Still Swooning Over Nemirovsky

Almost to the end of Fire in the Blood, dear blog readers!  No worries, self is only about 20 pages from the end.  Soon, self will be on to the next book in her reading list.  Then there will be none of this endless quoting of passages about rural France (whose social traditions remind self so much of Bacolod).

In the passage self has just finished reading, the novel’s narrator describes an erstwhile love, Helene, who had been married off to a man (Montrifaut) forty years older than she.  Helene bore her fate with unparalleled courage and dignity, and the villagers “all praised Helene for the way she behaved”:

But I found out something that no one else knew:  old Montrifaut was leaving only a small part of his fortune to his young wife; the rest was going to his brother’s family.  Helene knew all about these arrangements, but she was (and still is) the sort of woman whose altruism is indisputable, a part of who she is.  Helene wouldn’t be Helene if she could act out of personal interest . . .  So Helene knew that her devotion would reap no reward and it was that very fact that forced her to push this devotion to the extreme.  She had a great need to respect herself.

In the meantime, here is how the narrator describes Helene’s elderly husband, who is in the grips of an incurable illness:

The sick man suffered exhausting fits of asthma, but when I saw him he complained most about his terrible insomnia.  He was sitting up in bed . . .  wearing a scarf around his head, the way invalids used to.  He was terrifying and strange, the shadow of his large, pinched nose looming above him on the wall . . .  His voice was no more than a whisper.  “Yes,” he said, “just imagine . . .  I haven’t slept in two months.  It’s horrible.  It makes my life twice as long.”

SPOILER ALERT!  SPOILER ALERT!

The narrator takes his leave of the sick man, and Helene walks him to the front door.  As they stand whispering in the hallway, the door to the sick man’s room has been left ajar.  The two young people “see the shadow of a large, pinched nose on the wall.”  Then:

I will never forget that moment, never.  It was then that I saw our shadows, merging as one, on the whitewashed wall.  There were lamps all along the corridor, keeping watch.  All along that big, bare corridor, shadows danced, swayed, and disappeared.

“Helene,” the dying man called out, “Helene.”

Here’s something very interesting self learns about Nemirovsky from an article (a “Preface to the French edition”):  She was the breadwinner of the family, and she did it through her writing.  “Nemirovsky’s husband, who worked in a bank, earned a third of what she did; they had two daughters to support:  Denise, who was eight, and little Elisabeth, born on 20 March 1937.”

This was a woman who “had written a novel a year since 1928, as well as dozens of short stories . . . ”  It’s simply incredible.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


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