A Christmas Tale

The Little Shoes
by M. Louis Ganderax.

(Revue des Deux-Mondes 1st January 1892)

   Perhaps the sweetest of those flowers of love which reflection blights so very quickly is what one might call a mystical faith in the future. The unhappy lover, rejected today as he was the day before, hopes that tomorrow the one he loves, and who does not love him, will suddenly begin to love him; - he, whose strength in not equal to the task necessary to fulfil it, tells himself: "Tomorrow, as if by some enchantment, I shall find the willpower that I lack" ; - all those who in the end, with eyes raised to the East, wait for a blinding light, in which they have complete faith, to appear and light up their melancholy sky, all those people place an almost mystical hope in the future, in the sense that it is the product of their sole desire which cannot be justified by any act of reason. Alas! the day comes when we no longer wait every moment for a passionate letter from a lover, indifferent up till now, when we understand that people's nature does not change overnight, that our desires cannot mould the wishes of others to our whims, so long as they have something behind them which impels them and against which they are unable to resist; the day comes when we understand that tomorrow can be no different from yesterday, since it is composed of it.
   Nevertheless, in certain souls which are not so withered by excessive reasoning, these mystical hopes blossom once more at certain propitious moments. On Christmas night, for example, a fragrance of hope lifts our souls towards God, souls that want to be finally improved, which want to be finally loved. Just as this fragrance must be agreeable to God, sometimes on the evening of Christmas a great artist, a true gardener of our hearts, delights in watering our hopes which are ready to open up. He justifies before the eyes of reason the daring affirmations of the sentiments with a sort of tale at the same time both plausible and mysterious, where some good fortune, only dreamed of up till then, is realized on Christmas night. This year we have had no Christmas tale. We could not apply this description, in the otherwise totally arbitrary sense that we have taken it, to the admirable Procurator of Judea by M. Anatole France. - But on the 1st of January the Revue des Deux-Mondes has brought us a late but authentic and delightful Christmas tale, The Little Shoes by M. Louis Ganderax, which we could not read without a feeling of tenderness and admiration. The way in which compassion is blended with voluptuousness makes it sweeter still. At the end of that Christmas night invisible censers diffuse incense and myrrh in the heart of M. de Nieulles and the final part of the tale is perfumed with a divine fragrance. The words of a small child touch him so much that he changes his life and returns to the side of the wife he has abandoned. Noble abandoned women who have read the Revue des Deux-Mondes, those who have been betrayed by a husband or a lover must have taken divine comfort from this little tale. What tears must have moistened these exquisite pages which will make them dream for such a long time hence of reconciliations until then thought to be impossible and will unceasingly inflame their dearest, but their most timid hopes. - Before presenting him to us in such a touching way M. Ganderax gives us an ironical portrait of M. de Nieulles, which shows a marvellous clear-sightedness of characterization by the author. Poor M. de Nieulles! During the course of his worldly life, which is no doubt quite worthless, almost unreal beside that in which his poet brings him to life, he often encounters M. de Ganderax "in society". Beneath his shirt-front lies a flawless breast-plate, behind the monocle with which he covers his eye, the only aperture to his heart by which we could penetrate into this closely guarded place, behind his carefully composed defensive attitude, he thought himself impenetrable; but the mind of M. Ganderax, incorporeal enchanter "which passes through locked doors", like Athena, has already vaulted into M. de Nieulles's heart, stripped it down to its fundamental spark, the tiny flame which gleams in the darkest of souls, allowing him to recreate it so vividly before us. M. de Ganderax respects this life that he has presented. One could also say that he is a true realist. He does not suppress beauty in the man any more than he does ugliness; he shows both the soul and the body and at the end of the tale a poetry is born thus to show us truth. In this way the most beautiful flowers of our dreams have our blood for their strength and for their roots the little white threads which are our nerves. If he has held back for us and thus concentrated all the poetry which is liberated from the story of The Little Shoes, he has made no attempt (and in this he is a poet) to "poeticize" or "idealize" his characters. If the charming miracle of love takes place at the house of a courtesan, it is not in effect because M. Ganderax is yielding to the audacious psychology of the Romantics, and the Naturalists who endow a Marion Delorme, then a Boule de Suif with virtues which they would deny to a "bourgeois". P‚querette Vernen is perhaps a loving mother. She is presented to us above all as a practical mother, eager for her daughter to be "smart" and to "behave correctly".
   But the one whom I cannot prevent myself from thinking about is the one who is absent, Mme de Nieulles, who projects across this tale in which she does not appear the shadow of her sad and charming person. Anyhow is it not a little for her that this tale was written? And is it not to affect her more that the characters are placed "in her world", a world moreover where husbands abandon their wives more than in others? Art sends its roots so deep into our social life that, in the particular fiction that serves to clothe a general truth of sentiment, the manners and tastes of a period or a class may often play a large part, and may, in a very different fashion, add greatly to the pleasure it can give us. Was it not, to some extent, because of the female audiences at court, voluptuously tortured by passion, that Racine, when, in his plays that combined pleasures and crimes, he wanted to portray the fulfilment of tragic destinies, preferred to evoke the ghosts of dead princesses and kings. Alas it is quite probable that she, Mme de Nieulles, will wait in vain for the miracle that M. Ganderax seems to announce to her by recounting it to us. But what does it matter, her deception will not be too cruel; she will not be able to reproach art for having lied to her, because by removing from her unhappiness its egotistical character, by transposing it, if we may put it like that, it has fully realized the role of an ingenious consoler. Its lies are the only realities, and if one loves them in the least out of true love, the existence of the things around us that subjugate us diminishes little by little. The power to make us happy or unhappy withdraws from them in order that our soul might grow enabling us to convert sadness into beauty. Therein lies goodness and true freedom.

Article appeared in Le Banquet, March 1892 and reprinted in Chroniques (Libraire Gallimard, 1927).


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