Letters to Mme Fournier

[19 July 1916]

   Madame,

   Please excuse a very ill man for only being able to put down these few words to which I attach, along with the 5000 francs that Robert asked me to send you, homage of my most respectful affection.

Marcel Proust.

 


[15 December 1917]

   Madame,

   Please excuse me if my bad eyes allow me only to add a few short words to the little message that Robert asked me to give you. Fortunately, at the moment, he is in a relatively calm sector. But I fear he will do everything possible to get to the spots where there is most action. For a long time I believed that "absence is the greatest of ills". But now I know that it is the danger faced by the ones we love. Danger faced, and in Robert's case, danger sought, it must be said in his praise. I hope that in lovely Normandy you are having a less severe time than we are in Paris. Snow and cannon, such is our lot.

 


[5 July 1918]

   Madame,

   Robert has entrusted me to have the enclosed five hundred francs sent to you. It is a pleasant opportunity for me to ask you your news. I see that you are at the seaside and I envy you. I was on the point of doing the same although not in the same region. I had dreamed of this trip because my housekeeper is less calm than me about the bombardments. But I thought that perhaps a submarine or Gothas during the journey might not make the seaside station where I was taking her any safer. With the result that I am still down here. I hope that where you are you're not running any risks, knowing full well with what courage you endure them. If you see Robert, would you be so kind as tell him by word of mouth (but not by letter) that when last he was told that I was anxious to not have any news about him, that idea did not come from me at all but from interested parties. For four years I have made it my duty never to seek, by asking him to send me news, to add further to all his hardships, to all his cares. I am only too happy when he writes to me. But I would never have him importuned in such a ridiculous way. He has certainly understood it all perfectly well.

 


 

   Madame,

   In great haste because it is impossible for me to write at the moment, I am sending you the enclosed thousand francs that Robert owes you and asked me to have sent to you. His letter distressed me because I read, as they say, between the lines that you have some vague grievance against me. And I know quite well that I don't deserve a shadow of a single one! It is true that not having seen Robert since the 1st of January and not having had a single letter from him, I may be misunderstanding something that has nothing to do with me. In any case my intentions, like my deeds and my words are, in regard to you, beyond reproach and I hope that is your opinion also.

 


102 Bd Haussm

   Madame,

   Your letter which thinks it is asking me for news, is giving it to me! Because you haven't had any for nine days. Me, for three months (two months and a half). I am used to Robert not replying to me, and I myself ask him not to because I know he has too much to do. Besides, quite often I think my letters go to his wife not to him. In any case I wrote to his wife who has not replied, and, for reasons impossible to explain here, so much more so as I am suffering badly with my eyes, I have decided not to write back to him at the moment. But you can rest assured that if Robert were in greater difficulty, or if anything happened to him, I would be informed immediately and an hour would not have gone by without me informing you in turn. If I had hoped to go and spend a few days with him as soon as my military situation has been definitively settled, unfortunately it still hasn't been and so I haven't been able to absent myself for a moment. I understand your solicitude only too well, I who have not been able to sleep since Robert left, and at each sound at the door downstairs hope for a visit from him or fear a telegram. I saw him at his mother-in-law's two days before he left for Creusot and I left him with a feeling of anxiety which led to a quite ridiculous incident. Despite the pain that my eyes are giving me I am writing to you so that you will know that we understand one another. We spent several hours together at his mother-in-law's, we both went down together along with his wife and as neither he nor I had not kept a car waiting, and as there were none around, Robert preferred that we take our leave almost in front of his mother-in-law's house, he then went back up avenue Messine on foot with his wife, me going down boulevard Haussmann. Within seconds I found a taxi and took it home where in any case I was expected. But on arrival at my door I was seized with such an anxious need to see Robert again one more time, that I couldn't go back inside and asked the taxi to go back to avenue Hoche in the hope of finding Robert still in the street. Because if he had got back I would have no possible pretext for going and ringing on their doorbell. By a stroke of luck I saw them almost at the corner of avenue Hoche. I got out and came up with the stupid pretext that I thought perhaps they needed a taxi. Because I was anxious that Robert had not been angry to see me return like that as if I wanted to find out what they were doing, and so that he could properly understand my feelings... I wrote to him at Creusot. Unfortunately my letter fell into the hands of my sister-in-law who I love very much but who was the last person I wanted to read it, as our natures are both extremely different, at least to the extent that I understand hers, although in other respects are worthy of high esteem. A few days afterwards my sister-in-law came by two trains to bring me news of Robert. Since then I have had neither any more news nor replies to my letters. In these long pages that cost me so much fatigue I wanted to prove to you how touched I have been by your kind inquietude. I will not fail to tell Robert when I see him, as in any case I have every time I've seen him.

 


 

   Madame,

   Please excuse me, suffering as much as I am, for having taken so long to reply to you. A thousand thanks for sending me news of Robert. I had some too, but it is never enough. I hardly saw him on his leave. I fear that my poorly eyes are not reading your letter very well. Because one word looks like "proud". It was qualifying the thought that made you hesitate from telling me you had some news. But I don't think it can have been pride in that since our affections have the same object and is the same, he has no rivals. But then if it could have been in the feelings of affection, of pride (that once again I fail to understand) pride would come rather from saying that you have news, rather from not saying it. Which would then be the opposite. But I am splitting hairs over a misread and misunderstood phrase. In any case your thoughtfulness, proud or not, touches me deeply, and I thank you a thousand times over for having dreamed of sending me news of which I have been deprived for so long.

 


Night of Sunday to Monday

   Madame,

   I was very touched by your thoughtfulness and by the trouble you have taken. As luck would have it I had got up and gone out, which happens to me maybe twice a month, and which I then atone for with interminable attacks. As soon as you had left her my housekeeper had the good idea to run and find me, I jumped in a taxi and left for avenue Hoche, pretending not to know that Robert was here. He alone knew the truth. And in any case I only saw him for a moment. I found him as I feared, very tired and very ill with the flu. I left him to let him sleep, and in the hope that he will accept some less onerous post, maybe in Paris. My attacks began the moment I got back, which prevents me writing to you at greater length, but I had to do it straight away.

 


 

   Madame,

   I write to you about very painful circumstances. To start where we left off, that is to say with your letter, it has pained me deeply, because Robert had not said anything to me other than he had a slight case of the flu and I thought he was arriving from duty and never doubted that he had been cared for at Amiens. He had promised to come and see me and even though I don't get over my attacks until late in the evening, and until then my bedroom is forbidden during my fumigations etc. I told him that as an exception I would see him at any time. But I was on the lookout in vain - he didn't come, so that today, not being able to stand it any more, I went out in my nightshirt, with an extreme fever, and went round to his house. To start with I will tell you that I found him very well physically, quite different from how he was the other day. I spoke to him about getting himself examined, he said it was unnecessary (and when you have told me to have a doctor sent for, I see that you do not know our way of life if you think I can do that (he has written to me twice since the start of the war), just as he would not authorize me to take any steps have him moved. But his wife who I have found long-suffering and only believed to be in bad mood, left the room for a moment to get me some caffeine and in the few moments she was gone Robert came right up to my ear and told me that his wife had been told everything concerning himself and you (in any case I don't know what the "everything" is or how she had been able to find out about it), that there had been terrible scenes at home and that I should try to write to you so that if, in the next few days, he was unable to send you any signs of life, you would not think it was indifference on his part, that he recommends the most extreme prudence on your side. At that moment his wife came back in, I was thrown into confusion as I still am as I write to you in spite of the terrible convulsions I am having that must make my writing almost illegible. But in the middle of this physical suffering, I am thinking of you and I am heartbroken about this unexpected event for which you perhaps know the explanation but I don't, and which I suppose prevents Robert and yourself from seeing each other at the very moment you would both so much want to do. Perhaps by the time you are brought this letter tomorrow morning he might even have found a way of sending you word, but I don't think his wife will leave him alone. Without suspecting who has betrayed you, that's what I think, since obviously somebody must have said something (unless a letter was discovered?). In any case I think it would be best if you burned this letter, which doesn't have the value for you of being a letter from Robert, and would be no less troublesome if it were read. But anyway, don't burn it if you prefer not to, I'll let you be the judge. If you haven't seen Robert (I haven't had time to ask him and he has asked me not to make any allusions to this if I write to him), I regret that you will not be able to see him looking so well. He was superb this evening. He is going to try to get a prolongation of a few days. If not he is going back on Monday. But he thinks he will be posted behind the lines but it can't be done in an instant. If by any chance one day you have something to pass on to me and I find I am not in a fit state to receive you, you need only have my housekeeper called, who you saw the other evening. She is a woman of very discerning feelings and felt most sympathetic towards you the other evening, with that fine intuition that women have, so you can trust in her completely. My sister-in-law detests her, but she is wrong, because I think she is very kind. On the other hand I think it will be best if you don't talk about Robert in front of the other concierges. I haven't put anything in this letter that I wanted to say to you. To a certain extent physical suffering materially prevents us from expressing moral sadness. But in its own way is that not a language too. With all my heart and my respects to you,

Marcel Proust.

 


 

[c.1919]

   Madame,

   My brother has entrusted me to have the hundred francs sent to you that he owes you. I have taken the liberty of including them with this letter. I hope the war has been less pitiless for you than it has for me, and has not left, as it has for me, all your dearest friends fallen. Fortunately, the creature who is most dear to me, my brother, has been spared. But for the sake of his health I fear the terrible hardships that his courage has made him not only accept but seek. At least it reaches me from all sides that he is doing endless good for the wounded. And they are comforted by his kindness which can be very great, like in all those who are truly brave.

 


From Bulletin d'informations proustiennes, no 41, 2011, Les Ventes, p150 - 153

Return to Front Page