A book to read:
Le Nez de Cléopâtre by Henri de Saussine
If the new generation differs
from the preceding one and improves upon it, it is assuredly
through the intensity of its intellect, its soaring vision, the
high ideal of restoring thought to its rightful place which the
materialists had banished from the universe and naturalists from
art, by the perhaps vague, but assuredly powerful aspirations,
that strain to provide life with a background, to give a sense to
our destiny, a sanction to our actions. But if, up till now, save
for a few very precious exceptions, they have run aground in
their generous endeavours, it is because by studying life too
closely one loses the gift of giving it, that an over reflective
work is seldom alive, that the more analysis gains in depth the
more its colour loses in intensity, and that living creatures are
like butterflies that have been stripped, by pinning them down in
order to study them, of a little of the mirage of their wings.
Art is instinctive, and reflections are a little ineffectual,
such almost is the sense of ill-feeling thrown at noble modern
works, which are doomed to immediate death the moment they are
Has the evil spell been conjured up? Count Henri de Saussine has just written a book, under the title Le Nez de Cléopâtre, as bursting with life as it is infinite in its depth, in which the most absolute abstraction is realized and, so to speak, becomes incarnate in the most brilliantly concrete style and in the deepest relief, in which characters come to life as if described by Zola, as thoroughly annotated and explained as if by Stendhal, and finally judged as if by Tolstoy, without prejudice to the originality of the author in which the rhythm and the individual refrain of his language sing to us across all moods, so as to fill us with delight. Exquisite language that we are tempted to compare to bees, charming inhabitants of Hymettus, all too rare in our age. Like them the language of our author has a sting which pierces through into daylight, the sweet taste of honey - and wings!
His characters, like people in real life, are at the same time moulded in a beautiful and extraordinary way, socially situated, actors in the dramas of love and death, which are played out in every family, and eternally suffering subjects who are responsible for their own destiny which they create ever more the less they submit to it. In which we have descriptions of painting, poetic intuition, incredibly fine moral studies, accounts of passions and great melancholic insights into the deepest causes of our joys and sorrows, which sometimes feels like the protractions of Hamlet (the scene of the mother's death and the son's doubts) and at other times like the critique of Romeo (deception after his possession of Christine). Here and there (without slowing down the dialogue which leads us from the road to Hell to the sky of the "vita nuova" paved by our endeavours and cooled by our tears), we find thoughts of such profundity as: "For beauty, as is often the case for talent too, celebrity begins at the very time that the cause that gave it birth ceases, justifying the eternal law which states that reputation follows enlightenment rather than accompanying it", or this: "The cult of snobs classes a woman in the same way that a barrel-organ consecrates the air".
I do not want to say anything about this book: anything that by touching it we feel we are ravaging a rare flower, with its pure shoots, its intoxicating perfume, its glowing colourization, which forces its delicate roots through the soil in all directions. The reader will understand for himself to what extent through the fraternity of all the arts when they reach a certain level of elevation, that here are Wagnerian leitmotivs, so to speak, transposed into writing, joined together by example, as in the summoning up of Bassompierre's ancestor in a manner that is at the same time profoundly philosophical and strangely poetic, the present to the past which guides it by hypnotizing it. In order to comprehend all this from an art that is so rich and so new, in order to enlighten oneself through the stirring lesson of such modern philosophy which is free in its range of all constraint, allow yourself the profound, rare, new and noble pleasure of reading Le Nez de Cléopâtre.
This article appeared, unsigned, in July 1893, in Gratis-Journal. But the text in Gratis-Journal was in effect unfaithful. Proust had submitted his article to Count Henri de Saussine who modified it. His daughter later gave the original manuscript text to M. Kolb and Price and it was first published in Textes retrouvés. The text here is from the original manuscript text.
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