Friday, January 8, 2016

The Mandarins III

I thought I should provide an example of the writing that I appreciate in this novel. Anne, who is a psychotherapist, is invited to a gathering at the home of her wealthy friend, Claudie. Here is a highly abridged version of the text:

We had declined at least three of her invitations; among the people I recognized in that mob, there were very few to whom I felt obligated. They believed us to be haughty, misanthropic, or poseurs. The idea that we simply didn't enjoy going out in society I don't suppose ever dawned on those people who eagerly came here to bore themselves. Boredom was a scourge that had terrorized me ever since my childhood, and it was above all to escape it that I had wanted to grow up; I had in fact built my whole life around that avoidance. But perhaps those whose hands I was now shaking were so used to boredom that they didn't even feel it; perhaps they didn't even know that the very atmosphere could have a different tang....

There was a moment at Claudie's when she announced that the bores had left, although the order of departure varied from one time to the next. 
"I'm terribly sorry," I said, "but I'm afraid I have to leave with them." 
"What! But you must stay for supper," Claudie insisted. "We're going to set up small tables; it'll be very nice. And I want you to meet some people who are coming later." She took me aside. "I've decided to take you under my wing," she said eagerly. "It's ridiculous to live like a savage; no one knows you – I mean in the milieu where there's money to pick up. Let me launch you. I'll take you to the best dressmakers, I'll show you off, and in a year you'll have the plushest practice in Paris."
"I've got more patients than I can handle right now."
"Half of whom pay poorly, and the other half not at all."
"That isn't the question."
"It is the question. With a patient who pays ten times as much, you can work ten times less. You'll have time to go out, to dress up."
"We'll talk about it again."

I was astonished at how little she understood me, but as a matter of fact I didn't understand her very well either. She believed that, for us, work was nothing but a means to achieving fortune and success, and I was vaguely convinced that all those snobs would have gladly traded their social position for intellectual talents and accomplishments. When I was a child, a teacher seemed to me a much greater person than a duchess or a millionaire, and through the years that hierarchy had not changed appreciably. Claudie, however, believed that the supreme reward for an Einstein would be to be received in her salon. We could hardly reach any real understanding.  

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