Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sundays with Stendhal 7

Julien, in the drawing room of Madame de Fervaques, paying court to the Marechale in order to move Mathilde to jealousy ...

Surrounded by persons who were eminently moral, but who often had not one idea in an evening, Madame de Fervaques was profoundly impressed by everything that bore a semblance of novelty; but, at the same time, she felt that she owed it to herself to be shocked by it. ...

'How is it,' she asked him the following evening, with an air of indifference which seemed to him unconvincing, 'that you speak to me of London and Richmond in a letter which you wrote last night, it appears, after leaving the Opera?'

Julien was greatly embarrassed; he had copied the letter line for line from the Russian's originals, without thinking of what he was copying, and apparently had forgotten to substitute for the words London and Richmond, which occurred in the original, Paris and Saint-Cloud. He began two or three excuses, but found it impossible to finish any of them; he felt himself on the point of giving way to an outburst of helpless laughter.

At length, in his search for the right words, he arrived at the following idea: 'Exalted by the discussion of the most sublime, the highest intersts of the human soul, my own, in writing to you, must have become distracted.' ...

He left the Hotel de Fervaques in hot haste. That evening, as he looked over the original text of the letter which he had copied the night before, he very soon came to the fatal passage where the young Russian spoke of London and Richmond. Julien was quite surprised to find this letter almost tender. It was this contrast between the apparent frivolity of his talk and the sublime and almost apocalyptic profundity of his letters that had marked him out.

The length of his sentences was especially pleasing to the Marechale; this was not the cursory style brought into fashion by Voltaire, that most immoral of men!

(The Red and the Black, part II, chapter 58, "Manon Lescaut.")