral:

Discourses are systematically organised sets of statements which give expression to the meanings and values of an institution. Beyond this, they define, describe and delimit what it is possible to say and not possible to say (and by extension - what it is possible to do or not to do) with respect to the area of concern of that institution, whether marginally or centrally.






So now we know it: they sound ridiculous


Some Portuguese academic writing makes use of a high-flown literary style that is entirely alien to English. For example, we find the city of Coimbra referred to as 'Lusa Atenas' ('Lusitanian Athens' or 'the Athens of Portugal') and 'Morada de Sabedoria' ('the Residence of Wisdom'), without any indication of quotation or irony. The University is described as 'instituição mater cujo corpo ilumina o tempo com as luzes do saber' ('alma mater, whose body illuminates time with the lights of knowledge'), and elsewhere, the same author uses highly emotive terms to describe the construction of the organ for the University chapel: '. ..o grito de madeiras feridas, mordidas pelo impiedoso ferro e adoçadas pelo artífice' ('...the scream of wounded timber, bitten by merciless iron and sweetened by craftsmen').
This kind of diction risks sounding ridiculous if rendered literally into English, for which reason it usually has to be neutralized in translation.

Karen Benett, Academic Writing in Portugal, 1: Discourses in Conflict, Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Haydn: Quatuor Op. 76/3 (2)

Sipping the divine liquor


"Poor Mimi," said his friend, "so soon forgotten."
This name cast into Rodolphe's mirthsomeness, suddenly gave another turn to the conversation. Rodolphe took his friend by the arm, and related to him at length the causes of his rupture with Mademoiselle Mimi, the terrors that had awaited him when she had left; how he was in despair because he thought that she had carried off with her all that remained to him of youth and passion, and how two days later he had recognized his mistake on feeling the gunpowder in his heart, though swamped with so many sobs and tears, dry, kindle, and explode at the first look of love cast at him by the first woman he met. He narrated the sudden and imperious invasion of forgetfulness, without his even having summoned it in aid of his grief, and how this grief was dead and buried in the said forgetfulness.
"Is it not a miracle?" said he to the poet, who, knowing by heart and from experience all the painful chapters of shattered loves, replied:
"No, no, my friend, there is no more of a miracle for you than for the rest of us. What has happened to you has happened to myself. The women we love, when they become our mistresses, cease to be for us what they really are. We do not see them only with a lover's eyes, but with a poet's. As a painter throws on the shoulders of a lay figure the imperial purple or the star-spangled robe of a Holy Virgin, so we have always whole stores of glittering mantles and robes of pure white linen which we cast over the shoulders of dull, sulky, or spiteful creatures, and when they have thus assumed the garb in which our ideal loves float before us in our waking dreams, we let ourselves be taken in by this disguise, we incarnate our dream in the first corner, and address her in our language, which she does not understand. However, let this creature at whose feet we live prostrate, tear away herself the dense envelope beneath which we have hidden her, and reveal to us her evil nature and her base instincts; let her place our hands on the spot where her heart should be, but where nothing beats any longer, and has perhaps never beaten; let her open her veil, and show us her faded eyes, pale lips, and haggard features; we replace that veil and exclaim, 'It is not true! It is not true! I love you, and you, too, love me! This white bosom holds a heart that has all its youthfulness; I love you, and you love me! You are beautiful, you are young. At the bottom of all your vices there is love. I love you, and you love me!' Then in the end, always quite in the end, when, after having all very well put triple bandages over our eyes, we see ourselves the dupes of our mistakes, we drive away the wretch who was our idol of yesterday; we take back from her the golden veils of poesy, which, on the morrow, we again cast on the shoulders of some other unknown, who becomes at once an aureola-surrounded idol. That is what we all are—monstrous egoists—who love love for love's sake—you understand me? We sip the divine liquor from the first cup that comes to hand. 'What matter the bottle, so long as we draw intoxication from it?'"
"What you say is as true as that two and two make four," said Rodolphe to the poet.
"Yes," replied the latter, "it is true, and as sad as three quarters of the things that are true. Good night."
Two days later Mademoiselle Mimi learned that Rodolphe had a new mistress. She only asked one thing—whether he kissed her hands as often as he used to kiss her own?
"Quite as often," replied Marcel. "In addition, he is kissing the hairs of her head one after the other, and they are to remain with one another until he has finished."
"Ah!" replied Mimi, passing her hand through her own tresses. "It was lucky he did not think of doing the same with me, or we should have remained together all our lives. Do you think it is really true that he no longer loves me at all?"
"Humph—and you, do you still love him?"
"I! I never loved him in my life."
"Yes, Mimi, yes. You loved him at those moments when a woman's heart changes place. You loved him; do nothing to deny it; it is your justification."
"Bah!" said Mimi, "he loves another now."
"True," said Marcel, "but no matter. Later on the remembrance of you will be to him like the flowers that we place fresh and full of perfume between the leaves of a book, and which long afterwards we find dead, discolored, and faded, but still always preserving a vague perfume of their first freshness."

Henry Murger, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You are cruel towards me


"You are cruel towards me, Marcel," said Mademoiselle Mimi, "it is wrong. I was always very friendly with you when I was Rodolphe's mistress, and if I have left him, it was, after all, his fault. It was he who packed me off in a hurry, and, besides, how did he behave to me during the last few days I spent with him. I was very unhappy, I can tell you. You do not know what a man Rodolphe was; a mixture of anger and jealousy, who killed me by bits. He loved me, I know, but his love was as dangerous as a loaded gun. What a life I led for six months. Ah, Marcel! I do not want to make myself out better than I am, but I suffered a great deal with Rodolphe; you know it too, very well. It is not poverty that made me leave him, no I assure you I had grown accustomed to it, and I repeat it was he who sent me away. He trampled on my self-esteem; he told me that he no longer loved me; that I must get another lover. He even went so far as to indicate a young man who was courting me, and by his taunts, he served to bring me and this young man together. I went with him as much out of spite as from necessity, for I did not love him. You know very well yourself that I do not care for such very young fellows. They are as wearisome and sentimental as harmonicas. Well, what is done is done. I do not regret it, and I would do the same over again. Now that he no longer has me with him, and knows me to be happy with another, Rodolphe is furious and very unhappy. I know someone who met him the other day; his eyes were quite red. That does not astonish me. I felt quite sure it would come to this, and that he would run after me, but you can tell him that he will only lose his time, and that this time it is quite in earnest and for good. Is it long since you saw him, Marcel and is it true that he is much altered?" inquired Mimi in quite another tone.
"He is greatly altered indeed," replied Marcel.
"He is grieving, that is certain, but what am I to do? So much the worse for him, he would have it so. It had to come to an end somehow. Try to console him."
"Oh!" answered Marcel quickly. "The worst of the job is over. Do not disturb yourself about it, Mimi."
"You are not telling the truth, my dear fellow," said Mimi, with an ironical little pout. "Rodolphe will not be so quickly consoled as all that. If you knew what a state he was in the night before I left. It was a Friday, I would not stay that night at my new lover's because I am superstitious, and Friday is an unlucky day."
"You are wrong, Mimi, in love affairs Friday is a lucky day; the ancients called it Dies Veneris."
"I do not know Latin," said Mademoiselle Mimi, continuing her narration. "I was coming back then from Paul's and found Rodolphe waiting for me in the street. It was late, past midnight, and I was hungry for I had had no dinner. I asked Rodolphe to go and get something for supper. He came back half an hour later, he had run about a great deal to get nothing worth speaking of, some bread, wine, sardines, cheese, and an apple tart. I had gone to bed during his absence, and he laid the table beside the bed. I pretended not to notice him, but I could see him plainly, he was pale as death. He shuddered and walked about the room like a man who does not know what he wants to do. He noticed several packages of clothes on the floor in one corner. The sight of them seemed to annoy him, and he placed the screen in front of them in order not to see them. When all was ready we began to sup, he tried to make me drink, but I was no longer hungry or thirsty, and my heart was quite full. He was cold, for we had nothing to make a fire of, and one could hear the wind whistling in the chimney. It was very sad. Rodolphe looked at me, his eyes were fixed; he put his hand in mine and I felt it tremble, it was burning and icy all at once. 'This is the funeral supper of our loves,' he said to me in a low tone. I did not answer, but I had not the courage to withdraw my hand from his. 'I am sleepy,' said I at last, 'it is late, let us go to sleep.' Rodolphe looked at me. I had tied one of his handkerchiefs about my head on account of the cold. He took it off without saying a word. 'Why do you want to take that off?' said I. 'I am cold.' 'Oh, Mimi!' said he. 'I beg of you, it will not matter to you, to put on your little striped cap for tonight.' It was a nightcap of striped cotton, white and brown. Rodolphe was very fond of seeing me in this cap, it reminded him of several nights of happiness, for that was how we counted our happy days. When I thought it was the last time that I should sleep beside him I dared not refuse to satisfy this fancy of his. I got up and hunted out my striped cap that was at the bottom of one of my packages."
"Out of forgetfulness I forgot to replace the screen. Rodolphe noticed it and hid the packages just as he had already done before. 'Good night,' said he. 'Good night,' I answered. I thought that he was going to kiss me and I should not have hindered him, but he only took my hand, which he carried to his lips. You know, Marcel, how fond he was of kissing my hands. I heard his teeth chatter and I felt his body as cold as marble. He still held my hand and he laid his head on my shoulder, which was soon quite wet. Rodolphe was in a fearful state. He bit the sheets to avoid crying out, but I could plainly hear his stifled sobs and I still felt his tears flowing on my shoulder, which was first scalded and then chilled. At that moment I needed all my courage and I did need it, I can tell you. I had only to say a word, I had only to turn my head, and my lips would have met those of Rodolphe, and we should have made it up once more. Ah! For a moment I really thought that he was going to die in my arms, or that, at least, he would go mad, as he almost did once before, you remember? I felt I was going to yield, I was going to recant first, I was going to clasp him in my arms, for really one must have been utterly heartless to remain insensible to such grief. But I recollected the words he had said to me the day before, 'You have no spirit if you stay with me, for I no longer love you,' Ah! As I recalled those bitter words I would have seen Rodolphe ready to die, and if it had only needed a kiss from me to save him, I would have turned away my lips and let him perish."
"At last, overcome by fatigue, I sank into a half-sleep. I could still hear Rodolphe sobbing, and I can swear to you, Marcel, that this sobbing went on all night long, and that when day broke and I saw in the bed, in which I had slept for the last time, the lover whom I was going to leave for another's arms, I was terribly frightened to see the havoc wrought by this grief on Rodolphe's face. He got up, like myself, without saying a word, and almost fell flat at the first steps he took, he was so weak and downcast. However, he dressed himself very quickly, and only asked me how matters stood and when I was going to leave. I told him that I did not know. He went off without bidding goodbye or shaking hands. That is how we separated. What a blow it must have been to his heart no longer to find me there on coming home, eh?"
"I was there when Rodolphe came in," said Marcel to Mimi, who was out of breath from speaking so long. "As he was taking his key from the landlady, she said, 'The little one has left.' 'Ah!' replied Rodolphe. 'I am not astonished, I expected it.' And he went up to his room, whither I followed him, fearing some crisis, but nothing occurred. 'As it is too late to go and hire another room this evening we will do so tomorrow morning,' said he, 'we will go together. Now let us see after some dinner.' I thought that he wanted to get drunk, but I was wrong. We dined very quietly at a restaurant where you have sometimes been with him. I had ordered some Beaune to stupefy Rodolphe a bit. 'This was Mimi's favorite wine,' said he, 'we have often drunk it together at this very table. I remember one day she said to me, holding out her glass, which she had already emptied several times, 'Fill up again, it is good for one's bones.' A poor pun, eh? Worthy, at the most, of the mistress of a farce writer. Ah! She could drink pretty fairly.'"
"Seeing that he was inclined to stray along the path of recollection I spoke to him about something else, and then it was no longer a question of you. He spent the whole evening with me and seemed as calm as the Mediterranean. But what astonished me most was, that this calmness was not at all affected. It was genuine indifference. At midnight we went home. 'You seem surprised at my coolness in the position in which I find myself,' said he to me, 'well, let me point out a comparison to you, my dear fellow, it if is commonplace it has, at least, the merit of being accurate. My heart is like a cistern the tap of which has been turned on all night, in the morning not a drop of water is left. My heart is really the same, last night I wept away all the tears that were left me. It is strange, but I thought myself richer in grief, and yet by a single night of suffering I am ruined, cleaned out. On my word of honor it is as I say. Now, in the very bed in which I all but died last night beside a woman who was no more moved than a stone, I shall sleep like a deck laborer after a hard day's work, while she rests her head on the pillow of another.' 'Hambug,' I thought to myself. 'I shall no sooner have left him than he will be dashing his head against the wall.' However, I left Rodolphe alone and went to my own room, but I did not go to bed. At three in the morning I thought I heard a noise in Rodolphe's room and I went down in a hurry, thinking to find him in a desperate fever."
"Well?" said Mimi.
"Well my dear, Rodolphe was sleeping, the bed clothes were quite in order and everything proved that he had soon fallen asleep, and that his slumbers had been calm."
"It is possible," said Mimi, "he was so worn out by the night before, but the next day?"
"The next day Rodolphe came and roused me up early and we went and took rooms in another house, into which we moved the same evening."
"And," asked Mimi, "what did he do on leaving the room we had occupied, what did he say on abandoning the room in which he had loved me so?"
"He packed up his things quietly," replied Marcel, "and as he found in a drawer a pair of thread gloves you had forgotten, as well as two or three of your letters—"
"I know," said Mimi in a tone which seemed to imply, "I forgot them on purpose so that he might have some souvenir of me left! What did he do with them?" she added.
"If I remember rightly," said Marcel, "he threw the letters into the fireplace and the gloves out of the window, but without any theatrical effort, and quite naturally, as one does when one wants to get rid of something useless."
"My dear Monsieur Marcel, I assure you that from the bottom of my heart I hope that this indifference may last. But, once more in all sincerity, I do not believe in such a speedy cure and, in spite of all you tell me, I am convinced that my poet's heart is broken."
"That may be," replied Marcel, taking leave of Mimi, "but unless I may be very much mistaken, the pieces are still good for something."
During this colloquy in a public thoroughfare, Vicomte Paul was awaiting his new mistress, who was behindhand in her appointment, and decidedly disagreeable towards him. He seated himself at her feet and warbled his favorite strain, namely, that she was charming, fair as a lily, gentle as a lamb, but that he loved her above all on account of the beauties of her soul.
"Ah!" thought Mimi, loosening the waves of her dark hair over her snowy shoulders, "my lover Rodolphe, was not so exclusive."

Henry Murger, Bohemians of the Latin Quarter

Monday, November 07, 2011

Les Goncourt sur Henry Murger


1861

18 janvier.—Murger est mourant d'une maladie où l'on tombe en morceaux, tout vivant. En voulant lui couper la moustache, l'autre jour, la lèvre est venue avec les poils… La dernière fois que j'ai vu Murger, au café Riche, il y a de cela un mois, il avait la mine d'un bien portant, était gai, heureux. Il venait d'avoir un acte joué avec succès au Palais-Royal. A propos de cette bluette, les journaux avaient plus parlé de lui qu'ils ne l'avaient fait au sujet de tous ses romans, et il nous disait que c'était trop bête de s'échigner à faire des livres dont on ne vous savait aucun gré, et qui ne vous rapportaient rien… et qu'il allait dorénavant faire du théâtre, et gagner de l'argent sans douleur.
Une mort, en y réfléchissant, qui a l'air d'une mort de l'Écriture, d'un châtiment divin contre la Bohème, contre cette vie en révolte avec l'hygiène du corps et de l'âme, et qui fait qu'à quarante-deux ans un homme s'en va de la vie, n'ayant plus assez de vitalité pour souffrir, et ne se plaignant que de l'odeur de viande pourrie qui est dans sa chambre—et qu'il ignore être la sienne.
* * * * *
Jeudi, janvier.—Nous sommes quinze cents dans la cour de l'hospice Dubois, respirant un brouillard glacé, et piétinant dans la boue. La chapelle est trop petite pour contenir le monde descendu du quartier Latin et de la butte Montmartre. En regardant cette foule, je songe que c'est une singulière chose que la justice de cette première postérité, qui suit un talent à peine refroidi. Derrière le convoi d'Henri Heine, il y avait six à sept personnes, derrière Musset, quarante au plus. Le cercueil de l'homme de lettres a des fortunes pareilles à celles d'un livre…
Au reste, chez tout ce monde, pas le moindre deuil de coeur. Je n'ai jamais vu un enterrement, où derrière le mort, il soit si peu question de lui. Théophile Gautier commente la découverte qu'il vient de faire sur ce goût d'huile qui depuis si longtemps l'intriguait, dans les beefsteaks, et qui provient de ce que maintenant les bestiaux sont engraissés avec des résidus de tourteaux de colza; Saint-Victor cause bibliographie érotique, catalographie de livres obscènes, et demande à emprunter aux bibliophiles qui sont là, le DIABLE AU CORPS d'Andréa de Nerciat.
—Rien n'est moins poétique que la nature et les choses naturelles. La naissance, la vie, la mort, ces trois accidents de l'être; sont des opérations chimiques. Le mouvement animal du monde est une décomposition; et une recomposition de fumier. C'est l'homme qui a mis sur toute cette misère de la matière, le voile, l'image; le symbole, la spiritualité ennoblissante.
—Vendre les trois choses les plus précieuses du monde; l'argent, la femme, l'homme;—être usurier, bordelier, négrier ou entrepreneur de remplacements, sont les seuls négoces qui déshonorent l'homme. Pourquoi?

3 Février

Allons, à bas la blague, les sensibleries et les réclames! Murger, sans le sou, a vécu comme il a pu. Il a vécu d'emprunts aux journaux. Il a carotté ici et là des avances... L'homme n'avait pas plus de délicatesse que l'homme de lettres. Amusant et drôle, il s'est laissé aller à mordre au parasitisme, aux dîners, aux soupers, aux parties de bordel, aux petits verres qu'il ne payait pas et qu'il ne pouvait rendre. Ni bon ni mauvais camarade. Je l'ai toujours trouvé très indulgent - surtout pour les gens qui n'avaient pas de talent: il en parlait volontiers plus que des autres. D'un égoisme parfait. Voilà, au vrai, ce qu'a été Murger. Il peut avoir honoré la bohème, il n'a honoré rien de plus.
Et, pour sa Lisette - Philémon et Baucis, comme dit, en parlant du couple, le lyrique Arsène Houssaye - c'était une horrible petite fille grinchue, ayant une engelure sur le nez, une petite gaupe du Quartier latin, qui a trompé Murger comme on ne trompe pas un homme, même un mari. Je sais que Buloz lui faisait l'honneur de lui parler; mais je sais aussi, par moi-même, qu'à Marlotte, elle était de la société de celles qui démarquaient les bas des femmes qu'on y amenait avec un peu de linge.
Tout est venu au-devant de lui, le succès et la croix. Tout lui a été ouvert au premier jour, théâtres, revues, etc. Il n'a pas eu d'ennemis. Il est mort à son heure, quand il était fini, lorsqu'il était forcé d'avouer qu'il n'avait plus rien dans le ventre. Il est mort à l'âge où les femmes meurent, ne pouvant plus faire d'enfants. C'est un martyr à bon marché. Ce fut un homme de talent, un esprit à deux cordes, qui eut le rire et les larmes. Il fut le Millevoye de la Grande Chaumière. Mais il manquera toujours à ses livres un parfum, je ne sais quoi de pareil à la race: ce sont les livres d'un homme sans lettres. Il ne savait que le parisien, il ne savait pas assez le latin.


Journal des Goncourt

Friday, November 04, 2011

The only man she had ever loved


"My dear girl,
I have wealth in my desk, an apoplectic stroke of fortune. We have a big feed simmering, generous wines, and have lit fires like respectable citizens. You should only just see it, as you used to say. Come and pass an hour with us. You will find Rodolphe, Colline and Schaunard. You shall sing to us at dessert, for dessert will not be wanting. While we are there we shall probably remain at table for a week. So do not be afraid of being too late. It is so long since I heard you laugh. Rodolphe will compose madrigals to you, and we will drink all manner of things to our dead and gone loves, with liberty to resuscitate them. Between people like ourselves—the last kiss is never the last. Ah! If it had not been so cold last year you might not have left me. You jilted me for a faggot and because you were afraid of having red hands; you were right. I am no more vexed with you over it this time than over the others, but come and warm yourself while there is a fire. With as many kisses as you like,
Marcel."
This letter finished, Marcel wrote another to Madame Sidonie, Musette's friend, begging her to forward the one enclosed in it. Then he went downstairs to the porter to get him to take the letters. As he was paying him beforehand, the porter noticed a gold coin in the painter's hand, and before starting on his errand went up to inform the landlord, with whom Marcel was behind with his rent.
"Sir," said he, quite out of breath, "the artist on the sixth floor has money. You know the tall fellow who laughs in my face when I take him his bill?"
"Yes," said the landlord, "the one who had the imprudence to borrow money of me to pay me something on account with. He is under notice to quit."
"Yes sir. But he is rolling in gold today. I caught sight of it just now. He is giving a party. It is a good time—"
"You are right," said the landlord. "I will go up and see for myself by-and-by."
Madame Sidonie, who was at home when Marcel's letter was brought, sent on her maid at once with the one intended for Musette.
The latter was then residing in a charming suite of rooms in the Chaussee d'Antin. At the moment Marcel's letter was handed to her, she had company, and, indeed, was going to give a grand dinner party that evening.
"Here is a miracle," she exclaimed, laughing like a mad thing.
"What is it?" asked a handsome young fellow, as stiff as a statuette.
"It is an invitation to dinner," replied the girl. "How well it falls out."
"How badly," said the young man.
"Why so?" asked Musette.
"What, do you think of going?"
"I should think so. Arrange things as you please."
"But, my dear, it is not becoming. You can go another time."
"Ah, that is very good, another time. It is an old acquaintance, Marcel, who invites me to dinner, and that is sufficiently extraordinary for me to go and have a look at it. Another time! But real dinners in that house are as rare as eclipses."
"What, you would break your pledge to us to go and see this individual," said the young man, "and you tell me so—"
"Whom do you want me to tell it to, then? To the Grand Turk? It does not concern him."
"This is strange frankness."
"You know very well that I do nothing like other people."
"But what would you think of me if I let you go, knowing where you are going to? Think a bit, Musette, it is very unbecoming both to you and myself; you must ask this young fellow to excuse you—"
"My dear Monsieur Maurice," said Mademoiselle Musette, in very firm tones, "you knew me before you took up with me, you knew that I was full of whims and fancies, and that no living soul can boast of ever having made me give one up."
"Ask of me whatever you like," said Maurice, "but this! There are fancies and fancies."
"Maurice, I shall go and see Marcel. I am going," she added, putting on her bonnet. "You may leave me if you like, but it is stronger than I am; he is the best fellow in the world, and the only one I have ever loved. If his head had been gold he would have melted it down to give me rings. Poor fellow," said she, showing the letter, "see, as soon as he has a little fire, he invites me to come and warm myself. Ah, if he had not been so idle, and if there had not been so much velvet and silk in the shops! I was very happy with him, he had the gift of making me feel; and it is he who gave me the name of Musette on account of my songs. At any rate, going to see him you may be sure that I shall return to you... unless you shut your door in my face."
"You could not more frankly acknowledge that you do not love me," said the young man.
"Come, my dear Maurice, you are too sensible a man for us to begin a serious argument on that point," rejoined Musette. "You keep me like a fine horse in your stable—and I like you because I love luxury, noise, glitter, and festivity, and that sort of thing; do not let us go in for sentiment, it would be useless and ridiculous."
"At least let me come with you."
"But you would not enjoy yourself at all," said Musette, "and would hinder us from enjoying ourselves. Remember that he will necessarily kiss me."
"Musette," said Maurice. "Have you often found such accommodating people as myself?"
"Viscount," replied Musette, "one day when I was driving in the Champs Elysees with Lord _____, I met Marcel and his friend Rodolphe, both on foot, both ill dressed, muddy as water-dogs, and smoking pipes. I had not seen Marcel for three months, and it seemed to me as if my heart was going to jump out of the carriage window. I stopped the carriage, and for half an hour I chatted with Marcel before the whole of Paris, filing past in its carriages. Marcel offered me a sou bunch of violets that I fastened in my waistband. When he took leave of me, Lord _____ wanted to call him back to invite him to dinner with us. I kissed him for that. That is my way, my dear Monsieur Maurice, if it does not suit you you should say so at once, and I will take my slippers and my nightcap."
"It is sometimes a good thing to be poor then," said Vicomte Maurice, with a look of envious sadness.
"No, not at all," said Musette. "If Marcel had been rich I should never have left him."
"Go, then," said the young fellow, shaking her by the hand. "You have put your new dress on," he added, "it becomes you splendidly."
"That is so," said Musette. "It is a kind of presentiment I had this morning. Marcel will have the first fruits of it. Goodbye, I am off to taste a little of the bread of gaiety."
Musette was that day wearing a charming toilette. Never had the poem of her youth and beauty been set off by a more seductive binding. Besides, Musette had the instinctive genius of taste. On coming into the world, the first thing she had looked about for had been a looking glass to settle herself in her swaddling clothes by, and before being christened she had already been guilty of the sin of coquetry. At the time when her position was of the humblest, when she was reduced to cotton print frocks, little white caps and kid shoes, she wore in charming style this poor and simple uniform of the grisettes, those pretty girls, half bees, half grasshoppers, who sang at their work all week, only asked God for a little sunshine on Sunday, loved with all their heart, and sometimes threw themselves out of a window.
A breed that is now lost, thanks to the present generation of young fellows, a corrupted and at the same time corrupting race, but, above everything, vain, foolish and brutal. For the sake of uttering spiteful paradoxes, they chaffed these poor girls about their hands, disfigured by the sacred scars of toil, and as a consequence these soon no longer earned even enough to buy almond paste. By degrees they succeeded in inoculating them with their own foolishness and vanity, and then the grisette disappeared. It was then that the lorette sprung up. A hybrid breed of impertinent creatures of mediocre beauty, half flesh, half paint, whose boudoir is a shop in which they sell bits of their heart like slices of roast beef. The majority of these girls who dishonor pleasure, and are the shame of modern gallantry, are not always equal in intelligence to the very birds whose feathers they wear in their bonnets. If by chance they happen to feel, not love nor even a caprice, but a common place desire, it is for some counter jumping mountebank, whom the crowd surrounds and applauds at public balls, and whom the papers, courtiers of all that is ridiculous, render celebrated by their puffs. Although she was obliged to live in this circle Musette had neither its manners nor its ways, she had not the servile cupidity of those creatures who can only read Cocker and only write in figures. She was an intelligent and witty girl, and some drops of the blood of Mansu in her veins and, rebellious to all yokes, she had never been able to help yielding to a fancy, whatever might be the consequences.
Marcel was really the only man she had ever loved. He was at any rate the only one for whose sake she had really suffered, and it had needed all the stubbornness of the instincts that attracted her to all that glittered and jingled to make her leave him. She was twenty, and for her luxury was almost a matter of existence. She might do without it for a time, but she could not give it up completely. Knowing her inconstancy, she had never consented to padlock her heart with an oath of fidelity. She had been ardently loved by many young fellows for whom she had herself felt a strong fancy, and she had always acted towards them with far-sighted probity; the engagements into which she entered were simple, frank and rustic as the love-making of Moliere's peasants. "You want me and I should like you too, shake hands on it and let us enjoy ourselves." A dozen times if she had liked Musette could have secured a good position, which is termed a future, but she did not believe in the future and professed the scepticism of Figaro respecting it.
"Tomorrow," she sometimes remarked, "is an absurdity of the almanac, it is a daily pretext that men have invented in order to put off their business today. Tomorrow may be an earthquake. Today, at any rate, we are on solid ground."
One day a gentleman with whom she had stayed nearly six months, and who had become wildly in love with her, seriously proposed marriage. Musette burst out laughing in his face at this offer.
"I imprison my liberty in the bonds of matrimony? Never," said she.
"But I pass my time in trembling with fear of losing you."
"It would be worse if I were your wife. Do not let us speak about that any more. Besides, I am not free," she added, thinking no doubt of Marcel.
Thus she passed her youth, her mind caught by every straw blown by the breeze of fancy, causing the happiness of a great many and almost happy herself. Vicomte Maurice, under whose protection she then was, had a great deal of difficulty in accustoming himself to her untamable disposition, intoxicated with freedom, and it was with jealous impatience that he awaited the return of Musette after having seen her start off to Marcel's.
"Will she stay there?" he kept asking himself all the evening.
"Poor Maurice," said Musette to herself on her side. "He thinks it rather hard. Bah! Young men must go through their training."
Then her mind turning suddenly to other things, she began to think of Marcel to whom she was going, and while running over the recollections reawakened by the name of her erst adorer, asked herself by what miracle the table had been spread at his dwelling. She re-read, as she went along, the letter that the artist had written to her, and could not help feeling somewhat saddened by it. But this only lasted a moment. Musette thought aright, that it was less than ever an occasion for grieving, and at that moment a strong wind spring up she exclaimed:
"It is funny, even if I did not want to go to Marcel's, this wind would blow me there."
And she went on hurriedly, happy as a bird returning to its first nest.
All at once snow began to fall heavy. Musette looked for a cab. She could not see one. As she happened to be in the very street in which dwelt her friend Madame Sidonie, the same who had sent on Marcel's letter to her, Musette decided to run in for a few minutes until the weather cleared up sufficiently to enable her to continue her journey.
When Musette entered Madame Sidonie's rooms she found a gathering there. They were going on with a game of lansquenet that had lasted three days.
"Do not disturb yourselves," said Musette. "I have only just popped in for a moment."
"You got Marcel's letter all right?" whispered Madame Sidonie to her.
"Yes, thanks," replied Musette. "I am going to his place, he has asked me to dinner. Will you come with me? You would enjoy yourself."
"No, I can't," said Madame Sidonie, pointing to the card table. "Think of my rent."
"There are six louis," said the banker.
"I'll go two of them," exclaimed Madame Sidonie.
"I am not proud, I'll start at two," replied the banker, who had already dealt several times. "King and ace. I am done for," he continued, dealing the cards. "I am done for, all the kings are out."
"No politics," said a journalist.
"And the ace is the foe of my family," continued the banker, who then turned up another king. "Long live the king! My dear Sidonie, hand me over two louis."
"Put them down," said Sidonie, vexed at her loss.
"That makes four hundred francs you owe me, little one," said the banker. "You would run it up to a thousand. I pass the deal."
Sidonie and Musette were chatting together in a low tone. The game went on.
At about the same time the Bohemians were sitting down to table. During the whole of the repast Marcel seemed uneasy. Everytime a step sounded on the stairs he started.
"What is the matter?" asked Rodolphe of him. "One would think you were expecting someone. Are we not all here?"
But at a look from the artist the poet understood his friend's preoccupation.
"True," he thought, "we are not all here."
Marcel's look meant Musette, Rodolphe's answering glance, Mimi.
"We lack ladies," said Schaunard, all at once.
"Confound it," yelled Colline, "will you hold your tongue with your libertine reflections. It was agreed that we should not speak of love, it turns the sauces."
And the friends continued to drink fuller bumpers, whilst without the snow still fell, and on the hearth the logs flamed brightly, scattering sparks like fireworks.
Henry Murger, Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (1888)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Puccini: Mi chiamano Mimi (La Bohème)

Angela Gheorghiu "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" La boheme Met 2008

"Bohemia is the first stage in artistic life"


With these words French author Henri Murger characterised the phenomenon in his 1851 novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème: as a transitional stage which provokes and fascinates by a way of living that contravenes the norm. The image of the artist as an outsider who lived in romantic poverty in the bourgeois age came to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses and elevated to undying popularity by Puccini's opera based on Murger's original text. That Bohemia became synonymous with the 19th century artist who was at the mercy of an anonymous market and compelled to hawk his skills in order to survive. Right in the middle of the period when the legend of Bohemia grew to bolster the artist's feelings of self-assurance came the invention of photography. Just how strong this colourful approach to life was among the authors, painters and even the photographers themselves is reflected by photographic mises en scène, which will be featured in this exhibition at Museum Ludwig.






Gustave Courbet

Oh! Little Mimi, joy of my home



Alexei Harlamoff

Rodolphe ran home without waiting to take breath. Going upstairs he found his carroty-haired cat giving vent to piteous mewings. For two nights already it has thus been vainly summoning its faithless love, an agora Manon Lescaut, who had started on a campaign of gallantry on the house-tops adjacent.
"Poor beast," said Rodolphe, "you have been deceived. Your Mimi has jilted you like mine has jilted me. Bah! Let us console ourselves. You see, my poor fellow, the hearts of women and she-cats are abysses that neither men nor toms will ever fathom."
When he entered his room, although it was fearfully hot, Rodolphe seemed to feel a cloak of ice about his shoulders. It was the chill of solitude, that terrible nocturnal solitude that nothing disturbs. He lit his candle and then perceived the ravaged room. The gaping drawers in the furniture showed empty, and from floor to ceiling sadness filled the little room that seemed to Rodolphe vaster than a desert. Stepping forward he struck his foot against the parcels containing the things belonging to Mademoiselle Mimi, and he felt an impulse of joy to find that she had not yet come to fetch them as she had told him in the morning she would do. Rodolphe felt that, despite all his struggles, the moment of reaction was at hand, and readily divined that a cruel night was to expiate all the bitter mirth that he had dispensed in the course of the evening. However, he hoped that his body, worn out with fatigue, would sink to sleep before the reawakening of the sorrows so long pent back in his heart.
As he approached the couch, and on drawing back the curtains saw the bed that had not been disturbed for two days, the pillows placed side by side, beneath one of which still peeped out the trimming of a woman's night cap, Rodolphe felt his heart gripped in the pitiless vice of that desolate grief that cannot burst forth. He fell at the foot of the bed, buried his face in his hands, and, after having cast a glance round the desolate room, exclaimed:
"Oh! Little Mimi, joy of my home, is it really true that you are gone, that I have driven you away, and that I shall never see you again, my God. Oh! Pretty brown curly head that has slept so long on this spot, will you never come back to sleep here again? Oh! Little white hands with the blue veins, little white hands to whom I had affianced my lips, have you too received my last kiss?"
And Rodolphe, in delirious intoxication, plunged his head amongst the pillows, still impregnated with the perfume of his love's hair. From the depth of the alcove he seemed to see emerge the ghosts of the sweet nights he had passed with his young mistress. He heard clear and sonorous, amidst the nocturnal silence, the open-hearted laugh of Mademoiselle Mimi, and he thought of the charming and contagious gaiety with which she had been able so many times to make him forget all the troubles and all the hardships of their hazardous existence.
Throughout the night he kept passing in review the eight months that he had just spent with this girl, who had never loved him perhaps, but whose tender lies had restored to Rodolphe's heart its youth and virility.
Dawn surprised him at the moment when, conquered by fatigue, he had just closed his eyes, red from the tears shed during the night. A doleful and terrible vigil, yet such a one as even the most sneering and sceptical amongst us may find in the depths of their past.
When his friends called on him in the morning they were alarmed at the sight of Rodolphe, whose face bore the traces of all the anguish that had awaited him during his vigil in the Gethsemane of love.
"Good!" said Marcel, "I was sure of it; it is his mirth of yesterday that has turned in his heart. Things must not go on like this."
And in concert with two or three comrades he began a series of privately indiscreet revelations respecting Mademoiselle Mimi, every word of which pierced like a thorn in Rodolphe's heart. His friends "proved" to him that all the time his mistress had tricked him like a simpleton at home and abroad, and that this fair creature, pale as the angel of phthisis, was a casket filled with evil sentiments and ferocious instincts.
One and another they thus took it in turns at the task they had set themselves, which was to bring Rodolphe to that point at which soured love turns to contempt; but this object was only half attained. The poet's despair turned to wrath. He threw himself in a rage upon the packages which he had done up the day before, and after having put on one side all the objects that his mistress had in her possession when she came to him, kept all those he had given her during their union, that is to say, by far the greater number, and, above all, the articles connected with the toilette to which Mademoiselle Mimi was attached by all the fibers of a coquetry that had of late become insatiable.
Mademoiselle Mimi called in course of the next day to take away her things. Rodolphe was at home and alone. It needed all his powers of self esteem to keep him from throwing himself upon his mistress's neck. He gave her a reception full of silent insult, and Mademoiselle Mimi replied by those cold and keen scoffs that drive the weakest and most timid to show their teeth. In face of the contempt with which his mistress flagellated him with insolent hardihood, Rodolphe's anger broke out fearfully and brutally. For a moment Mimi, white with terror, asked herself whether she would escape from his hands alive. At the cries she uttered some neighbors rushed in and dragged her out of Rodolphe's room.
Two days later a female friend of Mimi came to ask Rodolphe whether he would give up the things he had kept.
"No," he replied.
And he got his mistress's messenger to talk about her. She informed him that Mimi was in a very unfortunate condition, and that she would soon find herself without a lodging.
"And the lover of whom she is so fond?"
"Oh!" replied Amelie, the friend in question, "the young fellow has no intention of taking her for his mistress. He has been keeping another for a long time past, and he does not seem to trouble much about Mimi, who is living at my expense, which causes me a great deal of embarrassment."
"Let her do as she can," said Rodolphe. "She would have it,—it is no affair of mine."
And he began to sing madrigals to Mademoiselle Amelie, and persuaded her that she was the prettiest woman in the world.
Amelie informed Mimi of her interview with Rodolphe.
"What did he say? What is he doing? Did he speak to you about me?" asked Mimi.
"Not at all; you are already forgotten, my dear. Rodolphe has a fresh mistress, and he has bought her a superb outfit, for he has received a great deal of money, and is himself dressed like a prince. He is a very amiable fellow, and said a lot of nice things to me."
"I know what all that means," thought Mimi.
Every day Mademoiselle Amelie called to see Rodolphe on some pretext or other, and however much the latter tried he could not help speaking of Mimi to her.
"She is very lively," replied her friend, "and does not seem to trouble herself about her position. Besides she declares that she will come back to you whenever she chooses, without making any advances and merely for the sake of vexing your friends."
"Very good," said Rodolphe, "let her come and we shall see."
And he began to pay court to Amelie, who went off to tell everything to Mimi, and to assure her that Rodolphe was very much in love with herself.
"He kissed me again on the hand and the neck; see it is quite red," said she. "He wants to take me to a dance tomorrow."
"My dear friend," said Mimi, rather vexed, "I see what you are driving at, to make me believe that Rodolphe is in love with you and thinks no more about me. But you are wasting your time both for him and me."
The fact was that Rodolphe only showed himself amiable towards Amelie to get her to call on him the oftener, and to have the opportunity of speaking to her about his mistress. But with a Machiavelism that had perhaps its object, and whilst perceiving very well that Rodolphe still loved Mimi, and that the latter was not indisposed to rejoin him, Amelie strove, by ingeniously inventive reports, to fend off everything that might serve to draw the pair together again.
The day on which she was to go to the ball Amelie called in the morning to ask Rodolphe whether the engagement still held good.
"Yes," he replied, "I do not want to miss the opportunity of being the cavalier of the most beautiful woman of the day."
Amelie assumed the coquettish air that she had put on the occasion of her solitary appearance at a suburban theater as fourth chambermaid, and promised to be ready that evening.
"By the way," said Rodolphe, "tell Mademoiselle Mimi that if she will be guilty of an infidelity to her lover in my favor, and come and pass a night with me, I will give her up all her things."
Amelie executed Rodolphe's commission, and gave to his words quite another meaning than that which she had guessed they bore.
"Your Rodolphe is a rather base fellow," said she to Mimi. "His proposal is infamous. He wishes by this step to make you descend to the rank of the vilest creatures, and if you go to him not only will he not give you your things, but he will show you up as a jest to all his comrades. It is a plot arranged amongst them."
"I will not go," said Mimi, and as she saw Amelie engaged in preparing her toilette, she asked her whether she was going to the ball.
"Yes," replied the other.
"With Rodolphe?"
"Yes, he is to wait for me this evening twenty yards or so from here."
"I wish you joy," said Mimi, and seeing the hour of the appointment approach, she hurried off to Mademoiselle Amelie's lover, and informed him that the latter was engaged in a little scheme to deceive him with her own old lover.
The gentleman, jealous as a tiger and brutal to boot, called at once on Mademoiselle Amelie, and announced that he would like her to spend the evening in his company.
At eight o'clock Mimi flew to the spot at which Rodolphe was to meet Amelie. She saw her lover pacing up and down after the fashion of a man waiting for some one, and twice passed close to him without daring to address him. Rodolphe was very well dressed that evening, and the violent crises through which he had passed during the week had imparted great character on his face. Mimi was singularly moved. At length she made up her mind to speak to him. Rodolphe received her without anger, and asked how she was, after which he inquired as to the motive that had brought her to him, in mild voice, in which there was an effort to check a note of sadness.
"It is bad news that I come to bring you. Mademoiselle Amelie cannot come to the ball with you. Her lover is keeping her."
"I shall go to the ball alone, then."
Here Mademoiselle Mimi feigned to stumble, and leaned against Rodolphe's shoulder. He took her arm and proposed to escort her home.
"No," said Mimi. "I am living with Amelie, and as her lover is there I cannot go in until he has left."
"Listen to me, then," said the poet. "I made a proposal to you today through Mademoiselle Amelie. Did she transmit it to you?"
"Yes," said Mimi, "but in terms which, even after what has happened, I could not credit. No, Rodolphe, I could not believe that, despite all that you might have to reproach me with, you thought me so worthless as to accept such a bargain."
"You did not understand me, or the message has been badly conveyed to you. My offer holds good," said Rodolphe. "It is nine o'clock. You still have three hours for reflection. The door will be unlocked until midnight. Good night. Farewell, or—till we meet again."
"Farewell, then," said Mimi, in trembling tones.
And they separated. Rodolphe went home and threw himself, without undressing, upon his bed. At half past eleven, Mademoiselle Mimi entered his room.
"I have come to ask your hospitality," said she. "Amelie's lover has stayed with her, and I cannot get in."
They talked together until three in the morning—an explanatory conversation which grew gradually more familiar.
At four o'clock their candle went out. Rodolphe wanted to light another.
"No," said Mimi, "it is not worth the trouble. It is quite time to go to bed."
Five minutes later her pretty brown curly head had once more resumed its place on the pillow, and in a voice full of affection she invited Rodolphe's lips to feast on her little white hand with their blue veins, the pearly pallor of which vied with the whiteness of the sheets. Rodolphe did not light the candle.
In the morning Rodolphe got up first, and pointing out several packages to Mimi, said to her, very gently, "There is what belongs to you. You can take it away. I keep my word."
"Oh!" said Mimi. "I am very tired, you see, and I cannot carry all these heavy parcels away at once. I would rather call again."
And when she was dressed she only took a collar and a pair of cuffs.
"I will take away the rest by degrees," she added, smiling.
"Come," said Rodolphe, "take away all or take away none, and let there be an end of it."
"Let it, on the contrary, begin again, and, above all, let it last," said Mimi, kissing Rodolphe.
After breakfasting together they started off for a day in the country.

Henry Murger, Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (1888)