From the "Goncourt Journal"
21st December 1907
Dined with Lucien Daudet who spoke to me with a touch of whimsical humour about the fabulous diamonds seen on the shoulders of Mme X..., diamonds said by Lucien in vigorously amusing language, to be sure, always the artist in his notation, revealing the wholly superior writer by the savoury choice of his epithets, to be in spite of everything a bourgeois stone, rather silly, in no way comparable, for example to emerald or ruby. And at dessert Lucien almost knocked us to the floor by what he had been told by Lefebvre de Béhaine that evening, to he Lucien, and as opposed to the opinion held by that charming woman Mme de Nadaillac, that a certain Lemoine had discovered the secret of the manufacture of diamonds. According to Lucien all this was causing furious anxieties in the world of business, in the face of the possible depreciation of unsold diamond stocks, anxieties that could well end by reaching the magistracy and leading to the imprisonment of this Lemoine for the rest of his days, in a sort of in pace, for the crime of lèse-bijouterie. It is more powerful than the story of Galilee, more modern, lending itself more to the artistic evocation of the times, and all at once I saw an excellent subject for one of our plays, a play which could contain some robust things about the power of today's high industry, a power which at bottom controls government and justice, and sets itself against anything that would be calamitous for it in a new invention. Like a bouquet, Lucien is brought the news, giving me the details of the tale which had just been sketched out to him, that their friend Marcel Proust had killed himself, after the fall in price of diamond shares, a fall which had annihilated part of his fortune. A curious creature, Lucien assured me, this Marcel Proust, who lived wholly in his enthusiasm, in blessing certain landscapes, certain books, a creature who could for instance be captivated by Léon's novels. And after a lengthy silence, in the heady post-dinner atmosphere, Lucien declared: "No, it is not due to any connection with my brother, please don't think that Monsieur de Goncourt, absolutely not. But in the end it is better to speak the truth." And he cited this fact which stood out prettily in the miniaturist manner of his speech: "One day a gentleman rendered an immense service to Marcel Proust, who took him for lunch in the countryside by way of thanks. But see here, during their conversation, the gentleman, who was none other than Zola, refused to acknowledge that in France there had only ever been one truly great writer, to whom Saint-Simon alone came close, and that this writer was Léon. Upon which, hang it all! Forgetful of the gratitude that was due to Zola, Proust sent him packing with a couple of slaps, knocking him ten steps back and flat out on his back. They fought the next day and despite the intervention of Ganderax, Proust was utterly opposed to any suggestion of reconciliation." And all at once, amid the hubbub of the coffees being passed around, Lucien whispered in my ear and with a comical querulousness made the following revelation: "You see, Monsieur de Goncourt, for me, if, despite la Foumilière I don't understand this fashion, it is because even the things people say, I see them, as if I elaborated them in the execution of a nuance, with the same haziness as the Pagoda of Chanteloup." I left Lucien, my mind on fire with this affair of diamonds and suicide, as if somebody had poured brains into me with a spoon. And on the stairs I bumped into the new minister of Japan, who, with his slightly miserable and decadent appearance, which made him look like one of the samurai on my Coromandel screen holding two crayfish claws , graciously told me about how he had been on a long mission in the Honolulu's where the reading of our books, those of my brother and myself, was the only thing capable of tearing the natives away from eating caviar, reading which continued long into the night, in a single stretch, with interludes consisting only of chewing on some cigars from the country that came enclosed in long glass tubes, tubes which were used to protect them during the crossing from a certain infection that they pick up from the sea. And the minister acknowledged his own liking for our books, claiming to have known a very great lady from Hong Kong while he was there, who only ever kept two books on her bedside table: La Fille Elisa and Robinson Crusoe.
I awoke from my four o'clock nap with a presentiment of bad news, having dreamed that the tooth which had given me so much pain when I had it extracted five years ago by Cruet, had grown back. And just then Pélagie came in with this piece of news that Lucien Daudet had brought, which she had not come to tell me sooner so as not to disturb my nightmare: Marcel Proust had not killed himself, Lemoine had invented nothing at all, was nothing but a second-rate conjuror, a sort of one-armed Robert Houdin. Behold our misfortune! For once the dull everyday life of today took on some artistry, flung us up the subject of a play! To Rodenbach, who was waiting for me to awaken, I was unable to contain my deception, as I was becoming animated once more, to vent some tirades that were already fully written, that had inspired me by the false news of discovery and suicide, false news that was more artistic, more true, than the far too optimistic and public revelations at Sarcey, which Lucien had related to Pélagie as being the truth. And from my point of view I felt complete indignation which I whispered to Rodenbach over the course of an hour, about these misfortunes that have always pursued us, my brother and myself, making the most important events into the smallest, from the revolution of a nation down to the sniffles of a stage prompter, so many obstacles set up against the progress of our labours. This time it had to be the syndicate of jewellers who were in the thing! Then Rodenbach felt the need to confess to me his most deeply held opinions, which were that this month of December was always unlucky for my brother and me, having led our proceedings to the courts, the failure of Henriette Maréchal by the will of the press, and the cold-sore I had on my tongue the day before the only speech that I had ever had to deliver, a cold-sore that made people say that I had not dared to speak at Vallès's tomb, when it was I who had asked to do it; taken together all disasters which, as said superstitiously by the man from the North, the artist who is Rodenbach, should make us avoid carrying out any of our undertakings on that particular month. Then, as I interrupted the cabalistic theories that were being spouted forth by the author of Bruges la Morte, and going to collect my frock-coat which I needed for the dinner at the princess's, I called out to him as I was going out the door of my dressing-room: "So then Rodenbach, you are advising me to save that month for my death!"
Article appeared in Le Figaro, 22 February 1908 and reprinted in Pastiches et Mélanges (Libraire Gallimard, 1919).
Return to Front Page