Tag Archives: Jules Renard

Marginalia, no.304

The sun rises before I do, but I go to bed after it does: we are even.

~ Jules Renard, Journal

Morning people are content, but we night owls sometimes blame ourselves. I wonder, if I had to give up electric light and strain to read by candle in the dark, would I mend my ways?

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Marginalia, no.280

Yes, God exists, but he knows no more about it than we do.

~ Jules Renard, Journals

The best available answer for what is clearly something other than the best of all possible worlds? There are closets in Connecticut where Christmas gifts are hidden that will never surprise anyone.

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Marginalia, no.269

The white blackbird exists, but it is so white that it cannot be seen, and the black blackbird is only its shadow.

~ Jules Renard, Journals

Platonism is more than the instinct that things might be better. It’s the insistence that in fact they are better: it’s just that things at their best are invisible. This becomes a handy notion, allowing me to claim the superlative qualities of the ideal person I imagine myself to be, while still allowing me, when I fail in one respect or another, to blame my shadow.

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Marginalia, no.234

She had carried me, dead, in her heart for three kilometers.

~ Jules Renard, Journals

To bear news of a death (prematurely in Renard’s case) will convince anyone that words have mass and weight. I once learned of an acquaintance’s suicide before his girlfriend, a close friend of mine, knew about it. I understood that to tell her myself would mean the end of our relationship as it had existed. I told myself it was a friend’s duty to see that she didn’t hear it from a stranger. Which seems right. But it’s also true that, as a nineteen-year-old ravenous for anything savoring of adult life, I was secretly thrilled at the prospect of being the awful messenger. I carried his corpse for two hours before finally delivering it to her.

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Marginalia, no.228

A Person is he whose words or actions are considered, either as his own, or as representing the words or actions of an other man…whether Truly or by Fiction. When they are considered as his owne, then is he called a Naturall person: and when they are considered as representing the words or actions of an other, then he is a Feigned or Artificiall person.

~ Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

It may help us to understand the lives of certain novelists if we think of them as ‘feigned persons.’ To judge by their example, dissipation in chemical or sexual form must be a requirement for membership in the Cult of the Artist. General dishevelment, poor manners and complicated politics don’t hurt either. Flaubert cautions against affected bohemianism, recommending that an artist live like a bourgeois and save his energy for his work. Along similar lines, Jules Renard writes in an 1890 journal entry: “You can be a poet and still wear your hair short. You can be a poet and pay your rent. Even though you are a poet, you can sleep with your wife.”

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Marginalia, no.161

I always feel like saying to music: ‘It isn’t true! You lie!’

~ Jules Renard, Journal

My seven-year-old son tells me: ‘Esther brought her violin to school and played some Bach, but she pronounced it “batch,” and it was so beautiful I wanted to cry.’ Who was this Esther, I asked, his girlfriend? ‘I don’t want to dance with her by light of the moon or anything,’ he said, ‘but if we got married I could listen to her play “batch” all the time.’  …I wonder if there isn’t an exception, after all, to Neil Young’s golden saying that ‘only love can break your heart.’

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Marginalia, no.149

There are storytellers and writers.  You can tell any story you like; you cannot write whatever you like: you write only yourself.

~ Jules Renard, Journal

That’s the trouble.  Editing and revising the current draft of the novel, I find that I’ve succeeded remarkably in putting myself onto paper.  The problem is the self in question: sentimental, affected, distracted by baubles and trivialities that can interest no one else.  The story is itself, but the telling is too much me.  Is self-improvement possible?  Can I write myself into shape?

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Books and Bombs

Yesterday I finished the third movement of Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time.  The trilogy of novels contained in this penultimate volume deals with the war years.  Nick Jenkins’ war, however, is not a clash of armies in the field but a war of familial dislocations, obscure provincial postings, and byzantine military bureaucracies.  It reminds me, in that respect, of Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece, the Sword of Honour trilogy.  It’s interesting that so much of the best writing about the war was done by this in-between generation, by persons like Waugh and Powell and Malcolm Muggeridge (in his Chronicles of Wasted Time) who were too young for the trenches in ‘14 but too old for most of the real fighting in WWII.

My own favorite passages from the third movement include the chapter in which Jenkins and Colonel Finn take their liaison charges on a tour of liberated Normandy and Belgium, and the long scene near the end of The Military Philosophers when Jenkins attends the victory service at St Paul’s.  Jules Renard once observed that it is when facing the prospect of death that men become most bookish.  This is perhaps borne out in the case of Jenkins who, faced with the mortal toll and the awful knowledge of what was only scarcely avoided by the survivors, can think of nothing but poetry, bits of Elizabethan Biblical phraseology, and snatches of rhyme from half-forgotten children’s books.

How readily you can relate to Jenkins’ instinctual retreat into words must say something about the sort of reader – and the sort of person – you are.  What exactly it says, I don’t know.  But I have myself felt the painful need, in horrible  moments, for a few favorite books.  When worldly circumstances threaten universal barbarism, words have a power to remind us that there is still some consolation in being human, that civilization and culture can still be personal possessions even when collectively renounced.  The sense of the term has shifted a little over the years, but I can’t help think that Dr Johnson’s definition of ‘Humanist’ holds up nicely: ‘A philologer; a grammarian.’

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Marginalia, no.127

The cat is the life of furniture. 

~ Jules Renard

And the death.  Ours has torn a flap from the side of the couch large enough to insert her head and peer around at its bowels.  She’ll stand like that for minutes at a time while a slow hemorrhage of stuffing seeps from the wound.  It’s not that she dislikes the couch.  She only loves it too much.

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Marginalia, no.105

I love you as I love that phrase I made up in a dream and which I am unable to remember.

~ Jules Renard, Journal

The best lovers are always escaping each other.  Law is possession, according to the old saw, but love is diplomatic immunity.

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