Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gustave, I Hardly Knew You

All of us who set our course by the writing star, blazing away in the night skies, have a common link in the metaphorical splendor of Gustave Flaubert's short story, "A Simple Heart."  The principal character of the story is Felicite,whose name itself is an invitation to metaphor because she is a drudge, doing drudge work, is relatively unnoticed and alone in the world, whose entire life is the life of service and her belief in the mysteries of Christianity, and of course her one living luxury, her parrot, Loulou.  In her dying moment, Felicite conflates a vision of her beloved Loulou with the Holy Ghost.

The story had a profound effect on you when you first read it, while in your teen-aged argument against the accouterments of religion--any religion.  It had an even more profound effect when you chanced upon Julian Barnes's remarkable novel, Flaubert's Parrot, in which a modern day incarnation of Charles Bovary set about becoming a Flaubert scholar, then yet again as discussed by Mario Vargas Llosa in his The Perpetual Orgy, which was meant as a study of Flaubert but which, as such things go, was also a study of Vargas Llosa.

Over the years since you first encountered "A Simple Heart," you have variously tried to orchestrate in imagination your own dying moment, thinking about all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful possibilities of vision, one in particular coming back to haunt you in the form of a television infomercial.  If you had your druthers and because it is so personal, so about you, you pardon yourself in advance for neglecting dear animal friends such as Sam, your first real introduction to what it meant to have an animal so much a part of your life that future times in your life you always did have an animal confidante; you similarly move beyond parents and sister and close, irreplaceable persons, landing instead at that entry into Huckleberry Finn.  Not so much because it was even close to perfection; Huck Finn is in fact flawed but it is also your own equivalent of "A Simple Heart," the place where you would spend your last moment because of that voice, that remarkable, knows-more-that-you'd-think voice, and because you might have had some moments of approximating such a voice but had not delved the secrets and mysteries Twain delved and understood long enough to sustain such a voice.

It is questionable, given Twain's upbringing and experiences whether he had many moments in which he bored an audience.  This alone intrigued you as you followed him through his essays and sketches and novels and some of the most awful narrative known to mankind and some of the most sublime.  You learned first hand what it was to bore audiences; seeing it before you was so humiliating that you resolved when it happened to study the factors and tropes that produced it, caused the eyes to roll upward or sideways, the feet to tap, the fingers to fidget.  You were so ready to hear Twain set it all out on the page, detailing the ways in which a story could become an instrument to be played upon, showing ways story manifested itself and lived in persons you would not suspect as being tellers of tales.

More than likely, Life being as multifarious as it is, your final moments will be over before the recognition hits that they are final moments.  Meanwhile you will have said your farewells to Annie and Jake, to Pennee, to Anne, to Sam, to Blue, to Edward, to Jed, to Molly, to Sally; you'll have nodded toward your mentors Rachel and Virginia, to your pals, Barnaby and Digby, toward lovers and friends all in some litany, some theme of apostolic succession, not once but multiple times so long as memory and the resonance of their voices sound about you; they will be more in the nature of greetings than farewells because another of the joys of being here is that you have their voices so firmly in mind that you respond to them day-to-day without noticing they are away.


Storm Dweller said...

Twain has always been one of my favorite authors, his humor and penchant for the obvious makes his writing personable and real. One could not achieve that without flaws whether they are intentionally worked in, or done quite blindly.

Sarah said...

Shelly, you are a master of the last, haunting image.

Unknown said...

We enjoyed your review, thank you.
A vintage postcard reminded us so strongly of Felicite of the Simple Heart we bought it, we also visited Pont l'Eveque to see her home for ourselves!
Have a look at the postcard and more here http://www.normandythenandnow.com/a-simple-heart-at-pont-leveque/