Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part sixteen)
“And your novel, is it going well for you?”
The correspondence run through, a teacher comforted, a candidate for academic laurels encouraged, a matter of litigation between a mayor and his constituents appeased, the political man took his leave and the writer his place. Patrice Conan lit a cigarette. Then he asked his question.
Annie chewed mechanically on her penholder, as she’d done when a schoolgirl, stymied by a problem or embarrassed to give an answer. “I’m afraid…afraid I’ll never be better than that feckless Méléda de Trémorvan, that dilettante who buries you in manuscripts.”
“So much and so little, yes! Then, you are not content with your own?”
“Can anyone ever be?”
“No. And it is a measure of worth to be hard on yourself.”
“But the anxiety! My resources are my being, my moral truth, my imagination, my intuition, but all these elements that I have to marshal and make clear, will they seem realistic, sensible, to an unknown reader…am I interesting? To conquer public taste seems as extravagant an ambition as to please my aunt Clélie!”
“This aunt, however, appears to have been an ogress.”
“I thought so, or close to it!” Pensive, she added: “But an enemy is a benefactor in disguise, as Emerson says. By that accounting, my aunt has done me a service. Her tedium fed my desire to escape! Among the spiderwebs and dust in the attic, the little imp that lives in my head looked for its ray of light, to dance and sparkle with the motes!”
“The window is open. The little imp may waltz freely…I wish with all my heart that your world will be broader and loftier now. The Mermaid Delivered will greet the sun without dying!”
Annie lifted her eyes in delight, to the gaze that smiled on her kindly; she hesitated, blushed, and began to laugh.
“Should I tell you something silly? Your wishes are in accord with destiny, so it seems. Yesterday a woman who practices fortunetelling came to dinner at my house, and insisted on studying my palms. For fun, I went along…she saw extraordinary signs in all these crosshatchings, and naturally, predicted my success! I’d love to believe it. But the psychology is more interesting than her prophecies. She pretended to decipher the font of my character and intellect, and told me I was one of the shining ones. Her term…the shining ones, I understand, sit in opposition to the shadowed ones, who absorb all and reflect nothing, draining the vitality of others and emanating only darkness—the parasites and the ingrates! On the contrary, the shining ones radiate joy, enthusiasm, hope, courage, and generosity. They tuck away their sad secrets and reflect only light. How pleasing to be worthy of so much flattery!” She laughed up at him. “I’ll try to be that way in the future!”
“But I see all this in you already!” Patrice told her seriously. “For the setbacks of your childhood, have you turned hard and bitter? Have you ever been one to give ill for ill? No! Certain natures are poison, others are honey. The same experiences produce different results in accordance with the individual, a sort of moral chemistry. The shining ones are synonymous with the ‘makers of joy’ of Dora Melegari. So make joy! It is a noble mission belonging to a generous nature. You’ve tried to do this already in your novel, your appeal for pity on a child’s distress. You know, yesterday, I had the temerity to announce your feuilleton for September’s Voix de Paris.”
“I hope to be ready by then, monsieur. I’m just to where the grandfather carries off the little boy to save him from the woman’s abuses, and his father’s excuse-making and bad example… An unworthy father, not capable of raising his son. The grandfather has to hide afterwards under a false name, and work with his hands; but poverty gives the child an education in strength and courage that will make him a man.”
“To make a man. A redoubtable task!” Patrice spoke aloud, a faraway look in his eyes. “Sad to think so many of the poor little creatures suffer and waste away, while others are too pampered…more ill-prepared for life than if they’d borne the mistreatments of a stepmother!”
Annie did not take him up on this reflection, which led to an association of ideas whose sequel she knew. Little Olivier escaped entirely his father’s influence. Held back by his long malady, frail, but above all apathetic, he deployed an incredible cleverness in avoiding the doing of anything. His mother hovered and coddled him indiscriminately. At the least check the little boy would become feverish, exaggerating his illness, simulating a nervous state that kept those around him in constant anxiety. By this he won; he sidestepped any paternal correction.
This powerlessness to govern his son must sadden Patrice. But was it the sole cause of the clouds so often gathered on his brow, the weariness his face betrayed?
The door came open at a push. Mme Conan entered, full of business, lovely and elegant in her dress of grey satin, embroidered with a fine, metallic thread.
“The dressmaker has brought me my hostess outfit! I’ll have you do the honors…how do you find me? I believe there’s a crease at the armholes in the back—do you think, Mlle Le Goël?”
Annie reassured Mme Conan, giving to the masterpiece appropriate praise. The young wife turned, smiling. “Ah, mademoiselle Annie, I’ll ask you a favor…I know you! You won’t refuse! My friend Marthe and her daughters were to help at my reception. But disaster…the flu! Will you come this afternoon to replace them?”
Dora Melegari was an actual philosophical writer, of Alanic’s day, and below is an excerpt from Makers of Sorrow and Makers of Joy, the book referenced above.
This older psychology which divided men dogmatically into good and bad, wise and foolish, strong and weak, pure and impure, atheist and believer, contained too many, or too insufficient, shades of differences. Would it not be better and more practical to divide men henceforth into two new classes, corresponding to the future tendencies toward which we are drifting, “Makers of Sorrow and Makers of Joy,” since every day it becomes more evident that this classification will become the true measure of a man’s worth?
Christianity seems foremost in returning to simple formulas and concentrating her forces on two principal ideas: The fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man. Hence brotherly love tends to become, and a thousand symptoms indicate its acceptance as, the true touchstone of religious life. Moreover, logic demands universal fraternity, because to refuse to recognize the visible brother is equivalent to denying a common and invisible Father.
Dora Melegari, Funk and Wagnalls, 1910, translated by Marian Lindsay
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)