Disrupted momentum. A plot, a narrative incident, a moment of the dramatic lending momentum to the whole: Precisely those elements mostly absent in our daily lives, replete as they are with what Walter Benjamin called “messy antics,” confused, shambling and chaotic, borderline out of control as they search to jump the rails without notice or warning. It is this distinction of modernism that we construct and then tell stories to ourselves fill them with what is thought to be coherent content, dramatic rationality and logic, and what we perceive as significance even though the entirety is flawed, incomplete and contradictory. …
This was a truly modern work for the time. Even its models are all new. It is like a highly intelligent film made by a had held camera and then edited, with many flashbacks and much crosscutting, by a poetic producer. It is like an on-the-spot tape recording; indeed, it could well be made into a play for radio, that art form of old, with dozens of different voices rising and fading against the busy background music of a city.
In literature one of its models is Joyce’s Ulysses, which within one twenty-four hour period gives us the life of a city, with many interior monologues, many fragmentary sounds and speeches overheard, and much of that indescribable half-comic poetry that exudes from the list of common folk. After all, The Marquise ends with a big rhapsody reminiscent in shape of Molly Bloom’s final reverie. T.S. Eliot’s wasteland, blending past and present, vulgarity and nobility, the imagined and the reminiscent and the overheard, is another work in this style.
Like other practitioners of what became known as the “new novel” in France, Claude Mauriac gave up the artificial concept of a single thread of plot called “the story”; and like them, he brings the reader into direct and intimate confrontation with his characters. Jules Romains, too, is one of Mauriac’s masters. In Men of Good Will he evoked the collective life of the city of Paris; and the episodic contrapuntal plan of that enormous work is adapted to The Marquise, although on a smaller, far more concentrated scale.
Romain’s doctrine of “unanism” which makes a street full of people or a small group of friends capable of becoming a higher, although less durable, entity than the individuals that compose it, is beautifully expressed in the life of the Carrefour de Buci. Whether Mauriac also knew Durrel’s Alexandria quartet is also possible since the two men were of similar age and had been working on approximate lines.
But any novelist’s work, however ingenious its technique and however distinguished its models, will be arid and unrewarding unless he can create people, make them act naturally and surprisingly, let us hear their voices and see their movements, so the appear to us, not puppets on strings or actors on film, but flesh and blood and spirit like ourselves. On finishing The Marquise Went Out At Five, I forgot I was reading a book and felt as though I were standing on a balcony above the Carrefour de Buci, sharing for an hour the life of those gay, harrassed, volatile, intelligent, sensual, xenophobic people of Paris, who are the real hero of Mauriac’s eloquent and penetrating novel.
(see link at end) …At, roughly, the mid point of the book there is a chapter called ‘The Marquise Went Out At Five’. This, by way of Barthes, riffs on something Valéry said. ‘The phrase,’ as Josipovici puts it, ‘was one he would always avoid, as it was the type of bad opening of classic nineteenth-century narratives … [Valéry objected to] the arbitrariness implied in the use of the phrase’ . What Josipovici is essentially arguing in this chapter is that the realist novel (he uses Dickens as an exemplar) relies on coincidences and upon arbitrarily contrived situations. A phrase like ‘the marquise went out athttp://bigother.com/2011/01/22/the-marquise-with-the-lead-pipe-at-five/