The Melancholy Summer of Madame de Breyves manuscript

To Madame Meredith Howland
in respectful memory of the lakes of Engadine and in particular
the lake of Silva Plana. St-Moritz, August 93.


   Juliette could not make up her mind that evening whether to go to the musical soirée at Elizabeth d'A...'s, the opera or the Livray's play.
   At the friends' house where she had just dined, they had left the table more than an hour ago. She really must decide.
   Her friend Anne, who was to drive back with her, was in favour of Mme d'A...'s soirée, while Juliette, without quite knowing why, would have preferred either of the other two options, or even a third, going home to bed. Her carriage was announced. She was still undecided.
   "Really," said Anne, "it's not very nice of you, because I think Reszké is going to sing and that would amuse me. One would have thought something dreadful was going to happen to you if you went to Elizabeth's. Besides I need to tell you that you haven't been to a single one of her grand productions all year, and being such a close friend of her's that really isn't very nice."
   Since the death of her husband had left her a widow at twenty - and that was four years ago - Juliette did almost everything with Anne and she liked to give her pleasure. She did not resist her entreaties any longer, and after taking leave of her hosts and of the other guests, who were disappointed at having had so little time to enjoy the company of one of the only truly refined women in Paris, said to the footman:
   "To Princess d'A...'s."


   The princess's soirée was very boring. At one point Juliette asked Anne:
   "Who is that young man who escorted you to the buffet?"
   "That's M. de Laléande whom, incidentally, I don't now at all. Would you like me to introduce him to you? He did ask me to, but I was evasive, because he is very insignificant and boring, and as he finds you very pretty you would never get rid of him."
   "Then definitely not!" said Juliette,1 "he's rather ugly and vulgar-looking, in spite of his rather beautiful eyes."
   "You're right," said Anne.2 "And since you will be bumping into him often it might be embarrassing for you if you knew him."
   Jokingly she added:
   "Of course, if you are looking for a more intimate acquaintance with him you are missing a golden opportunity."
   "Yes a golden opportunity," said Juliette with a smile but with her mind already on something else.
   "After all," said Anne, no doubt feeling some remorse for having deprived this young man of a pleasure, "this is one of the last parties of the season, so it wouldn't really matter and it might be more civil."
   "So be it, if he comes back over here."
   He did not come back. He was facing them, at the other end of the room.
   "We should be going," said Anne shortly afterwards.
   "One more minute", said Juliette and out of caprice, above all out of a desire to flirt with this young man, who must indeed find her pretty, she began to look at him a little lingeringly, averted her eyes then stared at him again trying to appear tender, she did not know why, for no reason, for the pleasure of it, the pleasure of being charitable, the pleasure of vanity too, the pleasure of those who carve their name on a tree for a passer-by they will never see, of those who throw a bottle into the ocean. Time was passing, it was getting late; M. de Laléande headed for the door, which remained open, and Juliette saw him at the end of the hall holding out his number to the cloakroom attendant.
   "You're right, we really must be going", she told Anne.
   "They both rose. But by chance a word that a friend of Anne's wanted to say to her left Juliette alone in the cloakroom. There was nobody there at that moment but M. de Laléande, who could not find his cane. To amuse herself she gave him one last look. He passed close to her, lightly brushing his elbow against Juliette's, and with eyes shining, and still appearing to be searching, he said at the moment he was right beside her:
   "Come to my place, 5 rue Royale."
   This was something she had so little foreseen, and Laléande was so seriously searching for his cane again that she never knew clearly when she thought about it again whether it had not been an hallucination. More than anything she was very frightened, and as Prince d'A... was passing at that moment she called to him, she wished to make an appointment with him to go for a walk the next day, speaking volubly. During this conversation M. de Laléande had left. Anne arrived a moment later and the two women departed. Juliette said nothing about it but still she was shocked and flattered, but in the main quite indifferent. Two days later, recalling the incident by chance, she began to doubt the reality of M. de Laléande's words. When she tried to remember she thought she had heard them as in a dream and told herself the movement of his elbow had been a clumsy accident. The she no longer thought spontaneously about M. de Laléande and when by chance she heard his name mentioned, she swiftly remembered his face and had entirely forgotten what must have been an hallucination in the cloakroom.
   She saw him again at the last reception given that season (June being nearly over), dared not ask to have him presented to her, and yet, in spite of the fact that she thought him almost ugly, knew he had little intelligence, she would have very much liked to make his acquaintance. She went up to Anne and said:
   "Oh well, why don't you introduce me to M. de Laléande after all. I don't like to be impolite. But don't say I suggested it. I don't want to put myself under any obligation."
   "Later, if we see him, he isn't here at the moment."
   "But can't you look for him?"
   "He may have left."
   "Oh no," said Juliette very quickly, "he couldn't have left, it's too early. Oh! eleven o'clock already! Come one dear Anne, it's not all that difficult. It was you who wanted to the other evening. Please, it's important to me."
   Anne looked at her, a little surprised and went in search of M. de Laléande; he had left.
   "You see I was right", said Anne, coming back to Juliette.
   "I'm bored to death here," said Juliette, "and I have a headache, please, let's go home immediately."


   Juliette no longer missed a single performance at the Opera, not a single one of the dinners to which she was invited. Two weeks went by without her seeing M. de Laléande again and she would often wake up in the night trying to devise some way of seeing him again. While all the time repeating to herself that he was boring and not handsome, she was more preoccupied with him than with all the wittiest and most charming men. The season being over, there would be no opportunity to see him again, she was determined to create one and she cast about for a possibility.
   One evening she said to Anne:
   "Didn't you tell me that you knew a M. de Laléande?"
   "Jacques de Laléande? Yes and no, he was introduced to me, but he has never left me his card. I am not on familiar terms with him."
   "Well, you know, I have a certain interest, a considerable interest even, for reasons that don't concern me and that I probably won't be able to tell you for another month" (and this thought gave her a delicious thrill), "in making his acquaintance and meeting him. Do please try and find me a way, because the season is over and there will be nowhere where I could meet him."
   Anne tried but found out nothing.
   "It's a shame Princess d'A... has gone away. There's still M. de Grumello,3 of course, but actually that won't get us anywhere, what could we say to him? Wait, I've got an idea. M. de Laléande plays the cello quite badly, but that doesn't matter. M. de Grumello admires him, but then he is so dim-witted, and he will be delighted to please you. The only thing is, you have always avoided him, you don't want to be under any obligation to invite him next season."
   But Juliette, already flushed with joy, exclaimed:
   "Why it's all the same to me, I'll invite all the foreign upstarts in Paris if I must. Oh! do it straight away. My dear Anne, how sweet you are!"
   And Anne wrote:

   Monsieur, you know that I would do anything in the world to please my dear friend Mme de Breyves. I heard her say that she very much regretted never having heard M. de Laléande play, and he is such a good friend of yours. I wonder if you could get him to play for her and for me? Now that we all have more time, perhaps that will not inconvenience you too much, and we shall be quite charmed.
   Thank you in advance.

   "Take this immediately to Mr Smithson's," Juliette told the servant that she had just rung for, "don't wait for a reply, but make sure you see him get it."
   The following day Anne had the following reply from Mr Smithson taken round to Juliette's.

I would have been delighted to carry out your wishes and those of the Marquise. I am therefore dreadfully sorry that by a most unhappy chance M. de Laléande has had to leave for Biarritz just two days ago, where, alas, he is going to spend several months.
   With a thousand regrets and best wishes

   Juliette, as white as a sheet, rushed to her room to lock herself in, just in time. Already sobs were crumpling her lips, her tears were flowing. It was as though a terrible rising flood that she was powerless to stop was trying to completely drown her. Until then, totally preoccupied as she had been in contriving romantic ways of seeing him and getting to know him, certain that she could realize them when she wished, she had been living on this desire and this hope without telling herself too much about it and perhaps without really knowing. But this desire had implanted itself into her by sending out a thousand imperceptible roots, which had plunged into all her most unconscious minutes of happiness or melancholy, and started a new sap coursing through her without her knowing where it came from. And now this desire had been ripped out and tossed away as impossible. She felt utterly lacerated, suffering horribly in her entire self, which had been suddenly uprooted; and through the abruptly exposed lies of her hope and from the depths of her sorrow, she saw the reality of her love.


   Juliette withdrew herself further each day from any pleasures. Even from her most intense and infinite pleasures, those she shared with her mother or with Anne, even from the hours she gave to music, from her reading, from her walks, her heart was absent, devoured by a jealous grief that never left her for a minute. Infinite was the pain caused by the impossibility of her going to Biarritz and, even had it been possible, by her absolute determination not to let a rash step compromise all the prestige she might have in the eyes of M. de Laléande. Poor little victim, tortured without knowing why, she was terrified to think that this suffering might last for months until a remedy was found, let her sleep peacefully or dream freely. She worried too, thinking that, without her knowing it, and soon perhaps, he might pass through Paris again. And her fear of letting happiness so near at hand once more escape her gave her the courage to send a servant to make enquiries of M. de Laléande's concierge. He knew nothing. And realizing that no sail of hope would henceforth appear on the horizon of this sea of grief, and which deepened and spread out infinitely and beyond which there seemed to be nothing but the end of the earth, she sensed that she was going to do something foolish, but she did not know what, perhaps write to him, and so became her own physician, and to calm herself a little she took the liberty of trying to have him learn that she had wanted to see him, writing the following to Mr Smithson:

   Anne told me of your kind thought. How grateful I am and I thank you from my heart. But one thing worries me. Did M. de Laléande think me indiscreet? If you do not know please ask him and tell me the truth. I a a little anxious and very curious. You will be doing me a great kindness.

   One hour later a servant brought this letter:

   You have no cause to worry Madame. M. de Laléande has not learned that you wished to hear him play. - I have written him to come and dine one day. He replied to me from Biarritz that he doesn't come back often.

   There was nothing more she could do. She did nothing more, she grew sadder and sadder, and she felt remorse at being sad, at saddening her mother. She went to spend a few days in the country, then left for Trouville. There she heard people discussing M. de Laléande's social ambitions, and when a prince, trying his best to be agreeable to her, said: "What could I do to please you?" she felt almost like laughing when she thought of his surprise if she were to answer truthfully, and she gathered, in order to savour it, all the intoxicating bitterness there was in the irony of that contrast between all the great and difficult things that people had always done to please her and this so easy and yet so impossible thing that would have restored her peace of mind, her health, her happiness, and the happiness of her loved ones. She only knew a little relief when she was among her servants, who had immense admiration for her, and served her without daring to speak, sensing her sadness. Their respectful and grieved silence spoke to her of M. de Laléande. She found a melancholy voluptuousness in it, and she would make them serve her luncheon slowly in order to delay the moment when her friends would come, when she would have to contain herself. She wanted to slowly savour the bittersweet taste of all the sadness that, because of him, surrounded her. She would have wanted to see more people dominated by him, to ease her pain by feeling that what occupied so much of her heart was taking up a little space around her, she would have liked to be surrounded by energetic beasts wasting away with her affliction. At moments, in desperation, she wanted to risk everything, to write to him, have someone else write to him, bring shame upon herself: "nothing mattered to her any more". But it was better, precisely for the sake of her love, to keep up her position in society, which could some day give her greater authority over him, if the day ever came. And if any intimacy with him some day broke the spell, the fate that he had cast over her (she did not want to, could not believe it, but her more astute mind perceived that cruel fate through the blindness of the heart), she would remain with nothing more in the world afterwards. And if some other love came her way, she would lack the resources that she at least now possessed, the power that, on their return to Paris, would make her intimacy with M. de Laléande so easy. She wanted to place her heart, her poor long-suffering and confused heart, there before her, to look into it with impartiality, and seeing M. de Laléande who was etched into it, without real beauty, with no discernable intellect, she came to reduce to nothingness the contents of her feelings for him. But immediately after speaking his name she felt a great shudder of voluptuousness and desolation make her tremble as would a joy in which there was not a single trace of suffering; it was so infinitely sweet, so infinitely sad that to her her whole life up to that point had been as nothing, she would have given what remained of her life without hesitation for a single hour of love shared with him. And all that was a living reality for her, that she could not deny, in which she lived and died, that was imposed on her beyond all reasoning with insurmountable sweetness and cruelty, reasons to separate her own feelings from herself and to look at them like an external object one is examining, she told herself: "I know he's mediocre and I've always thought so. That's my opinion of him and it has never changed. Since then emotion has intervened but without, for all that, altering my opinion. It's only a trifle, and this trifle is what I live for. I live for Jacques de Laléande!" But then, having spoken his name, this time by an involuntary and unanalyzed association she could see him again and she experienced such an infinite feeling of well-being combined with a violent pain that she knew that it did not matter what a nonentity he really was, because he made her feel such ecstasies and sorrows compared to which all happiness and grief were nothing. And although she realized that all this would fade once she came to know him better, she gave this mirage the full reality of her own very real suffering and her incontestable voluptuousness. Oh! how she would have liked to have had him here, in love, how she would have wanted to say to him, like Sieglinde: "Oh! if he comes some day this generous friend to deliver a broken woman, frightened by the incessant torments of my soul, all will be forgotten, my heart will find again all that it has lost, what I have wept for will be returned to me when into my arms, oh boundless joy! I shall press this hero." And like Siegmund he would reply: "Finally now forget your sorrows, I am the avenger of your dreams. Oh with what tender and ardent vows does my heart heave up into my lips. In you do I finally find the object of all my prayers, oh beloved lady, oh pure and saintly woman. If you suffered shame and constraint, if I have endured arrogant scorn, love will avenge us for all our suffering. Oh such ineffable sweetness! Oh with what dear hopes do I feel your heart beating when it is next to mine."
   And she heard in these words a music more supernaturally intoxicating even than all the ecstasy, convulsions, caresses and bliss that Wager had orchestrated into them. There was also a phrase from Die Meistersingers - that she had heard at Princess d'A...'s soirée - that had the power to invoke M. de Laléande with utmost precision (Dem vogel der heut sang dem war der Schnabel hold gewachsen).4 She had unwittingly made that phrase M. de Laléande's leitmotif and, hearing it one day at a concert in Trouville, she had burst into tears. From time to time, not so often, for fear of mitigating the effect, she would lock herself in her bedroom, to which the piano had been moved, and she would begin to play that phrase, closing her eyes the better to see him; it was her sole intoxicating joy that ended in disillusionment, the morphine that she could not do without. Sometimes stopping to listen to the flow of her sorrow, as one leans over a spring to hear the sweet and ceaseless lamentation of the water, and musing on the atrocious alternatives before her, between her future shame leading to the despair of those dear to her or (if she did not give in) her eternal despair, she would curse herself for having so expertly dosed her love with the pleasure and the pain that she had not managed to reject immediately as an unbearable poison or to recover from subsequently. First she cursed her eyes, or perhaps before them her detestable sense of coquettishness and curiosity, which had made her eyes open like flowers in order to tempt this young man, and then exposed her as a young fool to M. de Laléande's own glances as sure as arrows and more invincibly sweet than injections of morphine. She cursed her imagination too; she had so tenderly nurtured her love that she sometimes wondered if she too had not given birth to her love that was now her master and her executioner. She also cursed her ingenuity, which, for better or for worse, had so skillfully devised so many romances for meeting him that their frustrating impossibility may have attached her all the more strongly to their hero, - cursed her goodness and the delicacy of her heart, which, if she surrendered herself, would corrupt the joy of her guilty love with remorse and shame, - she cursed her will, so impetuous, so headstrong, so bold in leaping over obstacles when her desires drove her toward an impossible goal, so weak, so soft, so broken, not only when they had to be denied, but when some other emotion seized and carried her away. Finally she cursed her mind in its divinest form, that supreme gift she had received, and to which people, without finding its true name, have given all sorts of names - the intuition of the poet or philosopher, the ecstasy of the believer, profound feelings for nature or music - which had placed infinite summits and horizons before her love, had let them bask in the supernatural light of her love's own enchantment, and had, in exchange, lent her love a little of is own enchantment, and which had won over to this love all its most sublime and most private inner life, bonding and blending with it, consecrating to it, like the treasures of the church to the Madonna, all the most precious jewels of her heart and her mind, her heart whose sighs she heard in the evening or on the sea, whose melancholy and her own, at never seeing him now, were sisters: she cursed that inexpressible sense of the mystery of things, which absorbs our minds in a radiance of beauty, like the sun when it sinks into the sea, for having deepened her love, for having immaterialized it, broadened it, making it infinite without reducing its torture, "for" (as Baudelaire said), "there are sensations whose vagueness does not exclude intensity, and there is no sharper point than that of infinity".


   It was in Touville that I just recently encountered Mme de Breyves, who I had known in her happier days. Nothing can cure her. If she loved M. de Laléande for his good looks or his intelligence, one could hope to find a better looking or more intelligent young man to distract her. If it was for his kindness and for his love for her one could perhaps find someone better. Someone else perhaps would love her in a more touching and faithful way. But M. de Laléande is neither good looking or intelligent. He does not know her and can have no fondness for her. It is truly he whom she loves, not merits or charms that could found to as high a degree in others; it is truly he whom she loves despite his imperfections, despite his mediocrity; she is thus doomed to love him despite everything. He, does she know what that is? Only that he induces such shivers of desolation or beatitude in her that all else in her life, all other things no longer count for anything. The most beautiful face, the most original intelligence would not have that particular and unique essence, so mysterious that no human ever has, or ever will find his exact double, in the infinity of words or in the eternity of time. Had it not been for Anne who innocently took her to attend the Princess d'A...'s soirée none of this would have happened. But the chain of circumstances linked up, imprisoning her, the victim of an ill for which there is no remedy, because it is without reason. Certainly M. de Laléande, who is probably leading a mediocre life on the beach at Biarritz at this moment, indulging in feeble dreams, would be quite amazed if he knew of his other miraculously intense existence, so superior to all else that it subordinates everything outside of it, that was his in the soul of Mme de Breyves - and with what more acute consciousness than the very intermittent and obscure consciousness that was his own. How surprised he would be if he knew that he, so little sought out ordinarily by all the snobs is suddenly evoked wherever Mme de Breyves happens to be, in the company of the most talented people, in the most exclusive salons, amidst scenery quite sufficient in itself, and that at that moment a beautiful woman has no attention, no affection, no thought than for this intruder before whom everything else fades, as though he alone had the reality of a person and all the persons present were as empty as memories and shadows.
   Wherever Mme de Breyves happens to be, whether she is strolling with a poet or taking lunch at the home of an archduchess, whether she leaves Trouville for the mountains or the countryside, be she alone reading or chatting with a most cherished friend, whether she is horse riding or asleep, the name, the image of M. de Laléande is always over her, deliciously, cruelly, inevitably, as is the sky above our heads. She has also reached the point, she who has always detested Biarritz, where she finds in everything connected to that city a distressing and bewildering charm. She is preoccupied with the people who are there, who are going to see him, perhaps, without knowing it, who will live with him, perhaps, without taking any pleasure in it. She feels no resentment for the latter, no envy, and without daring to give them any messages, questions them ceaselessly, wondering sometimes how, hearing her talk so much around her secret, no one has guessed it. A large photograph of Biarritz is one of the few decorations in her room. She lends to one of the strollers you can see in it without being able to distinguishing him clearly, the features of M. de Laléande. If she knew the bad music he likes and plays, no doubt the Italian operas would take the place of Beethoven's symphonies and Wagner's operas on her piano and soon after in her heart, both because of a sentimental cheapening of her taste and because of the spell that the portal through which, for her, come all charm and all pain, would project onto them. Sometimes the image of this man whom she has only seen two or three times, and then only for an instant, who occupies such a tiny place in the exterior events of her life but in her heart and in her mind one so total that it absorbs them altogether, grows blurred before the weary eyes of her memory. She no longer sees him, cannot recall his features, his profile, has almost forgotten even his eyes. But since this image is all she has of him, she is driven mad at the thought that she might lose it, that her desire - which it is true tortures her but which is now her entire self, in which she has taken refuge after withdrawing herself from everything, to which she clings as one clings to life, good or bad - might vanish, leaving nothing but a feeling of malaise, a suffering in dreams, of which she would no longer know the object that has caused them, would no longer see him even in her mind in which she could no longer cherish him. But then M. de Laléande's image reappears after the momentary blurring of inner vision. Her grief can resume and it is almost a joy.
   Winter is coming. How will Juliette endure going back to Paris where he will not return until spring? What will she do till then, what will she do, what will he do after that? Oh Juliette. You are so close to my heart and with all my heart I pray for you.
   Poor dear Juliette, a hundred times I was on the point of leaving for Biarritz, of having myself introduced to M. de Laléande and bring him back. But that is too dreadful a responsibility. I am quite certain that Juliette wants nothing more than to see him again, that his presence, the sight of him, and perhaps one day his friendship would be enough to cheer her and to calm her - and in any case if she went further I do not really care. Her goodness, her perfect nobility would give it a form of purity, a seal of beauty on everything she might do. But I do not think I could take that step without telling her. I fear terrible consequences simply because I cannot predict them. But all the same perhaps I might do it. Yet it grieves me to see those perfect pale little temples throbbing from within, enough to be shattered by the interminable blows of this inexplicable love. Her whole life follows its rhythm in a mode of voluptuous and utterly cruel anguish. Often she imagines him coming to Trouville, approaching her, telling her he loves her. She sees him, her eyes glow. He speaks to her in that colourless voice of dreams, which prevents our believing, while all the time forcing us to listen. It is he. He speaks to her in words that intoxicate us, even though we hear them only in dreams, so touching when we see glowing within them the divine, trusting smile of two destinies uniting. And then almost at once the feeling that the two worlds of reality and of her desire are parallel, that it is as impossible for them to join together as it is for a body and the shadow it casts, brings tears to her eyes. Then, remembering the moment in the cloakroom when his elbow brushed against her elbow, when he offered her his body, which she might now be clasping to her own if she wished, if she had known, and which is now far away from her, perhaps for ever, she feels cries of despair and revolt rising in her from all sides, like those one hears on ships that are sinking. If, for an instant, walking along the beach or in the woods, she lets the pleasure of contemplation or of reverie, or at least a sweet fragrance, a song on an empty path gently overtake her, make her forget her pain for a moment, all at once she feels a terrible blow to her heart, a painful wound, and above the waves, higher than the leaves, in the misty horizon of woods or sea, she catches sight of the vague image of her invisible and ever-present conqueror, who, his eyes shining through the clouds, as on the day when he offered himself to her, flees with the quiver from which he has taken and let fly one more arrow.

July 1893.

   Manuscript version of Mélancolique villégiature de Mme de Breyves, incorporating additional passages from the typescript and the first published version in La Revue Blanche, September 1893. I have made frequent use of both Louise Varese's and Joachim Neugroschel's translations choosing (in my opinion) the best from both.

1. Anne in the manuscript in error.

2. Juliette in the manuscript in error.

3. M. de Grumello is later referred to as Mr Smithson. In the published versions he is consistently referred to as M. de Grumello.

4. "The bird that sang today, its beak was sweet."


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