I haven’t heard of Franco-Swiss writer and painter Marguerite Burnat-Provins (1872-1952) until a friend read one of her books a month ago or so and the writing intrigued me. I didn’t find that book so honestly, didn’t have high expectations regarding Contes en vingt lignes – that’s always wise, Plath says.
At first, I had Georg Trakl flashbacks, unfortunately. Many short stories that resemble poems and other writings revolve around death, gallons of blood, women dying for love and such. I apologize for my untactful sincerity but the morbid – and supposedly romantic – link between love and death has become something memorable thanks to the yawns it inspires.
However, the second and third section of this collection were much better. I found some surreal and uncanny little gems that made this journey a bit more pleasant (“Le cœur”, for example, is a charming tale about a woman who casually goes to a merchant, rips her heart out and asks for a new one; also, “Le chat aux yeux rouges”, the story of Cujo’s feline version), especially the ones with recurring patterns of weather imagery (autumn and winter) and their connection with the characters’ emotions.
I also enjoyed the process of translation of course, which is always fascinating. I found myself picking certain words and comparing their versions in French, Spanish and English in terms of etymology and phonaesthetics.
There’s a lovely short story called “Dame Neige” that includes the following passage:
En marchant entre les seigles montants, au crépuscule, elle tenait entre ses deux mains son cœur impatient qui ne savait pas attendre l’aimé et, dans le ciel vert, Vénus lui souriait, avivée par la limpidité splendide de la prochaine obscurité.
An inarticulate train of thought thus began. ‘Crépuscule’ is a delicious word, not only because of the image it conveys but the sound of it. ‘Crepúsculo’, in Spanish, has a similar effect though less musicality. On the other hand, nothing poetic comes to mind when I think of ‘dusk’ – I prefer not to think about ‘twilight’. And so on and on. Besides, memories of past lessons started to accumulate in the vicinity of my brain. ‘Les robes sont rouges.’ ‘Rouges.’ ‘Rrrrouuuges.’ ‘J’aime les robes rouges.’ I never liked dresses, let alone red dresses. Rrred dresses.
A great use of time.
The moral of this fable is that on really busy weeks, I should avoid reading books that encourage this kind of analysis. I spend too much time perusing each sentence and the hours pass surprisingly quickly…
Pas un instant le soleil ne détourna son visage de cette ivresse qui lui fut un hommage et le flot des heures roula, joyeux et rapide, sans rencontrer d’écueil.
Although, nothing more rewarding than when the hours fly because of words. In any case, tributes only to words.
There’s another tale I liked, “Le coquemar”. It includes a couple of lines that became rather familiar.
Depuis lors, chaque année, quinze jours avant la Noël, je les instruis pour qu’ils sachent mieux, dans leurs pauvres maisons, égayer les isolés et les vieux qui sont toujours assis au coin du feu. Celui-ci chante plus parfaitement que les autres. Pendant les veillées, il te distraira de l’absence de ta mère et te préservera de l’ennui.
Again, Burnat-Provins’ delicate lines and their overwhelming nostalgia. And truth. As there are songs that someday will distract you from someone’s absence and save you from succumbing to ennui. Until then, how odd to be able to enjoy their presence while fearing the end.
* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.