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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Whyt we hate "salon novels"


It really looked as if Guy de Maupassant’s last (completed) novel, Alien Souls, would end on a positive note. As noted in yesterday’s post, it’s impossible today to read about the Parisian salons with all their back-biting, pomposity, frivolity, and obsession with social rank w/out feeling contempt for these people and their miserable lives. In this novel, the wealthy dillettant Mariolle ends his relationship with the flirtatious and emotionally cold socialite, Madame de Brune: He realizes that he is still in love with her, but she can never return his love, as she is w/out passion and emotionally (and sexually) frigid. He writes her a letter breaking off their relationship and announcing that he’s leaving Paris for points unknown. In the short 3rd and final section we see him in the suburb of Fountainbleu, home then to many artists. He rents a small house and wallows for a time in his sadness and longing – even the natural beauty of the surroundings cannot assuage him. Eventually, he strikes up a friendship with an attractive young waitress in the nearby hotel; when he learns that she is being abused by patrons (and her boss), he hires her to be his domestic help, and of course we can see where this is headed. Shortly, he is involved sexually, and romantically, with her, and we learn of her difficult childhood in Paris and her need to escape. But then – Mme de Brune comes to visit, and Mariolle realizes he still loves her and will follow her back to Paris – leaving the young Elisabeth in despair. Bad decision? It’s worse: Mariolle tells Elisabeth he’ll bring her to Paris and set her up as his mistress, and she readily agrees – so they’re off to Paris (and no doubt to a sequel that died with Maupassant). So here is a novel that came so close to being romantic and morally above board – if only the protagonist had turned his back on the corrupt world of Paris and realized he had met a wonderful woman who loves him in return. But, no, the only course he can see is to subjugate her, to bring her into the world of moral corruption – and she timidly accepts this offer. Terrible – if there were a sequel he would probably get what he deserves, but she would probably suffer, too, in the process. We can only imagine: Elisabeth rises in society, displaces Mme de Brune as the “it girl,” and in then end is left alone and unloved.

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