Gustave et Marcel
Those French – they’re witty bastards. Flaubert for instance. I picked a Penguin selection of his letters off a shelf this morning, for no particular reason, I just caught sight of it and felt like browsing in it – I opened it at random – at a letter to Louise Colet in which he talks about Musset, with whom Colet had just begun an affair. (Page 185)
I have been thinking a great deal about Musset. And I think that in the end it is all just Affectation…Men sentimentalize over everything, and most of the time the poor women are taken in by it. It was only to make a good impression on you that he said: ‘Try me. I have left Italian women gasping’ (an idea of Italian women that is connected with the idea of a volcano; you always find Mount Vesuvius between their legs. Nonsense! Italian women are like Eastern women: drowsy, languid, voluptuous things; but never mind, it is a received idea), whereas in fact the poor lad may simply be having trouble satisfying his washer-woman. It was so as to look like a man of passion that he said: ‘I am one of the jealous kind, I would kill a woman, and so on.’ He hasn’t killed George Sand.
And it goes on like that, and there’s a lot more like it in other letters. He was a funny, rude, caustic bastard.
And then there’s our friend Marcel, who was also a funny bastard, in his own way. Behold Albertine.
As soon as she entered my room, she would spring on to my bed and sometimes would expatiate upon my type of intellect, would vow in a transport of sincerity that she would sooner die than leave me; this was on mornings when I had shaved before sending for her.
Here’s a bit more Gustave. (Page 188)
They are all essentially the same, all the people who tell you about their lost love, their mother’s grave, their father’s grave, their sacred memories, who kiss medallions, who weep in the moonlight, who go into raptures when they see children, swoon at the theatre, look thoughtful when they stand by the Ocean. Fakers! fakers! triple charlatans! who use their hearts as trampolines in order to reach up to something.