#VisDare 116: Vague #WritersWednesday

VagueI will never know if you remember, wherever you are now. It was already autumn, and the chill in the air reminded us that soon the cold winds would sweep through the plains and our city.

We stopped the car, I wanted to take a picture of you: I wanted to stop the clock, capture this second of eternity, your smile, the nice clothes you decided to wear on our special day…

In truth I should not be here to tell the tale, but this is what happened:

We kissed, a long, passionate kiss, I remember losing myself in that kiss, and I could hear my heart – or was it yours? Wherever you are now, you surely remember that feeling.

For soon I felt the pain, my skin being cut, so lightly, those sharp incisive, your beautiful white incisive…

Thus I became who I am now, and you are gone.

#VisDare 114: Prepared #WritersWednesday

PreparedOn this far-away horizon we fly, age-old balloonists, at peace. I long thought, in the moonless nights, reading, dreaming, of those eons ahead of us – the universe ‘s infinity, the long journeys, our transformation, progressive, imperceptible, on the shores of time.

Old-fashioned I am – we are – in the eyes of the past centuries, albeit not our own: fashionable we might become, on those alien planets we visit in the midst of our everlasting sleep.

Explorers, yes, young still, without the edge of possible awake, for we will never return, to the old world, to the mother ship: lost we are, willing prisoners of an endless tale, one many times recounted – till now.

Now, we live the dream, sliding by foreign stars, through the intricacies of space, as we were convinced we would, one day, not by magic, but driven, prepared, accepting the fate of those who deny their own mortality…

#VisDare 113: Limbo

Is this rock my last prison on earth, is this solitude my punishment, this rain my future?

LimboThe rain won’t stop, as the poet once said: it rains in my heart as it rains on the city, the city where we once lived…

This deluge is not only for me: it is for all those lost souls, those dying of a dying love, the ghosts of paradise, paradise lost…

Where are you? In what part of this glorious world are you now? And which one of us now looks after you? Is the sun bright and warm where you are now? Do you still listen to the chorus, each dawn, as you once did, nestled in my arms, eyes closed?

Pointless questions, I know this grief cannot reach you, my wings are clipped, those poor clothes are drenched, I can no longer  pretend

To be anything but a fallen angel.

The books Gustave Flaubert never wrote #WritersWednesday

From Julian Barnes’ “Flaubert’s Parrot”, chapter 9, The Flaubert Apocrypha.

Anna Plesingerová-Božinová (20. 4. 1883 - 24. 11. 1977)His Autobiography: “One day, if I write my memoirs – the only thing I shall write well, if ever I put myself to the task of doing it – you will find a place in them, and what a place! For you have blown a large breach in the walls of my existence.” From one of his earliest letters to Louise Colet; and over a seven-year period (1846-53) he makes occasional references to the planned autobiography. Then he announced its official abandonment. But was it ever more than just a project for a project?

Story of Mycerinus: in 1850, while in Egypt, Flaubert spends two days pondering the story of Mycerinus, a pious king of the fourth dynasty who is credited with reopening temples closed by his predecessors. In a letter to Bouillhet, however, the novelist characterises his subject more crudely as “the king who fucks his daughter”…

Three projects: in 1850, from Constantinople, Flauberts announces three projects: “Une nuit de Don Juan (which reaches the planning stage); “Anubis”, the story of the woman who wants to be fucked by a god”; and “My Flemish novel about the young girl who dies a virgin and a mystic… in a little provincial town, at the bottom of a garden planted with cabbages and bulrushes…” Gustave complains in this letter to Bouillhet about the dangers of planning a project too thoroughly: “It seems to me, alas, that if you can so thoroughly dissect your children who are still to be born, you don’t get horny enough actually to father them.” In the present cases, Gustave didn’t get horny enough; though some see in his third project a vague forerunner of either Madame Bovary or Un coeur simple.

La Spirale“: in 1852-3 Gustave makes serious plans for “La Spirale”, a “grand, metaphysical, fantastical and bawling novel”, whose hero lives a typical Flaubertian double life, being happy in his dreams and unhappy in his real life. Its conclusion, of course: that happiness exists only in the imagination.

Chivalry: in 1853, “one of my old dreams”is resuscitated: a novel about chivalry. Despite Ariosto such a project is still feasible, Gustave declares: the additional elements he will bring to the subject are “terror and a broader poetry”.

Insanity and theatre: in 1861 “I’ve long been meditating a novel on insanity, or rather on how one becomes insane.” From about this time, or a little later, he was also meditating, according to Du Camp, a novel about the theatre; he would sit in the green room jotting down the confidences of over-candid actresses. “Only Le Sage in Gil Blas has touched upon the truth. I will reveal it in all its nakedness, for it is impossible to imagine how comic it is.”

Harel-Bey“, an Eastern story: “If I were younger and had the money, I’d go back to the Orient – to study the modern Orient, the Orient of the Isthmus of Suez. A big book about that is one of my old dreams. I’d like to show a civilised man – to develop that contrast between two worlds that end up merging… But it’s too late.”

Battle of Thermopylae: he planned a book about the battle after finishing Bouvard et Pécuchet.

A novel featuring several generations of a Rouen family.

A Parisian Household” or “Under Napoleon III“: “I will write a novel about the Empire and bringing the evening receptions at Compiègne, with all the ambassadors, marshals and senators rattling their decorations as they bend to the ground to kiss the hand of the Prince Imperial. Yes indeed! The period will furnish material for some capital books.” (Du Camp reports him saying.)

Un “roman trouvé“: was found by Charles Lapierre, editor of Le Nouvelliste de Rouen. Dining at Croisset one evening, Lapierre told Flaubert of the scandalous history of Mademoiselle de P-. She had been born into the Normandy nobility, had connections at Court, and was appointed reader to the Empress Eugénie. Her beauty, they said, was enough to damn a saint. It was certainly enough to damn her: an open liaison with an officer of the Imperial Guard caused her dismissal. Subsequently she became one of the queens of the Parisian demimonde, ruling in the late 1860s over a loucher version of the Court from which she had been excluded. During the Franco-Prussian War, she disappeared from sight (along with the rest of her profession), and afterwards her star waned. She descended, by all accounts, to the lowest level of harlotry. And yet, encouragingly (for fiction as well as for herself), she proved able to rise again: she became the established mistress of a cavalry officer, and by the time she died was the legal wife of an admiral.

Flaubert was delighted with the story: “Do you know, Lapierre, you’ve just given me the subject of a novel, the counterpart of my Bovary, a Bovary of high society. What an attractive figure!” He copied down the story at once, and began to make notes on it. But the novel was never written, and the notes have never been found.

All these unwritten books tantalise. Yet they can, to an extent, be filled out, ordered, reimagined. They can be studied in academies. A pier is a disappointed bridge; yet stare at it long enough and you can dream it to the other side of the Channel. The same is true with these stubs of books.

Image: Anna Plesingerová-Božinová (20. 4. 1883 – 24. 11. 1977)

Of Fred and Sarah, #quote from Julian Barnes “Levels of Life”

Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar 1865The next evening, he watched her performance, came to her dressing room, and saw many of the same faces. He made sure to pay proper attention to Mme Guérard: having been in foreign courts before, he knew to recognise the power behind the throne. Soon – much sooner than the fiercest optimism could have imagined – she came across, took Barnaby’s arm, and bade her coterie goodnight. As the three of them left, the scrimmage of Parisian dandies took care of not to appear put out. Well, perhaps they weren’t.

From Julian Barnes, “Levels of Life, On the Level” (© Julian Barnes 2013)

Image: Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar 1865

#WritersWednesday: Blank Page, a reflection on Gustave #Flaubert

Albert CamusI read that Gustave Flaubert thought the “Communeux” – the revolutionaries who fought the losing battle of the Paris Commune in 1871, and got massacred – had wanted to “return to the Middle Ages”. Yet he was a discerning writer and observer of the French society…

This prompted some musing on the role of writers in our troubled times. But then, when was a time of real peace? The page stays blank, for if there is a lot to say, it would be pointless to write. This is what Flaubert avoided: he scored on impersonality, a detachment from associating himself with his characters, let alone exercising judgement on their actions or circumstances. He wrote that he was bored when writing Madame Bovary, so remote was he from his “ordinary” subject. His carthagenese rump – Salammbo – a story of a slave revolt against the ruler of Carthage (the super-power of the time), was high in colour, rich in gore, and outraged the bourgeois commentators of the mainstream press. Later his “Education Sentimentale” stripped the hypocrisy of the 2nd Empire’s society bare, all a few years before the catastrophe of 1870.

Maybe it takes a national defeat to reveal the true nature of contemporary literature: Remarque, Proust (who thought Germany’d have won the war), the French existentialists, the great Japanese novelists of the 50’s…

Image: Albert Camus laughing, from “Philosophers’ quotes & photos

#FiveSentenceFiction: Breakfast

DSC_0069The ancient woods are vibrant with bees and morning birds, the early sun rays playing across the foliage of the oaks, ashes and beeches.

We follow the path, almost a straight-line to the little hill where the mausoleum stands, white on virgin green and blue sky.

There is a stile, then a sharp bend, and from that corner we admire the Downs, a vista of peace and tranquillity: the world is still asleep.

This is late summer, soon the rains will come, and a different landscape will unfold: grey clouds, heavy with storms, strong winds, and the escape of the migrating birds toward warmer climes.

We are much younger than the trees, and as we open our frugal meal, the steaming thermos of coffee, we wonder: are they protecting us, or us them?

Image: Darnley Mausoleum, in Cobham Woods, Kent © 2015 Honoré Dupuis