Dissertation générale - Français moderne - Ancien français - Anglais.


                When I was young, I used to be so good-natured. I used to see the best in everyone, to excuse all faults, to put all malice and shortcoming down to environment: in short, to take all blames upon myself. But for the child, I might have gone on like that forever and, who knows, I might have been the better and nicer for it in the kindness of my innocence. I repeat; not being blind, I saw faults but I excused them. Now I felt less and less like finding excuses. I still cringed politely and smile when doors slammed in my face, but I felt ressentment in my heart. For instance, when I was five months pregnant, though not admittedly in my winter coat looking it, I was sitting in a Tube train when two middle-aged women got on.: there were no more seats so they stood in front of me, strap hanging, and proceeded to grumble, very pointedly, about the ill manners of the young. As I happened to be the youngest person in the compartment, I could not but take this personnally. They clearly meant to be overheard, for they went on and on in refined, mean, grating tones: looking back, I can see that they were nuts, and sad ones at hat, but what I felt as I listened to them was fury. I had been reared to stand for the elderly on public transport; and after a while I could bear it no longer, and I heaved myself to my feet and offered one of them my place. I made the gesture with extreme ill-feeling and indeed malice, but the woman took my seat without a word of thanks but with a tired, reproving  pursing of the lips, and as I stood there it became clear that she didn't notice my condition. It was the only time that I wished I were as huge as a house as some women are: though in fact size is meaningless, as one feel worst in the first three months when nothing is on view. I stood there and watched her sitting, and I was full of hate. I wanted to faint on the floor, to show her. But then, who knows, she must have had her afflictions too.

                For my brother and his wife, too, I used to make excuses: I used to try to see them in perspective and to regard not them but what had made them what they were. I suppose I felt ashamed of an emotion as irrational as dislike. I did not see them very often: dutifully, perhaps, twice a year. I had thought they would be easy enough to avoid, unlike Beatrice, I had no fears that I would meet them idly in the street. But then, of course, I went and did precisely that: I met her, anyway.

                                                                      The Millstone (1968) - Margaret Drabble, (Penguin p80-81).


                She waited till the train had emerged from the tunnel and was racing between the ragged edges of the northern suburbs. Then,  as it lowered its speed near Yonkers, she rose from her seat and drifted slowly down the carriage? As she passed Mr. Gryce, the train gave a lurch, and he was aware of a slender hand gripping the back of his chair. He rose with a start, his ingenuous face looking as though it had been dipped in crimson: even the reddish tint in his beard seemed to deepen.

                The train swayed again, almost flinging Miss Bart into his arms. She steaded herself with a laugh and drew back; but he was enveloped in the scent of her dress, and his shoulder had felt her fugitive touch.

                "Oh, Mr. Gryce, is it you? I'm sorry -I was trying to find the porter and get some tea."

                She held out her hand as the train resumed its level rush, and they stood exchanging a few words in the aisle. Yes -he was going to Bellomont. He had heard she was to be of the party -he blushed again as he admitted it. And was he to be there for the whole week? How delightful!

                But at this point one or two belated passengers from the last station forced their way into the carriage, and Lily had to retreat to her seat.

                "The chair next to mine is empty -do take it," she said over her shoulder, and Mr. Gryce, with considerable embarrassment, succeeded in effecting an exchange which enabled him to transport himself and his bags to her side.

                "Ah -and here is the porter, and perhaps we can have some tea."

                She signalled to that official, and in a moment, with the ease that seemed to attend the fulfilment of all her wishes, a little table had been set up between the seats, and she had helped Mr. Gryce to bestow his encumbering properties beneath it.

                When the tea came he watched her in silent fascination while her hands flitted above the tray, looking miraculously fine and slender in contrast to the coarse china and lumpy bread. It seemed wonderful to him that anyone should perform with such careless ease the difficult task of making tea in public in a lurching train. he would never have deared to order it for himself, lest he should attract the notice of his fellow-passengers; but, secure in the shelter of her conspicuousness, he sipped the inky draught with a delicious sense of exhilaration.

                                                  The House of Mirth (1905) - Edith Wharton (Penguin Modern Classics, 1986).


                "But sir!"
                It's corpse-pale Price who interrupts. Provocative hand raised. Another of his lesson-sabotaging sallies.
                And the teacher feels, through Price's rebellious eyes, the unrest, and anticipation of the whole class.
                Sir! Hang on a moment! We're not living in the eighteenth century. What about-?
                "This nostalgia stuff, sir" -shifting in his desk with an air of ironic puzzlement- "how would nostalgia make these hungry workers go on the rampage then?"
                Titters and murmurs from the class. (A mob gathering.) Nervous shifting of weight on feet by teacher.
                (They've all noticed it: something just a bit edgy of late, something just a bit vulnerable about old Cricky.)
                "I'm glad you asked that Price." (How a teacher announces a side-step.) "Because it raises the question of how you define a revolution -sociologically speaking. Just as a revolution moves in paradoxical directions, so its social location is elusive. You mention the hungry workers. Do this make a revolution? Or do the overtaxed bourgeoisie? Is a revolution merely a spontaneous external event or is it the expression of a particular party of parties?" (...)
                Teacher fingers tie-knot, paces, like a blustering general before mutinous troops.
                "Where then does the revolution lies? This starting-point of our modern age. Is it merely a term of convenience? Does it li in some impenetrable amalgam of countless individual circumstances too complex to be analysed? It's a curious thing, Price, but the more you try to dissect events, the more you lose hold of what you took for granted in the first place -the more it seems it never actually occured, but occurs, somehow, only in the imagination..."
                Teacher pauses. Price's response to all this suddenly seems important.
                He hesitates a moment. Then, boldly, almost insolently: "Should we be writing this down, sir? The French Revolution never really happened. it only happened in imagination."
                "Don't be litteral, Price."
                "No, but I think it's true. we don't know the half, so a good half must be make-belief."
                Suppressed chortlings around the class.
                "And are we really supposed to believe that in 1789 everyone wanted to put the clock back?"
                More giggles and outbursts. Price turns, surveys the class.
                (So is that your game? Allit is? Just the old bash-the-teacher stuff? The old schoolroom power-contest: Class-mates beware! Don't be fooled by our teacher's attempts to turn a thing into its opposite. To call revolution retrogression. What all this clever-talk amounts is that our cricky's over the hill. Like all the oldies, he can only look backwards. He can't bear the notion of anything new...)

                                                                                              Waterland - Graham Swift (1983, éd. Picador.)


                Sunday was the day for which Metroland was created. On sunday mornings, as I lay in bed wondering how to kill the day, two sounds rang out accross the silent, contented suburb: the church bells and the train. The bells nagged you awake, persisted whith irritating stamina , and finally gave up with a defeated half-clunk. The trains clattered more loudly than usual into Eastwick station, as if celebrating their lack of passengers. It wasn't until the afternoon -by some tacit but undisputed agreement- that a third noise started up: the patterned roar of motor moweres, accelerating, braking, turning,
accelerating, braking, turning. When they fell silent, you might catch the quiet chomp of shears; and finally -a sound absorbed rather than heard- the gentle squeak of chamois on boot and bonnet.

                It was the day of garden hoses (we all paid extra on the rates for an outside tap); of yahoo kids shouting dementedly from several gardens away; of beachballs rising above the level of the fence; of learner drivers panicking on three-point turns in the road outside; of young men taking the family car up to Stitle for a drink before lunch, and dropping their blue salt papers through the slats of the teak gardenware. Sundays, it seemed, were always peaceful, and always sunny.

                I loathed them, with all the rage of one continuously disappointed to discover that he is not self-sufficient. I loathed the Sunday papers, which tried to fill your dozing brain with thoughts you didn't want; I loathed the Sunday radio, spilling over with arid critics; I loathed the Sunday television, all Brains Trust and serious plays about grown-ups and emotionnal crises and nuclear war and that sort of stuff. I loathed staying in, while the sun crept furtively round the room and suddenly hit you smack in the eyes; and sitting out, when the same sun liquefied your brain and send it slopping round your skull. I loathed Sunday's tasks -swabbing down the car, with soapy  water running upwards (how did it do that?) into your armpit; emptying the grass-cuttings and scrapping your nails on the bottom of the metal barrow. I loathed working, and not working; going for walks over the golf course and meeting other people going for walks over the golf course; and doing what you did most, which was wait for Monday.

                                                                                                              Metroland - Julien Barnes (1980).


                My friendship with mike Brady began on a platform of Darlington Station on a Thursday late in August in mid-fifties. I have forgotten what day of August it was, but I know it was a Thursday, because all new intakes of National Servicemenwere required to report to their training regiments on Thursdays, at fortnightly intervals. All over England that morning trains had drawn out of stations, out of great termini, out of village halts, with their cargoes of callow youths in varying moods of confidence, apprehension and fear: public schoolboys wondering if they would get a commission in father's old regiment (they needn't have worried, father had written to the Colonel); grammar school boys making resolutions to keep studying in preparation for the university (they scarcely opened a book for the next two years); officeboys and factory workers and young fellows of every kind wondering how they could keep their girls or pay the H.P. on their motor-bikes or generally enjoy the prosperity the newspapers accused them of (they soon found they couldn't).

                I had come up to Darlington from King's Cross with a pretty fair cross-section. There was the ex-public schoolboy (a minor public school I guessed) who took command of the situation, and I took an instant dislike to him. He had been, we swiftly learned, a sergeant in the school O.T.C.*, and he remarked that he had brought his brasses with him. The significance of this observation escaped me at the time, but I envied him later. After he had succeeded in undermining the morale of the two West Country lads who sat opposite him, grinning awkwardly and twisting their hands, he turned to me and adressed me through my newspaper

                "Are you going to Catterick, too?"
                He was a born officer; I was forced to lower my paper, and to reply.
                "Yes. Isn't everybody on this train?"
                "Not necessarily," he said humourlessly. "Which unit?"
                "Which regiment are you going to?"
                I fished in my pocket, under his disapproving gaze, for my draft notice. "Twenty-first Royal Tank Regiment," I read.
                "So am I".

                                                                                                          Ginger, You're Barmy (1962) - David Lodge.

                           * O.T.C.: Officer's Training Corps.



                                            The world within her.

            Easter Sunday had never been the occasion of egg hunts in their apartment. From the earliest memory until she was in her late teens, it was a morning marked only by a box placed by her mother beside the cereal bowl on the dinig table; in it would be a single large Belgian chocolate egg, inside of which would be a variety of smaller fine chocolates.

            In the late morning, having returned from church, Mrs. Livingston would come by with a small bow of what my mother sometimes referred to, with dissatisfaction bordering on disdain, as drugstore Easter eggs, colourfully wrapped chocolates the size and shape of hens' eggs stuffed with a sweet yellow-and-white concoction the constitency of stiffening glue. Yasmin would accept the gift with what she later understood to be a baffling pantomime of loyalty: with a show of gratitude to Mrs Livingston, with a covert glance of disgust to her mother, with a haste in her room to unwrap and consume one or two of the eggs.

            Her mother's gift would have cost five times Mrs. Livingston's, but to Yasmin Mrs. Livingston's - meant to be devoured rather than to be savoured - was by far the more appealing. Her mother assumed that if large sections of the Belgian egg remained weeks later it was because Yasmin wished to relish it for as long as possible. The thought gave her pleasure, and Yasmin never enlightened her as to the true reason. They were lessons - the infantile appeal  of a certain crudeness, the keeping of secrets for reasons other than egotism - that yasmin, on having her own child, didn't forget.

            Nor did she forget the nature of her relationship with her mother. She had no memory of hugs and caresses, or of kisses beyond the obligatory. When she was ill, her mother would administer medicines and rub her back and chest with ointment, but there was no sense of companionship, of maternal vigil: her mother would say goodnight with a pat on the head and not look back.

            Later on, they recommended books to each other, told each other of movies to be seen or avoided. An intellectual relationship, Yasmin thought, when she wes of an age to flirt with such evaluation.


Dissertation générale - Français moderne - Ancien français - Anglais.

Retour au sommaire