Pelléas et Mélisande 1


   Our friend Marcel Proust, who readers of Le Figaro will know from his pastiches, has a deep admiration for Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. The other day he left a meeting with one of his friends who could not find his hat. Marcel Proust improvised the following duet. The reader may imagine behind the questions the urgent, rapid declamation, and behind the answers the grave melancholy, the mysterious cantilena of Debussy, and he will appreciate the extreme accuracy of this little pastiche, not of Maeterlinck's play but of Debussy's libretto (there is a subtle difference).

MARKEL: It was wrong of you to lose that hat! You will never find it again!
PELLÉAS: Why will I never find it again?
MARKEL: One never finds anything again... here... It is lost for ever.
PELLÉAS: When we go we could lay our hands on another one - that is similar!
MARKEL: There is no other that is similar!
PELLÉAS: What was it like then?
MARKEL: very softly:
      It was a poor little hat
      The kind that everyone wears!
One could not have said where it came from... it seemed to come from the end of the world... !
Now we must search for it no longer, because we will not find it again.
PELLÉAS: I feel that my head is beginning to feel cold for ever. It is very cold outside. It's winter! If only the sun has not yet set. Why have they left the window open. The atmosphere in there was stifling and poisonous, I thought several times that I was going to feel ill. And now all the air of all the earth...
MARKEL: You have the grave and tearful face, Pelléas, of those who have had a cold for a long time. Let's leave. We will never find it. Someone who is not from here will have carried it off and God alone knows where it is now. It is too late. All the other hats are gone. We cannot take another one now. It is a terrible thing, Pelléas.
But it is not your fault.
PELLÉAS: What is that noise?
MARKEL: It's the carriages leaving.
PELLÉAS: Why are they leaving?
MARKEL: We must have frightened them. They must have known that we were going very far away, and they have left. They will never come back.

   In this way Marcel Proust diverted his melancholy, before returning to work at a considerable labour which we will not see before next year.


1. Pelléas et Mélisande, opera by Debussy based on a play by Maeterlinck. Part of this pastiche was quoted from memory in a letter to Reynaldo Hahn, March 1911. See Selected Letters vol 3 p.33.

From Contre Sainte-Beuve, Pléiade, 1971.

Return to Front Page