Starting as it does with glitching of the email account, and running until midnight because of a nine pm rehearsal, this promises to be a long one.
By one of those singular meetings, I came across an old illustrated edition of Les petites filles modèles yesterday, just as I was reading the final pages of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. La Comtesse de Ségur’s Les petites filles modèles forms a nice parallel to the moral principles illustrated in Austen’s novel. In this specific edition, it also happens to bring back an acute reading experience when I was eight or nine years old.
I pass on the moral corsets much in evidence in these fictions – pass isn’t the right word since moral (and physical) corsets form the warp and woof of the narratives. What is good and proper. What is wrong and despicable. How the good behave (and receive their just desserts). How the evil ones decline and illustrate Jean-Paul Sartres’ famous “l’enfer, c’est les autres” (Others are hell).
Now that I’m done with the narrative, I guess I’ll read the preface to Mansfield Park. In the meantime, I skimmed through Les petites filles modèles last night, struck by the way some of the scenes were still as vivid in my mind as they were during that summer read over sixty years ago.
Which ties in with a strand of thought floating about for the past few days: what struck me in the reading back then and what stayed with me of the newspaper photo of my three year-old incarnation in clown costume and double-bladed skates. In both instances, what stays most vivid in my mind are the moments of enjoyment: the costume, for instance, the fact a fuss was made over me, the fact my parents smiled and were proud of that fuss. The fact les petites filles modèles weren’t all goody-goody, the fact they had great picnics and seemed to get through the reams of moralizing as a matter of course.
Anxious moralizing I took as a matter of course too, in those days. Dispelled by sudden bursts of elation, the way an unbridled horse kicks off for a free gallop.
What remains of the Comtesse de Ségur, née Rostopchine days? Lots, I realize. Lots more to let fall by the roadside.