Letters to the Lady Upstairs by Marcel Proust – digested read
‘I pray the fighting does not reach Paris – though what will be will be, as the Duchesse de Guermantes used to say while walking among the periwinkles
Sunday 5 November 2017 17.00 GMT
Your letter gave me so much desire to see you, and then at the very moment that I received the letter, I realised you had left, for that is the very nature of an epistolary exchange, a state of joyeuse tristesse in which the two parties converse at a distance yet never enjoy the pleasure of meeting, but still one that is perhaps best suited to those whose temperament is steeped in a desire to recreate through memory, though one cannot say for certain, since memory informs our comprehension of ourselves and yet somehow obscures it, hiding our latency, our very identity through our inability to discriminate between the trivial and the consequential, creating an endless stream of consciousness that reminds me, much like the fragment of the César Franck quartet I fleetingly heard while I lay ill in bed, that through the fissures of memory comes understanding.
I thank you with all my heart for the deep consideration you have shown me in limiting the noise that your builders are making, but I urge you strongly to encourage them to make as much noise as possible between the hours of 3pm and 5pm next Tuesday, for at that time I shall be taking myself to visit the doctor, providing I am not too unwell to leave the house, in which case I shall have to beg you for absolute silence, as I am unable to work if there is the slightest movement above my head, for footsteps bring to mind the childhood anxiety of hearing Maman walking outside my bedroom door and not knowing whether she would step inside to kiss me goodnight.
I fear, Madame, that your letter was so interesting and thoughtful that for a moment it distracted me from the graveness of my many illnesses, a state of forgetting that is quite at odds with my remembrance of things past, though, heureusement, within minutes, perhaps even moments, my cough returned and I was once again able to concentrate on the important matters in hand, yet in that time of otherness I recall being tempted to go upstairs to thank you in person, but then thought better of it lest the sound of my own footsteps bring on another near fatal malady.
I must also implore your help in insisting on absolute silence throughout Tuesday morning, for on the Monday preceding it, Le Figaro is publishing several of my articles, so I shall have to leave the house to do battle with both the fog and the general public to find my way to the newsagent on Boulevard Haussmann to purchase a copy, the result of which exertion is that I am sure to be ill in bed the following day.
Madame, your reports of a war taking place in northern France are deeply troubling, and I can only pray that the fighting does not get too close to Paris for the noise would be sure to prevent me from working on the fourth volume of my work, without which the first three cannot be properly enjoyed or indeed understood, though I suppose that what will be will be, as the Duchesse de Guermantes used to say when walking among the periwinkles and the forget-me-nots, and if it is my fate to be misunderstood and extremely ill at least I have not fallen to my death from an aeroplane like my secretary, which has caused me the inconvenience and exertion of having to write this letter in person.
Forgive me, Madame, for not having replied to your last letter more quickly, as I am certain you must have been desolate not to hear my latest news, but the truth is that I was far too weak to open the envelope and so I hope it is not too indiscreet of me to inform you that I have not been at all well these past few weeks, and I must beg you for silence this coming Saturday, an inconvenience for which I was minded to send you a bouquet of lilies until a distant memory of a florist banging the front door behind him in Combray brought me out in a fever from which I am not sure I will ever fully recover, but those of us who exist primarily in the world of remembrance are bound by its susceptibilities, and I once more find myself forgetting if I have mentioned to you before how unwell I have been and that I crave your indulgence to not make so much noise.
Digested read, digested: Fermez le F up, s’il vous plait.