Sep 16, 2011

Grand's grandeur.

     'You see, what I want, doctor, is that on the day when the manuscript reaches the publisher, he should stand up after reading it and say to his colleagues: "Hats off, gentlemen!" ...Yes,' Grand said. 'It must be perfect.'
     Though he knew very little about customs and practice in the literary world, Rieux had the impression that things were not so simple, and, for example, that publishers would be bare-headed in their offices. But, in fact, one never knew and he preferred not to make any remark about it. Grand went on talking and Rieux could not always follow what the good fellow was saying. He only understood that the work in question was already many pages long, but that the efforts the author was taking to bring it to perfection cost him dear. 'Whole evenings, whole weeks on one word... sometimes just a simple conjunction.' Here Grand stopped and took hold of the doctor by a button of his coat. The words stumbled out of his ill-adjusted mouth.
     'You understand, doctor. At a pinch, it is easy enough to choose between but and and. It already becomes more difficult to opt for and or then. The difficulty grows with then and afterwards. But what is surely hardest of all is to decide whether one should put and or not.'
     'Yes,' Rieux said. 'I understand.'
     And he set off again. The other man seemed confused and once more caught up with him.
     'Excuse me,' he stammered. 'I don't know what's wrong with me this evening!'
     Rieux tapped him lightly on the shoulder and said that he wanted to help him, because his story interested him a good deal. Grand seemed a little calmer and when they arrived at his house hesitated for a moment, then invited the doctor to come up. Rieux accepted.
     In the dining room, Grand invited him to sit down at a table spread with papers, a manuscript in minute handwriting, which was covered with crossings-out.
     'Yes, that's it,' Grand told the doctor, who was looking at him enquiringly. 'But, don't look. It's my first sentence. It's giving me trouble, a lot of trouble.'
     He, too, was staring at all the sheets of paper and his hand seemed to be irresistibly drawn towards one of them, which he raised up until the light from the unshaded bulb was shining through it. The sheet trembled in his hand. Rieux noticed that the clerk's forehead was damp.
     'Sit down,' Rieux said, 'and read it to me.'
     The other man looked at him with a kind of gratitude.
     'Yes,' he said. 'I think I'd like to.'
     He waited for a moment, still looking at the sheet of paper, then sat down. Rieux was listening at the same time to a sort of vague humming sound in the town, as if replying to the whistling flail of the plague. At this particular moment he had an extraordinarily acute perception of the town spread out at his feet, the enclosed world that it formed and the dreadful cries stifled in its night. He heard Grand's muffled voice: 'On a fine morning in the month of May, an elegant woman was riding a magnificent sorrel mare through the flowered avenues of the Bois de Boulogne.' Silence returned and with it the faint murmuring of the suffering town. Grand had put down the sheet of paper, but was still staring at it. After a pause, he looked up:
     'What do you think of it?'
     Rieux replied that this beginning made him curious to know what would follow. But the other man said with excitement that this was not the right way of looking at it. He slapped the flat of his hand down on the paper.
     'That's only a rough idea. When I have managed to describe precisely the picture that I have in my imagination, when my sentence has the very same movement as that trotting horse, one-two-three, one-two-three, then the rest will be easy and above all the illusion will be such from the very start that it will be possible to say: "Hats off, gentlemen!"'
     However, before he reached that point,there was still a lot of work to be done. He would never agree to hand over this sentence as it was to a printer because, though from time to time he did feel pleased with it, he realized that it still did not entirely accord with reality and that, to some extent, it had a certain facility of tone that made it sound distantly—but sound, for all that—like a cliché.
     'You see what I'll do with it,' Grand said. And, turning to the window, added: 'When all this is over.'

—Albert Camus, The Plague

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