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Authors: Marguerite Duras

Four Novels

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by Marguerite Duras





Introduction by Germaine Brée



This collection copyright © 1965 by Grove Press, Inc.

The Square
copyright © 1959 by John Calder (Publishers) Ltd.

Moderato cantabile
copyright © 1960 by Grove Press, Inc.

Ten-thirty on a Summer Night
copyright © 1962 by Marguerite Duras

The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas
copyright © 1965 by Grove Press, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

The Square
was originally published in France by Librairie Gallimard as
Le Square,
copyright © 1965.

Moderato cantabile
was originally published in France by Les Editions de Minuit as
Moderato cantabile,
copyright © 1958.

Ten-thirty on a Summer Night
was originally published in France by Librairie Gallimard as
Dix heures et demie du soir en été,
copyright © 1960.

The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas
was originally published in France by Librairie Gallimard as
L’après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas,
copyright © 1962.

Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Duras, Marguerite.

Four novels/by Marguerite Duras; introduction by Germaine Brée.

  p.    cm.

Originally published: 1965.

Contents: The square—Moderato cantabile—Ten-thirty on a summer night—The afternoon of Mr. Andesmas.

ISBN 0-8021-5111-6

eISBN 978-0-8021-9062-8

1. Duras, Marguerite—Translations, English. I. Title. II. Title: Square. III. Title: Moderato cantabile. Iv. Title: Ten-thirty on a summer night. V. Title: Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas.



Cover design by Louise Fili

Cover photograph by Marcia Lippman

Grove Atlantic

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

154 West 14th Street

New York, NY 10011

Distributed by Publishers Group West

13  14  15  16  17    15  14  13  12  11  10


by Germaine Brée

and liked Alain Resnais’ film
Hiroshima, Mon Amour
is likely to forget the moment when the voices of the man and woman rise alternately slow, calm, almost impersonal. They come, one feels, from a long inner distance, far beyond the immediacy of the two tightly-clasped bodies on the screen: “‘You saw
of Hiroshima. Nothing.’ ‘I saw everything.
For instance, the hospital. I saw the hospital. I’m sure of that. How could I miss it?’ ‘You did not see the Hiroshima hospital. You saw nothing of Hiroshima.’” Unpredictable, dogged, and strangely persuasive, the dialogue between the man and woman begins to unfold.

On the whole, the movie-going public is more sensitive to the flow of images on the screen than to the words spoken, more attentive to the acting or the direction than to the script. That is why the name of Marguerite Duras, who gave the dialogue of
its haunting, unobtrusive beauty, has remained relatively unknown to so many people indirectly stirred by the intensity of feeling she was able to enclose in words.

The script of Resnais’ film is an excellent introduction to her writing, except that she is not usually concerned with great historical events. Rather, she concentrates on individual situations, which over the years she has tended to simplify, isolating in her stories brief but intense moments of awareness when, for an instant, two lives, or sometimes three, unpredictably act one upon the other, and an inner event seems to be taking shape. These are moments when, coming out of their isolation, her characters are willing to communicate, or to make an attempt at communication. To speak one to the other is in essence to relate. That is why dialogue is the key to Marguerite Duras’s world and why, no doubt, her stories move so easily from narrative to stage or
scenario. Of the four novels included in this volume,
The Square
was staged in Paris and
Moderato Cantabile
adapted for the screen, both successfully.

Fiction, drama, cinema: these are her media, though her ten novels to date point to her greater involvement with the first; yet the hold the cinema has always had on her imagination is great and visibly affects her narrative techniques. Unlike the best known of the “experimental” novelists in France—Robbe-Grillet, Butor, Sarraute—Marguerite Duras has never been an essayist, an exponent of esthetic theories and ideas. But she shares with her contemporaries the desire to discard many of the rather worn-out conventions of the traditional novel, conventions which she put to effective use in her first works.
Barrage against the Pacific
(1950), the best-known of these, is a Hemingway-type story based on Marguerite Duras’s memories of South Indochina where she lived until she was seventeen. The very title of the story suggests a dogged, unequal battle against a superhuman force. This was to remain one of Duras’s basic themes: barrage against the immense solitude of human beings, barrage against the pain of all involvements, barrage against despair. In two of the stories,
Moderato Cantabile
Ten-thirty on a Summer Night,
alcohol is just such a barrage and, at the same time, ambiguously a kind of overwhelming Pacific.

The group of four short novels presented here and written between 1955 and 1962 are the works of a mature writer. They all reflect Duras’s major esthetic preoccupation: to shape a story so that it achieves an emotional intensity and unity that goes beyond the limits of the outer events related. Each is a particular embodiment of a fundamental human feeling. Certainly the famous description of the modem novel as “dehumanized” does not apply to Marguerite Duras’s, whose characters are pathetically and humanly vulnerable, humbly aware of the pain involved in human affections, yet dependent upon them, drawing from them the joys and disasters of living. Marguerite Duras’s world is nothing if not intensely, vibrantly human. Were it not for the strict formal control she imposes on it, it might almost appear sentimental.

Duras’s control is apparent in the manner in which she delimits situation and event. Each of the four novels unfolds in what resembles a stage set, or a series of clearly delineated sets. Each, as in drama, is carefully plotted within certain units of time. In
The Square,
a twenty-year-old girl and a man sit side by side on a park bench, in early summer, on a certain Thursday, from 4:30
to nightfall. It is on a
Friday afternoon, in June, that in
Moderato Cantabile
Anne Desbaresdes hears the scream of a murdered woman, and on Saturday, at the same hour, she enters the bar where, for a little over one week, as spring moves into summer, she returns almost every day. In
Ten-thirty on a Summer Night,
the main set is the overcrowded hotel of a small Spanish town, where Maria, her husband Pierre, their daughter Judith, and a friend Claire spend one night, unexpectedly, because of the storm, and the entire story lasts barely twenty-four hours. The whole story of
The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas
takes place on a terrace, one Saturday in early summer, between four o’clock and six. Though Marguerite Duras thus isolates what might appear as a fragment of existence, she does not present fragments of experience, but within the limits set by the molding of the narrative, she reaches toward an essential moment when, in a flash of awareness, the inner truth of a situation comes to light in the form of pure emotion.

In each story, mood, setting, and encounter are thematically developed and blended to achieve a certain pitch of emotional intensity bearable only because of the control Marguerite Duras maintains over her medium. To create her effect, she makes a flexible and unobtrusive use of point of view. Her stories at first seem to have no end or beginning, no central focus. A child comes up to the bench in the park; a child refuses to answer his piano teacher; a woman drinks manzanilla in a Spanish bar as a deluge of rain comes down; a dog appears at the corner of a terrace. As in films, the viewer, or listener, is not immediately described; only what is seen, or heard, and the narrative guided by the storyteller shifts, often without transition, from character to character, from the world inside to the world outside. The reader must, to a certain extent, yield to the narrative, allow himself to be drawn into its rhythms and tempo. Rhythm, tempo, silence, pause, repetition, modulation, a contrapuntal use of descriptive passages alternating with dialogue replace the habitual analysis, motivation, the logical sequence of events and rationally substantiated conflicts of the run of the mill novel.

All four novels are dominated, though to a different extent, by the human voice.
The Square
is almost entirely a dialogue; in
Moderato Cantabile
the dialogue—picked up, repeated, broken, ambiguous—dominates the narrative flow; less prominent in
Ten-thirty on a Summer Night
Mr. Anaesmas,
the successive sequences of words spoken are none the less climactic. The words spoken are punctuated by
the changing play of light and shadow: the shifting patterns of scenery glimpsed at different moments, in different lights. Light and shadow mark the slowly moving, steady pattern of outer time, in contrast to the long-drawn-out moments of suspense, the sudden speeded-up moments of awareness that give its tempo to the characters’ inner life. Recurrence, leitmotiv, tempo are the stylistic devices whereby Marguerite Duras establishes the continuous yet shifting patterns of her stories. The dialogue moves freely between mere comment on the outer surface of things and the expression of inner moods and aspiration, usually voiceless. Certainly, it is not Marguerite Duras’s intention to give us a plausible reconstruction of characteristic speech patterns, but rather, through carefully patterned speech, to bring to light inner unexpressed tensions, hopes, modes of being as felt by specific individuals. An unexpected remark, an unfinished sentence, an apparent
non sequitur
are often the key to the emotion from which it draws its cogency, a key to the inner event in the making which it is the novelist’s intention to track down, disclose, and make clear.

Very little is necessary to start her stories moving. The story of Mr. Andesmas was born, Marguerite Duras indicates, of a few “words overheard”: “I have just bought a house. A very beautiful spot. Almost like Greece. The trees around the house belong to me. One of them is enormous and, in summer, will give so much shade that I’ll never suffer from the heat. I am going to build a terrace. From that terrace at night you’ll be able to see the lights of G.” Simple words overheard, from which it would seem was born the massive figure of seventy-eight-year-old Mr. Andesmas, seated in his creaking wicker chair overlooking the sea. “Words overheard”: for example the name of Rodrigo Paestra repeated by an entire town, or, more incongruously in another case, a rending scream attacking the placid peace of French provincial life, are sufficient to project two of Duras’s most pathetic characters, Maria and Anne, out of middle-class banality into a strangely macabre adventure.

Marguerite Duras is endowed with the novelist’s gift to pursue, track down, and develop the fictional potentialities of the most simple situations, and she generously shares that gift with the characters that dominate her imagination: Anne will live vicariously the passion of another woman; Maria will almost literally, from the intensity of her involvement in his story, bring Rodrigo Paestra to life before she drives him to his death; and Mr. Andesmas, for a short while, will be so obsessed by the presence of Michel Arc’s dark-haired wife that he will
forget his own obsessive preoccupation with his golden-haired daughter Valérie.

Each novel concentrates on one central relationship that gives it its dramatic cogency, but it is not an isolated relationship, for implacably it draws all other relationships into its orbit, modulating them as it were. In each case, the inner and outer fluctuations of the dominant relationship draw together or tear apart the two people involved, as in a
pas de deux.
Dancing, like music, is a fundamental Duras theme: the maid and the salesman, Anne and Chauvin, Maria and Pierre, Mr. Andesmas and Michel Arc’s wife are all partners in rhythmical motion. But each movement involves the entire person, the entire inner fabric of the maid’s or the salesman’s life; Anne’s relation to her son, to her world; the relation of Pierre, Maria’s husband, with Claire; the relation of Valérie, Mr. Andesmas’s daughter, with Michel Arc. “He” and “she,” timidly approaching each other as in
The Square;
haunted by an impossible desire in
Moderato Cantabile;
torn apart by nascent sexual attraction in
Ten-thirty on a Summer Night;
confronting the end of an exclusive possession in
Mr. Andesmas.
Within the limitations of the narrative forms she has developed, Marguerite Duras deals in stark, basic human emotions—desire, dread, suspense, solitude, happiness, as they pertain to the one basic “ocean” of feeling for others, which is love. It is the hope, the possibility of love that the dialogue of
The Square
uncovers, the saving grace for two inconsequential lives. In the bar, in the small town, Anne Desbaresdes discovers the destructive, intoxicating desire to love unto death, a desire thwarted, but not before it has devastated her life. The rescue and death of Rodrigo Paestra are connected to Maria’s discovery, at ten-thirty on a summer night, of the silhouettes of Pierre and Claire in each other’s arms. What seventy-eight-year-old Mr. Andesmas discovers is “the knowledge” of his love for his eighteen-year-old daughter Valérie, and that he must relinquish her to Michel Arc.

Love, the fierceness of love, the happiness, the pain, the compelling and destructive power of love is Marguerite Duras’s essential theme, and not, as is too often stressed, solitude. Of all human bonds, none is more subtly described than the bond between parent and child. In all four stories, the child appears, untouched by the adult world, which only Valérie is about to enter. The child playing in the park, although not theirs, is benignly looked upon by maid and salesman; the first scene of
Moderato Cantabile
is a small gem of humor and delight—the
delight of Anne in her rebellious little boy. We see Judith, happily skipping in the muddy stream of water alongside her mother, who is befuddled by alcohol; Valérie, at fifteen, caught in the glow of sunlight as she stuffs candy in her mouth. By their presence, these children illuminate the stories, somehow saving even Anne and Maria—the two women destroyed, doubly, by thwarted love and alcohol—from the macabre.

The sixth of Marguerite Duras’s novels,
The Square
(1955) is the first in which she experimented with a new stylized form of storytelling which, without being analytical, would bring to light certain fundamental patterns of human feeling. In the fifties, as Nathalie Sarraute ironically observed in her essay
An Age of Suspicion,
no sophisticated French novelist could pronounce the word “psychology” without blushing. The novel of psychological analysis, long held in high esteem in France, was considered played out. The American “behaviorist” novel, so popular in the forties, had yielded all it could; the existentialist novel, as practiced by the post-Sartrean writers, was weighted down by outworn techniques and earnest stereotypes. The fifties brought in the highly articulate “new” novelists, all experimentally inclined. With
The Square,
Marguerite Duras took front rank among these new novelists. Yet, in a sense, it was with the human psyche exclusively that Marguerite Duras was concerned, with the psychological event. In her hands, the chance encounter of a girl and a man who, socially, think of themselves as “the lowest of the low,” becomes a kind of paradigm of one of the basic polarities in human experience. The dialogue form she adopted to deal with the encounter—the basic ingredient of all “romances”—recalls the stylized work of the English novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett, and was particularly well-suited to Duras’s theme.
The Square
tends toward equilibrium, stasis, and the complete, carefully spoken paragraphs give the requisite impression of weight and balance.

BOOK: Four Novels
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