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Nik Marcel (2Language Books)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Sarrasine (English)

English & French
Facino Cane
English & French
English partly translated anew from French.
Copyright © 2013 Nik Marcel
All rights reserved.
2Language Books
(A Bilingual Dual-Language Project)

Dedication: To Monsieur Charles de Bernard du Grail.
I was immersed in one of those profound reveries that seize everybody, even a frivolous man, in the most tumultuous celebrations.
Midnight had just sounded on the clock of the Elysee-Bourbon.
Sitting in a recess of a window, and concealed behind the undulating folds of a curtain of watered mohair, I was able to contemplate at my leisure the garden of the hotel where I was passing the evening.
The trees, being partly covered with snow, stood out indistinctly against the greyish background formed by a cloudy sky, barely whitened by the moon.
Seen in the milieu of that fantastic atmosphere, they vaguely resembled spectres carelessly enveloped in their shrouds: a gigantic image of the famous Dance of Death.
Then, in turning to the other side, I could admire the dance of the living — a magnificent salon, with walls of silver and gold, sparkling chandeliers, and the brilliance of many candles!
There the most beautiful women in Paris fluttered and moved about in swarms — they were of the best title, brilliant, pompous, and dazzling with diamonds; with flowers on their heads and busts, in their hair, sown into their dresses, and in garlands at their feet.
It was light quiverings of joy, and not voluptuous movements, which made the lace, gauze, and silk swirl about their delicate sides.
Overwhelmingly bright glances pierced through, here and there, eclipsing the lights and the fire of the diamonds, and animated the hearts of those already overzealous.
I also caught a distinct tilting of the head from lovers, and some unsavoury attitudes from their husbands.
The sudden shouts from the card players at each unexpected deal, the jingling of gold mingling with music and the murmur of conversation, and to finally stun this intoxicated crowd by all that the world has to offer of seductions, a vapour of perfumes and a general inebriation, impressed upon their overexcited imaginations.
Thus, to my right was the gloomy and silent image of death; to my left, the polite bacchanalia of life; over here we have cold, bleak nature, in mourning attire; over there, a joyous and indulgent humanity.
Then there is me, on the border of these two disparate scenes, which have repeated themselves a thousand times in various ways, thus making Paris the most entertaining and most philosophical city in the world — I played a mental macedoine: half jesting, and half funereal.
With my left foot I marked time (to the music), and I thought the other one was in a coffin.
Indeed my leg was frozen by one of those insidious draughts that freezes one half of the body, while the other feels the humid warmth from the lounges — a quite common occurrence at balls.
“Monsieur de Lanty has not owned this hotel for very long, has he?”
“In fact he has! It is nearly ten years since the Marechal de Carigliano sold it to him.”
“These people must have an immense fortune?”
“That must be right.”
“What a party! It is of an insolent luxury.”
“Do you believe they are as rich as Monsieur de Nucingen or Monsieur de Gondreville?”
“Why, you do not know?”
I tilted my head forward, and recognized the two interlocutors as belonging to that peculiar class which, in Paris, occupies themselves exclusively with the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’.
Where does he come from?
Who are they?
What is the matter with him?
What has she done?
They began to lower their voices, and to feel more at ease in their discussion, moved over to some solitary couch.
Never was there a more promising mine laid open to seekers of the mysterious.
No one knew from what country the Lanty family came, nor from what source — commerce, extortion, piracy, or inheritance — came a fortune estimated at several millions.
All the members of the family spoke Italian, French, Spanish, English, and German, with sufficient fluency to lead one to suppose that they had made long stays with these different peoples.
Were they gypsies? Were they buccaneers?
‘Suppose they are the devil himself,’ said some young politicians; ‘they entertain marvellously.’
‘The Comte de Lanty may have plundered some Casbah; I would like to marry his daughter!’ cried a philosopher.
Who would not have married Marianina, a young girl of sixteen years, whose beauty manifested the fabulous impressions of Oriental poets!
Like the Sultan’s daughter in the tale of the Wonderful Lamp, she should have remained always veiled.
Her singing obscured the imperfect talents of the Malibrans, the Sontags, and the Fodors, in whom some one dominant quality always mars the perfection of the whole; whereas Marianina combined in equal degree purity of tone, exquisite sensitivity, accuracy of time and intonation, soul and science, and correctness and sentiment.
She was the type of that hidden poetry; the link which connects all the arts, and which always eludes those who seek it.
Sweet and modest, educated and spiritual — nothing could eclipse Marianina save for her mother.
Have you ever met one of those women whose startling beauty defies the effects of aging, and who seem at thirty-six more desirable than they could have been fifteen years earlier?
Their faces are impassioned souls; they fairly sparkle; each feature shines with intelligence; each pore possesses a unique brilliancy, especially in the light.
Their seductive eyes attract or repel, speak or remain silent; their gait is innocently cultured; their voices deliver the melodious treasures of the most coquettishly sweet and tender tones.
Praise of their beauty, based upon comparisons, flatters the most sensitive self-esteem.
A movement of their eyebrows, the slightest play of the eye, the curling of the lip, instils a sort of terror in those whose lives and happiness depend upon their favour.
Inexperienced in love and amenable to words, a young maiden may allow herself to be seduced; but in dealing with women of this sort, a man must know, like Monsieur de Jaucourt, to refrain from crying out when, in hiding him in the bottom of a closet, the chambermaid crushes two of his fingers in the crack of a door.
To love one of these omnipotent mermaids is to risk one’s life, is it not?
And that, perhaps, is why we love them so passionately!
Such was the Countess de Lanty.
Filippo, Marianina’s brother, inherited, as did his sister, the Countess’ marvellous beauty.
To sum it up in one word, that young man was a living image of Antinous, with somewhat slighter proportions.
Although, how well such a slender and delicate figure accords with youth, when an olive complexion, heavy eyebrows, and the glint of a velvety eye, promise generous ideas for the future of virile passions!
If Filippo remained in the hearts of young women as a type of manly type, he likewise remained in the memory of all mothers as the best match in France.
The beauty, the wealth, the intellect, these qualities in the two children came entirely from their mother.
The Comte de Lanty was small, ugly, and pockmarked; gloomy like a Spaniard, and boring like a banker.
He passed himself off as a powerful politician, perhaps because he rarely laughed, and was always quoting Monsieur de Metternich or Wellington.
This mysterious family had all the attractiveness of a poem by Lord Byron, whose difficult passages were translated differently by each person in high society; a poem that grew more obscure and more sublime from stanza to stanza.
The reserve that Monsieur and Madame de Lanty maintained concerning their origin, their past existence, and their relations with the four quarters of the globe, would not have been a long held subject of wonderment in Paris.

Facino Cane
To Louise,
As a loving testimony of recognition.
I once lived in a little street that you most likely do not know — the Rue de Lesdiguieres.
It starts at Rue Saint-Antoine, just opposite a fountain near the Place de la Bastille, and ends in the Rue de la Cerisaie.
Love of knowledge had jettisoned me into an attic there, where I worked during the nights, and passed my days in a nearby library.
I lived frugally; I had accepted all the conditions of the monastic life — necessary conditions for a labourer. When it was fine, I would scarcely permit myself a walk along the Boulevard Bourdon.
One passion only drew me out of my studious habits; and yet, was it not just another study? I used to go and observe the manners and customs of the neighbourhood — its inhabitants, and their characteristics.
As I was as badly dressed as the workmen, and was indifferent to decorum, I did not put them on their guard; I could mingle in their gatherings, and look on while they concluded their haggling, or quarrelled amongst themselves as they left work.
Even back then, my observation had become highly intuitive: an ability to penetrate to the soul without disregarding the body; or rather, a power of grasping external details so thoroughly, such that I would go forthwith beyond them.
It gave me the ability to be enter the life of the individual upon which I directed my attention; permitting me to substitute myself, just as the dervish from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ could take possession of the body and soul of people upon whom he pronounced certain phrases.
When, between eleven o’clock and midnight, I came across a workman and his wife returning together from the Ambigu Comique, I used to amuse myself by following them from the Boulevard du Pont-aux-Choux to the Boulevard Beaumarchais.
The good folk would begin by talking about the play they had seen; then from one thing to another, until they came to their own affairs; and the mother would be dragging a child by the hand, without listening to its complaints or demands; while she and her husband tallied up the wages to be paid the next day, and dispensed in twenty different ways.
Then came details of the household, lamentations over the excessive price of potatoes, or the length of the winter and the high price of block fuel, together with energetic representations over the amount owing to the baker; finally ending in an acrimonious dispute, in the course of which such couples reveal their characters in picturesque words.
As I listened to these people, I could merge with their lives; I felt their rags on my back; I walked with their worn out shoes on my feet; their cravings, their needs, had all passed into my soul, or my soul had passed into theirs.
It was the dream of an awakened man.
I became hot tempered with them over the foreman’s tyranny, or the bad customers that made them call several times without receiving payment.
To drop one’s own habits — to become someone other than oneself through a kind of intoxication of the mental faculties — and to play this game at will, such was my distraction.
From where comes the gift? Is it a kind of second sight? Is it one of those powers, which when abused, leads to madness?


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