When I paid my first visit to the Bouville museum last year I was struck by the portrait of Olivier Blevigne. Faulty proportion? Perspective? I couldn’t tell, but something bothered me: this deputy didn’t seem plumb on his canvas.
I have gone back several times since then. But my worry persisted. I didn’t want to admit that Bordurin, Prix de Rome, had made a mistake in his drawing.
But this afternoon, turning the pages of an old collection of the Satirique Bouvillois, a blackmail- sheet whose owner was accused of high treason during the war, I caught a glimpse of the truth. I went to the museum as soon as I left the library.
I crossed the shadow of the vestibule quickly. My steps made no sound on the black and white tiles. A whole race of plaster folk twisted their arms. In passing I glanced, through two great openings, and saw cracked vases, plates, and a blue and yellow satyr on a pedestal. It was the Bernard Palissy Room, devoted to ceramics and minor arts. But ceramics do not amuse me. A lady and gentleman in mourning were respectfully contemplating the baked objects.
Above the entrance to the main hall—the Salon Bordurin-Renaudas—someone had hung, undoubtedly only a little while ago, a large canvas which I did not recognize. It was signed by Richard Severand and entitled “The Bachelor’s Death.” It was a gift of the State.
Naked to the waist, his body a little green, like that of a dead man, the bachelor was lying on an unmade bed. The disorder of sheets and blankets attested to a long death agony. I smiled, thinking about M. Fasquelle. But he wasn’t alone: his daughter was taking care of him. On the canvas, the maid, his mistress, her features marked by vice, had already opened a bureau drawer and was counting the money. An open door disclosed a man in a cap, a cigarette stuck to his lower lip, waiting in the shadows. Near the wall a cat lapped milk indifferently.
This man had lived only for himself. By a harsh and well-deserved punishment, no one had come to his bedside to close his eyes. This painting gave me a last warning: there was still time, I could retrace my steps. But if I were to turn a deaf ear, I had been forewarned: more than a hundred and fifty portraits were hanging on the wall of the room I was about to enter; with the exception of a few young people, prematurely taken from their families, and the mother superior of a boarding school, none of those painted had died a bachelor, none of them had died childless or intestate, none without the last rites. Their souls at peace that day as on other days, with God and the world, these men had slipped quietly into death, to claim their share of eternal life to which they had a right.
For they had a right to everything: to life, to work, to wealth, to command, to respect, and, finally, to immortality.
I took a moment to compose myself and entered. A guardian was sleeping near the window. A pale light, falling from the windows, made flecks on the paintings. Nothing alive in this great rectangular room, except a cat who was frightened at my approach and fled. But I felt the looks of a hundred and fifty pairs of eyes on me.
All who belonged to the Bouville elite between 1875 and 1910 were there, men and women, scrupulously painted by Renaudas and Bordurin.
The men had built Sainte-Cecile-de-la-Mer. In 1882, they founded the Federation of Shipowners and Merchants of Bouville “to group in one powerful entity all men of good will, to co-operate in national recovery and to hold in check the parties of disorder. . . .” They made Bouville the best equipped port in France for unloading coal and wood. The lengthening and widening of the quays were their work. They extended the Marine Terminal and, by constant dredging, brought the low-tide depth of anchorage to 10.7 meters. In twenty years, the catch of the fishing fleet which was 5,000 barrels in 1869, rose, thanks to them, to 18,000 barrels. Stopping at no sacrifice to assist the im- provement of the best elements in the working-class, they created, on their own initiative, various centres for technical and professional study which prospered under their lofty protection. They broke the famous shipping strike in 1898 and gave their sons to their country in 1914.
The women, worthy helpmates of these strugglers, founded most of the town’s charitable and philanthropic organizations. But above all, they were wives and mothers. They raised fine children, taught them rights and duties, religion, and a respect for the traditions which made France great.
The general complexion of these portraits bordered on dark brown. Lively colours had been banished, out of decency. However, in the portraits of Renaudas, who showed a partiality towards old men, the snowy hair and sidewhiskers showed up well against deep black backgrounds; he excelled in painting hands. Bordurin, who was a little weak on theory, sacrificed the hands somewhat but the collars shone like white marble.
It was very hot; the guardian was snoring gently. I glanced around the walls: I saw hands and eyes; here and there a spot of light obliterated a face. As I began walking towards the portrait of Olivier Blevigne, something held me back: from the moulding, Pacome, the merchant, cast a bright look down on me.
He was standing there, his head thrown slightly back; in one hand he held a top hat and gloves against his pearl-grey trousers. I could not keep myself from a certain admiration: I saw nothing mediocre in him, nothing which allowed of criticism: small feet, slender hands, wide wrestler’s shoulders, a hint of whimsy. He courteously offered visitors the unwrinkled purity of his face; the shadow of a smile played on the lips. But his grey eyes were not smiling. He must have been about fifty: but he was as young and fresh as a man of thirty. He was beautiful.
I gave up finding fault with him. But he did not let go of me. I read a calm and implacable judgment in his eyes.
Then I realized what separated us: what I thought about him could not reach him; it was psychology, the kind they write about in books. But his judgment went through me like a sword and questioned my very right to exist. And it was true, I had always realized it; I hadn’t the right to exist. I had appeared by chance, I existed like a stone, a plant or a microbe. My life put out feelers towards small pleasures in every direction. Sometimes it sent out vague signals; at other times I felt nothing more than a harmless buzzing.
But for this handsome, faultless man, now dead, for Jean Pacome, son of the Pacome of the Defence Nationale, it had been an entirely different matter: the beating of his heart and the mute rumblings of his organs, in his case, assumed the form of rights to be instantly obeyed. For sixty years, without a halt, he had used his right to live. The slightest doubt had never crossed those magnificent grey eyes. Pacome had never made a mistake. He had always done his duty, all his duty, his duty as son, husband, father, leader. He had never weakened in his demands for his due: as a child, the right to be well brought up, in a united family, the right to inherit a spotless name, a prosperous business; as a husband, the right to be cared for, surrounded with tender affection; as a father, the right to be venerated; as a leader, the right to be obeyed without a murmur. For a right is nothing more than the other aspect of duty. His extraordinary success (today the Pacomes are the richest family in Bouville) could never have surprised him. He never told himself he was happy, and while he was enjoying himself he must have done so with moderation, saying: “This is my refreshment.” Thus pleasure itself, also becoming a right, lost its aggressive futility. On the left, a little above his bluish-grey hair, I noticed a shelf of books. The bindings were handsome; they were surely classics. Every evening before going to sleep, Pacome undoubtedly read over a few pages of “his old Montaigne” or one of Horace’s odes in the Latin text. Sometimes, too, he must have read a contemporary work to keep up to date. Thus he knew Barres and Bourget. He would put his book down after a moment. He would smile. His look, losing its admirable circumspection, became almost dreamy. He would say: “How easy and how difficult it is to do one’s duty.”
He had never looked any further into himself: he was a leader.
There were other leaders on the walls: nothing but leaders. He was a leader—this tall, ver-de-gris man in his armchair. His white waistcoat was a happy reminder of his silver hair. (Attention to artistry was not excluded from these portraits, which were above all painted for moral edification, and exactitude was pushed to the furthest limit of scruple.) His long, slender hand was placed on the head of a small boy. An open book rested on his knees which were covered by a rug. But his look had strayed into the distance. He was seeing all those things which are invisible to young people. His name was written on a plaque of gilded wood below his portrait: his name must have been Pacome or Parrottin, or Chaigneau. I had not thought of looking: for his close relatives, for this child, for himself, he was simply the grandfather; soon, if he deemed the time fitting to instruct his grandson about the scope of his future duties, he would speak of himself in the third person:
“You’re going to promise your grandfather to be good, my boy, to work hard next year. Perhaps Grandfather won’t be here any more next year.”
In the evening of his life, he scattered his indulgent goodness over everyone. Even if he were to see me—though to him I was transparent—I would find grace in his eyes: he would think that I, too, had grandparents once. He demanded nothing: one has no more desires at that age. Nothing except for people to lower their voices slightly when he entered, nothing except a touch of tenderness and smiling respect when he passed, nothing except for his daughter-in-law to say sometimes: “Father is amazing; he’s younger than all of us”; nothing except to be the only one able to calm the temper of his grandson by putting his hands on the boy’s head and saying: “Grandfather knows how to take care of all those troubles”; nothing except for his son, several times a year, to come asking his advice on delicate matters; finally, nothing more than to feel himself serene, appeased, and infinitely wise. The old gentleman’s hand barely weighed on his grandson’s curls: it was almost a benediction. What could he be thinking of? Of his honourable past which conferred on him the right to speak on everything and to have the last word on everything. I had not gone far enough the other day: experience was much more than a defence against death; it was a right; the right of old men.
General Aubry, hanging against the moulding, with his great sabre, was a leader. Another leader: President Hebert, well read, friend of Impetraz. His face was long and symmetrical with an interminable chin, punctuated, just under the lip, by a goatee: he thrust out his jaw slightly, with the amused air of being distinguished, of rolling out an objection on principles like a faint belch. He dreamed, he held a quill pen: he was taking his relaxation too, by Heaven, and it was writing verses. But he had the eagle eye of a leader.
And soldiers? I was in the centre of the room, the cynosure of all these grave eyes. I was neither father nor grandfather, not even a husband. I did not have a vote, I hardly paid any taxes: I could not boast of being a taxpayer, an elector, nor even of having the humble right to honour which twenty years of obedience confers on an employee. My existence began to worry me seriously. Was I not a simple spectre? “Hey!” I suddenly told myself, “I am the soldier!” It really made me laugh.
A portly quinquagenarian politely returned a handsome smile. Renaudas had painted him with loving care, no touch was too tender for those fleshy, finely-chiselled little ears, especially for the hands, long, nervous, with loose fingers: the hands of a real savant or artist. His face was unknown to me: I must have passed before the canvas often without noticing it. I went up to it and read: Remy Parrottin, born in Bouville in 1849, Professor at the Ecole de Medecine, Paris. Parrottin: Doctor Wakefield had spoken to me of him: “Once in my life I met a great man, Remy Parrottin. I took courses under him during the winter of 1904 (you know I spent two years in Paris studying obstetrics). He made me realize what it was to be a leader. He had it in him, I swear he did. He electrified us, he could have led us to the ends of the earth. And with all that he was a gentleman: he had an immense fortune-gave a good part of it to help poor students.”
This is how this prince of science, the first time I heard him spoken of, inspired strong feelings in me. Now I stood before him and he was smiling at me. What intelligence and affability in his smile! His plump body rested leisurely in the hollow of a great leather armchair. This unpretentious wise man put people at their ease immediately. If it hadn’t been for the spirit in his look you would have taken him for just anybody.
It did not take long to guess the reason for his prestige: he was loved because he understood everything; you could tell him anything. He looked a little like Renan, all in all, with more distinction. He was one of those who say:
“Socialists? Well, I go further than they do!” When you followed him down this perilous road you were soon to leave behind, not without a shiver, family, country, private property rights, and the most sacred values. You even doubted for a second the right of the bourgeois elite to command. Another step and suddenly everything was re-established, miraculously founded on solid reason, good old reasons. You turned around and saw the Socialists, already far behind you, all tiny, waving their handkerchiefs and shouting: “Wait for us!”
Through Wakefield I knew that the Master liked, as he himself said with a smile, “to deliver souls.” To prolong his own, he surrounded himself with youth: he often received young men of good family who were studying medicine. Wakefield had often been to his house for luncheon. After the meal they retired to the smoking-room. The Master treated these students who were at their first cigarettes like men: he offered them cigars. He stretched out on a divan and discoursed at great length, his eyes half-closed, surrounded by an eager crowd of disciples. He evoked memories, told stories, drawing a sharp and profound moral from each. And if there were among those well-bred young men one who seemed especially headstrong, Parrottin would take a special interest in him. He made him speak, listened to him attentively, gave him ideas and subjects for meditation. It usually happened that one day the young man, full of generous ideas, excited by the hostility of his parents, weary of thinking alone, his hand against every man, asked to visit the Master privately, and, stammering with shyness, confided in him his most intimate thoughts, his indignations, his hopes. Par-rottin embraced him. He said: “I understand you. I understood you from the first day.” They talked on. Parrottin went far, still farther, so far that the young man followed him with great difficulty. After a few conversations of this sort one could detect a favourable change in the young rebel. He saw clearly within himself, he learned to know the deep bonds which attached him to his family, to his environment; at last he understood the admirable role of the elite. And finally, as if by magic, found himself once again, enlightened, repentant. “He cured more souls,” concluded Wakefield, “than I’ve cured bodies.”
Remy Parrottin smiled affably at me. He hesitated, tried to understand my position, to turn gently and lead me back to the fold. But I wasn’t afraid of him: I was no lamb. I looked at his fine forehead, calm and unwrinkled, his small belly, his hand set flat against his knee. I returned his smile and left.
Jean Parrottin, his brother, president of the S.A.B., leaned both hands on the edge of a table loaded with papers; his whole attitude signified to the visitor that the audience was over. His look was extraordinary; although abstracted yet shining with high endeavour. His dazzling eyes devoured his whole face. Behind this glow I noticed the thin, tight lips of a mystic. “It’s odd,” I said, “he looks like Remy Parrottin.” I turned to the Great Master: examining him in the light of this resemblance, a sense of aridity and desolation, a family resemblance took possession of his face. I went back to Jean Parrottin.
This man was one-ideaed. Nothing more was left in him but bones, dead flesh and Pure Right. A real case of possession, I thought. Once Right has taken hold of a man exorcism cannot drive it out; Jean Parrottin had consecrated his whole life to thinking about his Right: nothing else. Instead of the slight headache I feel coming on each time I visit a museum, he would have felt the painful right of having his temples cared for. It never did to make him think too much, or attract his attention to unpleasant realities, to his possible death, to the sufferings of others. Undoubtedly, on his death bed, at that moment when, ever since Socrates, it has been proper to pronounce certain elevated words, he told his wife, as one of my uncles told his, who had watched beside him for twelve nights, “I do not thank you, Therese; you have only done your duty.” When a man gets that far, you have to take your hat off to him.
His eyes, which I stared at in wonderment, indicated that
I must leave. I did not leave. I was resolutely indiscreet. I knew, as a result of studying at great length a certain portrait of Philip II in the library of the Escurial, that when one is confronted with a face sparkling with righteousness, after a moment this sparkle dies away, and only an ashy residue remains: this residue interested me.
Parrottin put up a good fight. But suddenly his look burned out, the picture grew dim. What was left? Blind eyes, the thin mouth of a dead snake, and cheeks. The pale, round cheeks of a child: they spread over the canvas. The employees of the S.A.B. never suspected it: they never stayed in Parrottin’s office long enough. When they went in, they came up against that terrible look like a wall. From behind it, the cheeks were in shelter, white and flabby. How long did it take his wife to notice them? Two years? Five years? One day, I imagine, as her husband was sleeping, on his side with a ray of light caressing his nose, or else on a hot day, while he was having trouble with his digestion, sunk into an armchair, his eyes half-closed, with a splash of sunlight on his chin, she dared to look him in the face: all this flesh appeared to her defenceless, bloated, slobbering, vaguely obscene. From that day on, Mme Parrottin undoubtedly took command.
I took a few steps backward and in one glance covered all these great personages: Pacome, President Hebert, both Parrot-tins, and General Aubry. They had worn top hats; every Sunday on the Rue Tournebride they met Mme Gratien, the mayor’s wife, who saw Sainte Cecile in a dream. They greeted her with great ceremonious salutes, the secret of which is now lost.
They had been painted very minutely; yet, under the brush, their countenances had been stripped of the mysterious weakness of men’s faces. Their faces, even the last powerful, were clear as porcelain: in vain I looked for some relation they could bear to trees and animals, to thoughts of earth or water. In life they evidently did not require it. But, at the moment of passing on to posterity, they had confided themselves to a renowned painter in order that he should discreetly carry out on their faces the system of dredgings, drillings, and irrigations by which, all around Bouville, they had transformed the sea and the land.
Thus, with the help of Renaudas and Bordurin, they had enslaved Nature: without themselves and within themselves. What these sombre canvases offered to me was man reconsidered by man, with, as sole adornment, the finest conquest of man: a bouquet of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Without mental reservation, I admired the reign of man.
A woman and a man came in. They were dressed in black and tried to make themselves inconspicuous. They stopped, enchanted, on the doorstep and the man automatically took off his hat.
“Ah!” the lady said, deeply touched.
The gentleman quickly regained his sang-froid. He said respectfully: “It’s a whole era!”
“Yes,” the lady said, “this is in the time of my grandmother.”
They took a few steps and met the look of Jean Parrottin. The woman stood gaping, but the man was not proud: he looked humble, he must have known intimidating looks and brief interviews well. He tugged gently at the woman’s arm.
“Look at that one,” he said.
Remy Parrottin’s smile had always put the humble at ease. The woman went forward and read studiously:
“Portrait of Remy Parrottin, born in Bouville in 1849. Professor of the Ecole de Medecine, Paris, by Renaudas.”
“Parrottin, of the Academy of Science,” her husband said, “by Renaudas of the Institute. That’s History!”
The lady nodded, then looked at the Great Master.
“How handsome he is,” she said, “how intelligent he looks!” The husband made an expansive gesture.
“They’re the ones who made Bouville what it is,” he said with simplicity. “It’s right to have had them put here, all together,” the woman said tenderly.
We were three soldiers manoeuvring in this immense hall. The husband who laughed with respect, silently, shot me a troubled glance and suddenly stopped laughing. A sweet joy flooded over me: well, I was right! It was really too funny.
The woman came near me.
“Gaston,” she said, suddenly bold, “come here!” The husband came towards us.
“Look,” she went on, “he has a street named after him:
Olivier Blevigne. You know, the little street that goes up the Coteau Vert just before you get to Jouxtebouville.”
After an instant, she added: “He doesn’t look exactly easy.”
“No. Some people must have found him a pretty awkward customer.”
These words were addressed to me. The man, watching me out of the corner of his eye, began to laugh softly, this time with a conceited air, a busy-body, as if he were Olivier Blevigne himself.
Olivier Blevigne did not laugh. He thrust his compact jaw towards us and his Adam’s apple jutted out.
There was a moment of ecstatic silence.
“You’d think he was going to move,” the lady said. The husband explained obligingly:
“He was a great cotton merchant. Then he went into politics; he was a deputy.”
I knew it. Two years ago I had looked him up in the Petit Dictionnaire des Grands Hommes de Bouville by Abbe Morellet. I copied the article.
“Blevigne, Olivier-Martial, son of the late Olivier-Martial Blevigne, horn and died in Bouville (1849-1908), studied law in Paris, passed Bar examinations in 1872. Deeply impressed lay the Commune insurrection, which forced him, as it did so many other Parisians, to take refuge in Versailles under the protection of the National Assembly, he swore, at an age when young men think only of pleasure, ‘to consecrate his life to the re-establishment of order.’ He kept his word: immediately after his return to our city, he founded the famous Club de I’Ordre which every evening for many years united the principal businessmen and shipowners of Bouville. This aristocratic circle, which one might jokingly describe as being more restricted than the jockey Club, exerted, until 1908, a salutary influence on the destiny of our great commercial port. In 1880, Olivier Blevigne married Marie-Louise Pacome, younger daughter of Charles Pacome, businessman (see Pacome’), and at the death of the latter, founded the company of Pacome-Blevigne & Son. Shortly thereafter he entered actively into politics and placed his candidature before the deputation.
” ‘The country,’ he said in a celebrated speech, ‘is suffering from a most serious malady: the ruling class no longer wants to rule. And who then shall rule, gentlemen, if those who, by their heredity, their education, their experience, have been rendered most fit for the exercising of power, turn from it in resignation or weariness? I have often said: to rule is not a right of the elite; it is a primary duty of the elite. Gentlemen, I beg of you: let us restore the principle of authority?
“Elected first on October 4, 1885, he was constantly re-elected thereafter. Of an energetic and virile eloquence, he delivered many brilliant speeches. He was in Paris in 1898 when the terrible strike broke out. He returned to Bouville immediately and became the guiding spirit of the resistance. He took the initiative of negotiating with the strikers. These negotiations, inspired by an open-minded attempt at conciliation, were interrupted by the small uprising in Jouxtebouville. We know that the timely intervention of the military restored calm to our minds.
“The premature death of his son Octave, who had entered the Ecole Poly’technique at a very early age and of whom he wanted to ‘make a leader’ was a terrible blow to Olivier Blevigne. He was never to recover from it and died two years later, in February, 1908.
“Collected speeches: Moral Forces (1894: out of print), The Duty to Punish (1900: all speeches in this collection were given a propos of the Dreyfus Case: out of print), Will-power (1902: out of print). After his death, his last speeches and a few letters to intimate friends were collected under the title Labour Im-probus (Plon, 1910). Iconography: there is an excellent portrait of him, by Bordurin, at the Bouville museum.”
An excellent portrait, granted. Olivier Blevigne had a small black moustache, and his olive-tinted face somewhat resembled Maurice Barres. The two men had surely met each other: they used to sit on the same benches. But the deputy from Bouville did not have the nonchalance of the President of the League of Patriots. He was stiff as a poker and sprang at you from his canvas like a jack-in-the-box. His eyes sparkled: the pupil was black, the cornea reddish. He pursed up his fleshy little mouth and held his right hand against his breast.
How this portrait annoyed me! Sometimes Blevigne seemed too large or too small to me. But today I knew what to look for.
I had learned the truth turning over the pages of the Satirique Bouvillois. The issue of 6 November, 1905 was devoted entirely to Blevigne. He was pictured on the cover, tiny, hanging on to the mane of old Combes, and the caption read: “The Lion’s Louse.” Everything was explained from the first page on: Olivier Blevigne was only five feet tall. They mocked his small stature and squeaking voice which more than once threw the whole Chamber into hysterics. They accused him of putting rubber lifts in his shoes. On the other hand, Mme Blevigne, nee Pacome, was a horse. “Here we can well say,” the paper added, “that his other half is his double.”
Five feet tall! Yes, Bordurin, with jealous care, had surrounded him with objects which ran no risk of diminishing him; a hassock, a low armchair, a shelf with a few little books, a small Persian table. Only he had given him the same stature as his neighbour Jean Parrottin and both canvases had the same dimensions. The result was that the small table, in one picture, was almost as large as the immense table in the other, and that the hassock would have almost reached Parrottin’s shoulder. The eye instinctively made a comparison between the two: my discomfort had come from that.
Now I wanted to laugh. Five feet tall! If I had wanted to talk to Blevigne I would have had to lean over or bend my knees. I was no longer surprised that he held up his nose so impetuously: the destiny of these small men is always working itself out a few inches above their head.
Admirable power of art. From this shrill-voiced mannikin, nothing would pass on to posterity save a threatening face, a superb gesture and the bloodshot eyes of a bull. The student terrorised by the Commune, the deputy, a bad-tempered midget; that was what death had taken. But, thanks to Bordurin, the President of the Club de l’Ordre, the orator of “Moral Forces,” was immortal.
“Oh, poor little Pipo!”
The woman gave a stifled cry: under the portrait of Octave Blevigne “son of the late …” a pious hand had traced these words:
“Died at the Ecole Poly technique in 1904.” “He’s dead! Just like the Arondel boy. He looked intelligent. How hard it must have been for his poor mother! They make them work too hard in those big schools. The brain works, while you’re asleep. I like those two-cornered hats, it looks so stylish. Is that what you call a ‘cassowary?'”
“No. They have cassowaries at Saint-Cyr.” In my turn I studied the prematurely dead polytechnician. His wax complexion and well-groomed moustache would have been enough to turn one’s idea to approaching death. He had foreseen his fate as well: a certain resignation could be read in his clear, far-seeing eyes. But at the same time he carried his head high; in this uniform he represented the French Army.
Tu Marcellus erisl Manibus date lilia flenis . . .
A cut rose, a dead poly technician: what could be sadder?
I quietly followed the long gallery, greeting in passing, without stopping, the distinguished faces which peered from the shadows: M. Bossoire, President of the Board of Trade; M. Faby, President of the Board of Directors of the Autonomous Port of Bouville; M. Boulange, businessman, with his family; M. Ranne-quin, Mayor of Bouville; M. de Lucien, born in Bouville, French Ambassador to the United States and a poet as well; an unknown dressed like a prefect; Mother Sainte-Marie-Louise, Mother Superior of the Orphan Asylum; M. and Mme Thereson; M. Thi-boust-Gouron, General President of the Trades Council; M. Bo-bot, principle administrator of the Inscription Maritime; Messrs. Brion, Minette, Grelot, Lefebvre, Dr. and Mme Pain, Bordurin himself, painted by his son, Pierre Bordurin. Clear, cold looks, fine features, thin lips, M. Boulange was economical and patient, Mother Sainte-Marie-Louise of an industrious piety, M. Thiboust-Gouron was as hard on himself as on others. Mme Thereson struggled without weakening against deep illness. Her infinitely weary mouth told unceasingly of her suffering. But this pious woman had never said: “It hurts.” She took the upper hand: she made up bills of fare and presided over welfare societies. Sometimes, she would slowly close her eyes in the middle of a sentence and all traces of life would leave her face. This fainting spell lasted hardly more than a second; shortly afterward, Mme Thereson would re-open her eyes and finish her sentence. And in the work room they whispered: “Poor Mme Thereson! She never complains.”
I had crossed the whole length of the salon Bordurin-Renaudas. I turned back. Farewell, beautiful lilies, elegant in your painted little sanctuaries, good-bye, lovely lilies, our pride and reason for existing, good-bye you bastards!
Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905-1980 La nausée,1938 Nausea