Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part six)
The results of the contest were published, this paragraph passing from the Paris journals to the regional press:
We learn with pleasure the success of a young woman of our city, Mlle Annie Le Goël, who has carried home the first prize of the Revue Le Foyer, for a play entitled “The Revenge of Armande” in which she essays a strongly-argued defense of the intellectual woman.
This snippet, far less rousing of passions than details of a crime, did excite some curiosity.
“Annie Le Goël? Who is that? Where does she live?”
“Faubourg Saint-Hélier! The little linen shop. Strange, unsociable people. The mother has been or is off her rocker…”
“Ah! But genius is a neurosis, that’s well known!”
Annie, as she came and went, heard the murmurs of such chitchat, and guessed at the comments. The eyes of passersby probed the house, agog. All the family suffered from this, as though they’d been stood in the pillory, and felt themselves marked out for low and vulgar, mean-spirited gossip.
Life became intolerable around Clélie. At bay, Annie forced herself to keep silent. Things were no easier at the factory. Mlle Virot stealthily doubled her persecutions, stoking jealousy among Annie’s colleagues, distrust in her bosses. M. Fleuron, one of the directors, having uncovered an error of 0.75 francs in her accounts, expressed the fear that poetry would occupy her mind, to the detriment of exact calculations.
And Sylvain maintained his withdrawal, invisible to her.
One day Mlle Virot drew particular attention to an article in the Breton Buzz as a masterpiece of good sense and wit. Called to the telephone, Annie returned to find the whole department atwitter. She appeared, and they stifled their laughter. At the first kiosk, she bought a copy, piqued and seeking avidly for the piece in question, by-lined Clitandre.*
As she had predicted, his ironic badinage was directed against her and her work. Clitandre ridiculed the pretensions of Armande; he called employing the style of Molière a conceit, a “shocking ambition”, “scholarship for the sake of scholarship”. He condemned alike her wish to “write and become an author”.
“Gentlemen, my brothers,” he added, lecturing, “if you care for your wellbeing and your security, guard yourself against these little toffee-nosed bluestockings, and confide, rather, your fortunes to some fairylike charmer of the truly feminine type, whose only use for the plume is to decorate her hat.”
Annie felt raked through the heart. The acerbic tone, the stylings of this persiflage, she believed she recognized as Sylvain’s. Her frank nature urged that she demand clarification from the one suspected…but a scruple of dignity held her back. What was the good in it? If their friendship had died, nothing would revive it. And his long silence justified all conjecture…
But hope lay so rooted in the depths of her soul, that Annie, carrying on this discussion with herself, could not admit what a moment ago had appeared so evident. Was she unfair to Sylvain, to think him backstabbing in his disappointment, when mere self-esteem was at stake? And even…were he really the author of this critique…could his discontent have come from a more understandable motive? The male instinct was always to seek supremacy, to shut a woman away, as the ancient Greeks with their gynaecea…
Then…while pretending exemption from these old prejudices, Barral, unknown to himself, shared the hereditary pride of his sex. He disliked seeing the girl of his choice exposed to the glare of publicity. And didn’t she feel it too, the wounded dismay of a modest young woman?
The idea took stronger hold, and Annie came to regard Clitandre’s gibes as an outburst, a fit of temper. She waited the postponed reunion with a stinging impatience.
But at the office the truth came out. Mlle Virot was a bit late one afternoon. She excused herself coyly; she had lost track of time in the company of a friend from Vitré. The friend had shared the rumor of a marriage, one that should interest the house of Soufflet. It was the daughter of a novelty shop mogul who’d engaged herself, the friend said, to a young man from Rennes…well known to the factory. Very dark, Arabic in type…as nice to look at as he was smart…this and that…
“So who do you think?”
“Sylvain Barral, get out!” said someone.
Annie, ears ringing, kept at her task without flinching. For four hours, in heartache, she braced herself, posed to ward off prying eyes. This draining tension would have to, alas, be kept up everywhere, even at home above the Lin de Bretagne. They had long coupled, in that neighborhood, the names of Sylvain and Annie…
News of the expected marriage spread, raising a murmur of astonishment. Clélie, in her brutal way, poured salt in the open wound.
“Now, I’d have wagered young Barral had you in mind! But the women in our family have no luck in love.”
Not answering this bitter apostrophe, Annie at the end of a long day climbed to the room she shared with her mother. Marceline sat before her vanity, smiling at her image, humming a waltz and dancing an artificial rose through her white hair.
Her daughter turned from her, hands over eyes, wanting to see no more, think no more.
*A character from a book of 1632 by Pierre Corneille, and a pen-name to imply a misanthropic (mis-all-thropic?) nature.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)