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January 08, 1967 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1967-01-08
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From Melodrama to Marienbad


La Maison de Rendez-vous, by
Alain Robbe-Gillet. Grove Press.
$4.50. Mouchette, by Georges
Bernanos. Holt, Rinehart and Win.
ston. $3.95.
The Nouveau Roman, we are
told, wants to "make something out
of nothing," The implication is that
in order to do that you don't have
to be God, you may be Robbe-Grillet.
The latest "something" he has
made is La Maison de Rendez-Vous.
Some call it a novel.
Others may call it variations
without a theme. The theme appears
to be murder. Who did it? Sir
Ralph, probably. Why? Maybe be-
cause he needed money. Or maybe
because Sir Ralph's chemicals, test-
ed by Manneret, proved efficacious.
Too efficacious. It was not neces-
sary that Kito die in the experiment.
That was a bad move. Manneret will
have to pay for it. On the other
hand, so will Marchat (or Marchand)

who was certainly too much in love
with Sir Ralph's mistress, consider-
ing. . .
That's what the theme eventually
seems to end up being. For the ac-
tion doesn't simply go forward; it
regresses, corrects itself, repeats
and alludes to itself, defining while
undermining the essential motifs of
the .composition. These motifs are
ultimate, self-consistent; the Eura-
sian girl with the black dog; the old
man on the bench; the immobile
dancing guests; breasts and bellies
of women, free and captive in tight
dresses. Not that the composition is
circular, or periodic. The smallest
change in detail, or context, causes
a different implication. Although
the motifs-played on the stage of a
brothel-recur, remembered or re-
ferred to or anticipated, there is no
evolution, noprogression. Active and
"frozen" scenes are juxtaposed, as
in a movie, with no resolution envis-

a g e d. The transitional "mean-
while," "then," "moreover," are the
usual paragraph beginnings. Of
course the "events" (or pictures, or
series of motifs) follow the nonlin-
ear chronology of the narrator's
mind, but they are not illogical. Alo-
gical, yes. Contradiction is a ne-
cessity in the structure and there-
fore time is not.
But La Maison de Rendez-Vous is
not just the raison d'etre of the taci-
turn characters who take them-
selves and their surrealistic sur-
roundings for granted. Neither is it
just an elaborate architecture of cu-,
riously, even magnificently, con-
structed episodes. It is also the tes-
timony of what may be called a la-
byrinthic society: one where there
are no ends. Or, rather, where
"things are never where they be-
long for good," as the lady of the
If it makes any sense to talk of

Passion a la Francoise

La Chamade, by Francoise Sagan,
translated by Robert Westhoff.
Dutton. $3.95.
"Love," said Thurber. "is blind,
but desire just doesn't give a good
goddam." Herein lies the power of
Mlle. Sagan's latest (and, to date,
longest) novel. In its short span we
see the flowering and death of an
affair whose intensity ever so brief-
ly rules out the question of redeem-
ing social importance. For what, af-
ter all, can you do when a coup de
foudre strikes? If, like Antoine
and Lucile, you are young, bored
and French, there's nothing for it
but to jump in swinging, with a vi-
olent sort of love-equal parts pas-
sion and egoism--that ignores the
world outside and forces the beloved
to sound a signal of utter submis-
sion, une chamade.
First comes the passion. Antoine
and Lucile, however unlike in most
ways, both have lots of it. They find
one another amid the swamps of up-
per-class Parisian society, where
each has been stuck with a graying
partner, and-to soothe itch and en-
nui-they hurtle together with
scarcely a glance behind. But all (as
French popular song writers never
tire of saying) cannot be roses for
long. That second quality, egoism,
soon takes over, and the hostile
older world reclaims our lovers on
its terms. Lucile returns to Charles,
her "protector," who makes up for
his lack of youthful vigor by a toler-
ant outlook and big bankroll-both
of which Lucile finds, come in
handy when she carries on to abort
the child Antoine fathered. Antoine
himself strikes a blow for middle-
class morality. With illusions shat-
tered he sets about becoming a great
But, to put the emphasis where it
belongs, La Chamade is Lucile's
novel. In her unfaltering determina-
tion to do just what pleases her, she
is a girl for all seasons: "I'm con-
tent to have nothing of my own,"

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literary antitheses, La Maison de
Rendez-vous and Mouchette are just
that. Written in 1937, Mouchette is
of the poverty-love-death category.
A fourteen year-old peasant girl
raped by an epileptic, not quite
against-herwill, commits suicide.
She is not just any peasant girl.
Mouchette is very sensitive. She
suffers, having "stepped into the
strange world thatshe had some-
times glimpsed in books." Her
death is lonely, lyrical. It should be
It isn't. To begin with, the compo-
nent parts of the novel are too mini-
mal, too skeletal. There are the omi-
nous night, the shame, then the
lake. Every event has an obvious
functional value. It all leads, linear-
ly, with the expected complications,
directly to the end. Mouchette fails
to be understood: by her mother,
who dies, appropriately enough,
the very moment Mouchette has
timidly attempted to start alluding
to' her sexual traumas; by the pe-
dantic Madame, the archetypal and
consequently cardboard-minded
school-teacher; by Madame Derain,
who deduces that the bruises on the
girl's breasts are conclusive proof
of prostitution; and finally by the
policeman Mathieu who thinks in
all legality that he should "see the
mayor about her tomorrow." The
pre-climactic intervention of the
ominous widow telling the story of
her sadism is now so superfluous
that nothing can prevent melodra-
ma. Especially not death.
Even though the structure of the
novel is simple, Bernados at least
exploits all its possibilities. He ex-
amines every detail of thegirl's ac-
tions, he penetrates her body and
her senses, her perception and her
reason. Patiently, carefully, Berna-
dos defines her. He even goes be-
yond andbattemptsrto give her uni-
versality by interpreting and eluci-
dating her. It is good prose, too.
Lyrical, gentle.
It's too bad about Mouchette.
There is indeed a sincere attempt at
tenderness, at delicacy reconciled
with even in brutality, at simplicity
and beauty. Mouchette is almost a
tragic character. She loves and suf-
fers sincerely. It's just too bad she
suffers so consistently, irrevocably
led to death in a world of hostile
characters, where all is not only
against her but positively enhances
her innocent inevitable suicide.
This takes us a long way from
Robbe-Grillet's world of the poss-
ible. In La Maison de Rendez-vous
there are only images and flash-
backs. Nothing is necessary except
what is made to exist through narra-
tion. The novel becomes an end in
itself, proving and refuting its prem-
ises at will under the guidance of
art. On the way, all we lose is
Mouchette, and tenderness.
Juliana Geran
Miss Geran is a second-year student
of Philosophy in the College at the
University of Chicago.

The Doctor and the Devils, and
Other Scripts, by Dylan Thomas'
New Directions. $4.50.
Dylan Thomas became famous
for a richly descriptive and symbol-
ic poetry, a poetry eagerly read de-
spite frequent clutters of sound and
sense. The verse continually grew
better, until in his last ten years
many poems cast aside everything
obscure and vibrated with an un-
trammelled lyric intensity. Similar-
ly, his later prose work (among it
the three scripts of this book) also
freed itself, not from obscure exe-
cution, but from themes that un-
comfortably suggest reworded TAT
stories. Because the later scripts,
stories, and essays left behind all
traces of the earlier juvenalia, and
contained .instead the results of a
finely-developed esthetic outlook,
they must be considered his best
pieces; if they lost some indications
of a soul writhing in agony, they
gained a larger and clearer poetic
vision. His new objectivity was a de-
cisive improvement.
The Doctor and the Devils is
based upon a story provided by
Donald Taylor, and deals with a
nineteenth-century Edinburgh scan-
dal involving a renowned anatomist
(in the script, Dr. Rock) and two
murderers who supply him with
corpses. Near the beginning, the
Doctor in a lecture states that the
end justifies any means. The rest of
the script tells what happens when
some characters act accordingly.
Dr. Rock, a successful, confident
man, holds a somewhat contemp-
tuous opinion of anyone or anything
not conforming to his rigid ideal-
ism. Science has assumed a distort-
ed importance in his life. The world
of Edinburgh is entirely alien to
him; he disdains its inhabitants, and
regards them as almost equivalent
to the Powers of Darkness.
Throughout the script the Edin-
burgh poor possess much more gaie-
ty than sorrow, but as Dr. Rock
views the same group of people he
sees only a grotesque struggle. His
attitude and the murders form com-
plementary tragic elements of the
story. The accompanying social
backdrop-teeming taverns, hawk-
ing hags, and playing children-pro-
vides a coarse, interesting reality
enlivened by humor and caricature.
Thomas' revelation of the characters
primarily through their outward ac-
tions rather than through their
speech emphasizes the vitality of
these denizens of the gutter.
When Dr. Rock painfully learns
one result of his intial belief-that
the ten pounds he paid for a corpse
bought its life as well-he realizes
his own attitude was not innocent of

rmurder. And so the Doctor receives
a new knowledge of evil after
events true to this earlier ideology
had destroyed his career and sever-
al lives. With the rejection of the
Machiavellian hypothesis, the final
scene leaves us aware not only of
ethical considerations, but of Thom-
as's Edinburgh as a self-contained
world composed of sharp, symbolic
images, a stark world, yet at times
preferable to the sweeter, greener
worlds of other authors.
In Twenty Years A-Growing, a
nostalgic narrator recalls the high-
lights of his boyhood in an island
fishing village. The effect is impres-
sive, smacking of salty sea-air and a
heady Irish exuberance, and owes a
great deal to its source, Maurice O'-
Sullivan's book (same title). A com-
parison with the book immediately
shows that the dialogue and narra-
tion are almost verbatim selections;
this comparison also illustrates both
O'Sullivan's talent and Thomas's
taste. As a result of judicious struc-
turing and transplanting, the script
offers more enjoyable reading than
the corresponding third of the book.
Two touches are specifically his: he
transformed a mediocre dream-
sequence into a visually powerful
scene, and he gave the narrator a
few lines of poetry which beautiful-
ly summarize the book.
Last comes a radio script, The
Londoners, written for a BBC series
on London. It presents a day in the
life of a young married couple. We
willingly tolerate some truly prosaic
dialogue for the sake of his well-
wrought reminiscenses (the Thomas
forte) of Ted and Lily; however,

compared to the two previous
scripts, the perusal must be a labor
of love. Happily, its sixteen-page
length is not forbidding.
Thomas's scripts undoubtedly dis-
play controlled form, but this con-
trol introduces difficulties of its
own. The structure of a filmscript
understandably obtrudes in a read-
ing; filmscripts, including his, were
meant to achieve proper proportion
on the screen rather than in a book.
Although his scripts stand as a fas-

cinating I
not as a
work, we
lived to
fulfill his
type of
this bool
a hidden
Mr. Buck
The Unive

Exeunt Omnes-without Fl

she admits, "not the smallest plan,
not the tiniest worry. I'm in tune
with life." And through Sagan's
finely objective prose Lucile reach-
es us, not as the g a r ce-
with-the-heart-of-gold or the steel-
willed debauchee, but as a con-
scious woman who accepts as much
of life as she needs to be happy and,
lisregards anything-selfless actions
as well as spiteful ones-that would
complicate matters.
Lucile is an overpowering charac-
ter, and Charles and Antoine are
grist for her mill. The unfortunate
thing is that Sagan makes them lit-
tle more than that. Within a short
novel, especially one where the set-
ting changes every few pages, only
so many characters can be fully
created. In this case, the leading
men lose out. We have an idea of
their personality types: Charles is
passive and giving, Antoine active
and grabby. But these are static
conceptions; when it comes to put-
ting them in motion, Sagan is just
too busy letting Lucile run her
show to bother about adding au-

thenticity for thr men.
The minor figures, by contrast,
are tidily sketched. When they ap-
pear we have a lively sense of the
autrui Lucile and Antoine try vain-
ly to be rid of. Dialogue, too, works
beautifully for Sagan. As long as
she has her characters speaking and-
doing things she is on top of the
situation. Only when the set-
speeches and expository paragraphs
barge in do we feel the triviality of
the book.
For La Chamade is a great deal
like the love affair that forms its
plot: look at either one too long, too
logically, and it disappears. Neither
has any ultimate significance--when
you're done with it you may easily
wonder why you ever began. But
while you're wrapped up in it, you
know good things are going on. And
once you've gotten to know Lucile,
you're not liable to forget her for a
Barbara Frank
Miss Frank is a first-year graduate
student in the department of English-
at the University of Chicago.

Death of the Hind Legs and
Other Stories, by John Wain.
Viking Press. $4.50.
Death of the Hind Legs is one of
a collection of eleven mediocre
short stories. The story takes its
name from the demise of an ex-
Shakespearean actor, Walter, who
has been reduced to playing the
back end of a horse in a bankrupt
variety show. In true Shakespear-
ean fashion he drops dead during a
performance, thus spurring the rest
of the company to throw their last
efforts into a glorious finale for the
moribund revue and the equally
moribund theater which is to be
torn down momentarily. "Let's go
on with the show....It's what he'd
have wanted....Do it for Walter's
sake." The whole affair reminds
one of the Jolson Story; but, alas,
the Old Gaiety must come down to
make way for an office building or
a condominium. Still we all know,
along with Elsie, the number one
factotum of the Old Gaiety staff,
that the tragedy is not Walter's; but
a society's which places economic
over sentimental values. If the qual-
ity of this story is any indication of
what the ordinary British variety
show was once like, one is hard put
to explain the existence of either
The ten other stories examine

self-seeking individuals whom one
suspects would have cheered as the
Old Gaiety crumbled, and nostalgic
people who tell heroic anecdotes of
forgotten actors. Wain peoples the
amoral, selfish world with a dealer
in porcelain fixtures who railroads
his brother into the wrestling
profession; a business executive
who succeeds in kindling a love af-
fair with the wife of a former class-
mate; and a callous landlady who
refuses to rent a room to a Negro
from Trinidad. None of the charac-
ters in these stories has more than a
paper existence. The same lack of
true vitality taints those that revere
the past: an aged locomotive engi-
neer and a neurotic who visits the
home of his youth.
Wain's stories are vapid because
they are not plausible. The situa-
tions taken by themselves are credi-
ble enough, but no feeling is inject-
ed into the scenes by the dialogue.
Consequently we are left with char-
acters that hardly fill up one dimen-
sion. It would not be too difficult to
accept an extended discussion on
the meaning of love between a hur-
rying mailman of sixty-five and a
young girl, or a diagnosis of infantile
regression by a housewife, if the
dialogue were convincing. But no
matter who is talking-be it execu-

tive, sop
all speal
voice, fo
illusion 4
guage fo
seems t
hatch fo
the read(
out the
are stric
lane: "Sl
made yo
more del
iles and
the rect
again: "
wet rop
Death o
Stories s
the Old
verse ar
lect seni
Mr. Bog



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