Wednesday, March 27, 2019

but she knew it wouldn’t be a sentence

On page fourteen of the Northwestern University Press edition of Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s La Femme de Gilles, 1937, tr. Faith Evans, the femme Elisa has taken money out of her handbag when she realises that something is occurring; she doesn’t quite know what but her attention is heightened, she feels vague unease turn to anguish, “behind her back there was another world” and now she is going to approach that other world by saying “an essential sentence.”

She knew she was going to speak. She didn’t know what she would say, but she knew it wouldn’t be a sentence that dropped carelessly from her lips, but rather an essential sentence, a sentence of which she would be the perfect mistress.

When the author writes the sentence on the next page you see that Elisa is not in command of her expressiveness. She seems to be figuring out how her meaning should appear. The pressure between the importance of her words and the casualness she is working to impose on them comes out in the punctuation. Instead of announcing her new decision like a “perfect mistress” she hedges with, “I’ve been thinking … I think I’ll …”

“I’ve been thinking – it’s not tiring, going to the cinema … I think I’ll come with you after all, I’ll ask Marthe to look after the children.”

We’ve seen that the “thinking” she refers to was a sensuous surrender to felt knowledge (“She felt it to be so [...] this mysterious insight which seemed suddenly to have seized her by the throat”), rather than the modest intellectual casualness the spoken sentence suggests; see, she is evading the power of her listeners, her husband and her sister, she is struggling to keep the revelation of her perfect mistresshood from them, she falsely stresses her exhaustion (“it’s not tiring”) and her dependence (“I’ll ask Marthe”), in other words her servitude to physicality, at the same time that an instinct, invisible to them, has made her alone and strong in a middle-world, a not-there-yet, as she begins to approach them mentally in her concealment.

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