Julien Gracq and the Tria Fata (1).
In Les Jeux de l'allusion litteraire dans Un Beau Tenebreux de Julien Gracq, Ruth Amossy claims that in order to seize the specificity of the Gracquian text, a reader must both follow the author's system of literary allusions, and situate the movement in which Gracq can be placed in History. (2) In Un Beau Tenebreux, Gracq makes reference to the Tria Fata, female figures of destiny that have permeated literary texts since ancient Greece. By examining this allusion to the Tria Fata that so far has not received critical attention, I adhere to Amossy's orientation and ask what the significance of this mythological reference is in Gracq's approach to his aesthetics, and where, in the literary evolution of the motif, his allusion can be placed. This interrogation should shed light on a stratum of Gracq's multi-layered use of anachronism. Finally, taking this particular allusion as a backdrop, I draw a few general conclusions regarding the Gracquian excipit.
In the Threads of Destiny's Judges
Un Beau Tenebreux's plot consists of a group's fascination with Allan, a broodingly handsome man who toys with the idea of suicide, and who later signs a suicide pact with Dolores, the novel's femme fatale. The action takes place in a summer-side resort, l'Hotel des vagues, located in Brittany. Structurally, Un Beau Tenebreux is divided into three non-linear parts that vary in length: a prologue (written oil the morning of 8 October), the journal kept by Gerard (including entries from 29 June to 24 August), and a switch in narrator to an unrevealed individual who continues the narration of events from September 1st to the night of 8 to 9 October. The characters can be classified in relation to Allan by virtue of indifference (Jacques, Irene, Henri) or attraction towards him (Christel, Dolores, Gregory, Gerard), a classification that highlights Allah's polarizing personality. The group's visit to the ruins of the castle of Roscaer on 22 July sets the stage for the novel's action. When towards the end of his journal, Gerard notes with premonition that "[q]uelque chose, ici, allait se defaire," (3) referring to Allan and Dolores's suicide, it seems clear that the picnic scene is where the weaving is initiated before that anticipated moment of unraveling. The characters make plans to visit the hilltop ruins at midnight, when the moonlight will offer the most splendid setting. This hour of predilection has for intertext the Romantic appreciation for midnight vagary in ruins, particularly those of Chateaubriand's Memoires d'outre-tombe. As the group climbs the mountain leading to the ruins, Gerard has a spontaneous vision:
[ ... ] tout a coup s'improvisait sous nos yeux une bizarre gravure romantique, un de ces couples hagards qui, dans Gustave Dore, a la lumiere de la lune, cheminent inexplicablement comme des somnambules vers un burg aussi vertigineux, aussi inaccessible qu'une montagne (4) magique. (5)
The countryside evokes the artistic engravings of Dore The group invades the ruin, a site of decomposition taken over by nature, now in the hands of the Tria Fata who ravel the intrigue. The characters seem to enter into a Dore engraving, most possibly his 1877 "Ruines de Kenilworth." The group mimics the ruin's break-down process, expressed in the verb se decomposer: "ce vague emmelement humain se decompose comme un bain electrise." (6) Gracq's surrealistic representation of decomposition as an electrified bath highlights that, in this novel, decomposition can be sparked by a violent one-time action such as suicide.
Although little comment has been made on the Roscaer ruins, for a work published in 1945, the ruin motif evokes an aesthetic anachronism. Within the French literary tradition, many authors from Du Bellay to Diderot, Chateaubriand and Hugo, have evoked ruins for various purposes. As Robert Mortier affirms in his Poetique des ruines en France, the ruin serves an important role in literature:
Liberant le spectateur des contingences spatio-temporelles, [la ruine] permet a l'imagination de plonger sans entraves dans la coulee du temps, de se rever hors du present, dans un passe sacralise ou dans un avenir mysterieusement dechiffre. (7)
Before further exploring the Fata motif in Gracq's Un Beau Tenebreux, I will connect both the Fata and the ruin in a brief mention of another text: Hugo's 1845 Le Rhin, Lettres a un ami. (8) Gracq's twentieth-century use of both the ruin and the Fata mimics that of Hugo. This comparison sheds light on how Gracq, like Hugo, superposes both motifs, (9) which, in turn, join other literary allusions to create an unequivocal anachronism. It is quite possible that Gracq came across Hugo's text through his passion for Wagner whose Gotterdammerung begins with a vision of the Nornes and ends with the filles du Rhin. Divided into three parts, the legendary story of Pecopin, the historical conclusion, and the Voyage itself, Hugo's Rhin explores both the past and the future of the river. In the twenty-first letter of Hugo's work, the "Legende du Beau Pecopin et de la Belle Bauldour," the author presents a handsome young couple consisting of a hunter and a spinner. Having embarked on a long hunting adventure which takes him in and out of ruins around the world, Pecopin returns years later to see the darkened, time-worn changes to his cavern. Above all, he yearns to see his wife, but when he looks at the woman behind her spinning wheel, all he sees is a ruin:
Figurez-vous, si vous pouvez, une pauvre petite creature humaine ou surhumaine courbee, pliee, cassee, tannee, rouillee, eraillee, ecaillee, renfrognee, ratatinee et rechignee ; blanche de sourcils et de cheveux, noire de dents et de levres, jaune du reste ; maigre, chauve, glabre, terreuse, branlante et hideuse. Et si vous voulez avoir quelque idee de ce visage, ou mille rides venaient aboutir a la bouche comme les raies d'une roue au moyeu, imaginez que vous voyez vivre l'insolente metaphore des latins, anus. (10) Cet etre venerable et horrible etait assis ou accroupi pres de la fenetre, les yeux baisses sur son rouet et le fuseau a la main comme une parque. (11)
Described thus as a Parca, Pecopin's wife has considerably aged. She has become a figure of destiny, and mimics her native, decaying land. Pecopin flees in horror. He, too, must accept his lot: when he pulls his hair out in sheer madness, he discovers it has turned gray. Later, when he leans on a tree, he notices his hands have become as wrinkled as Bauldour's now hideous face. A comparison of Hugo and Gracq, essential, due to the uncommon superposition of both the ruin and the Fata, demonstrates how Gracq nourishes his writings by his readings, and dialogues with texts of the past in the creation of his unique literary universe. In both Gracq and Hugo, the Parques engender a decomposition and are personifications of tempus edax. Whereas in Gracq, one episode takes place in a ruin and at that moment, the three Fates put into place an irreparable destiny, in Hugo, ruins abound and one woman embodies a Parque after the disappearance of her husband, a transformation that comes from the devil himself. In their respective texts, both Gracq and Hugo portray the spinners as the instrument of destiny, a time bomb that cannot be stopped. This is greatly their fundamental value in literature, one that, with time, evolves.
In Un Beau Tenebreux, the mountain picnic scene has a raison d'etre: Gracq's ancient ruins serve as a physical representation of the destruction of Time, and as the backdrop before which the characters will debate the secret that Allan represents. The name of this character, taken from that of author Edgar Allan Poe, adds an intertextual layer of mystery to his person, a mystery reflected in the landscape of this picnic scene. Ready to "en finir avec la vie," Allan also offers a mirror image of the destruction of the castle. He himself is in route towards destruction, in his case self-destruction: suicide. A mere vestige of its feudal past, the castle's ruins are didactic and pictorial in nature, both prospective and retrospective in scope. Together, both Allan and the surrounding ruins trigger a memento mori which causes the cast of characters who accompany Allan to question life itself. (12) While at the ruins, the group becomes tangled in the threads of destiny's judges:
Et, sous les propos insignifiants, souriants de la conversation, un miroir magique pourrait me montrer soudain Jacques travesti en innocent de village, une Irene echevelee, rouge de colere et de vulgarite bafouee, se couper, s'embrouiller, se perdre devant cette ligue imprevue, ces visages fermes de juges que doivent avoir derriere cette ombre Henri, Christel, Allan--derriere cette penombre confuse ou l'on sent vaguement bouger les Parques. (13)
Situated at heart of the midnight picnic scene, this sentence provides much comment on the novel's excipit for which the Parcae symbolize, as usual, a predestination. For, are not Henri, Christel and Allan the three characters who serve as targets and whose fates are most in question at the novel's end? Gerard, the narrator, has the ability to imagine what is really at stake by way of a curious "magic mirror": Jacques will later be found guilty of some act, and Irene will embody some frenzied anger. It is with mention of a half-light in which the Parques, the judges of destiny, are at work, that Gracq himself suggests a possible interpretation.
These sisters are known in the French literary tradition as a trio of female divinities of destiny. The three Fates have a common Indo-European origin: the Greek Moirai, the Latin Parcae or Fata, and the Scandinavian Nornes, Dises and Valkyries. The noun Fata taken as a feminine singular, is the origin of the word fairy and foe in folklore. The Parcae are represented as spinners, measuring, of their own volition, the length of a man's life. They render a decision most often at the onset of life, when they look over the birth of human beings and decide what their lot in life will be. If they prefer, they can decide whether the gods will bring aid to a hero on the battlefield, and determine whether his hour has come. The first sister, Nona, whose Latin name is taken from the ninth month after conception of a child, or Clotho, her Greek name meaning "spinner," presides over birth and unrolls the thread of life. Next, Decima, or Lachesis, "the measurer," draws the lot of life and oversees marriage, measuring and distributing the thread of life. Thirdly, Morta, or Atropos, meaning "unable to be turned, unavoidable," inevitably cuts the thread of life and thus presides over death. These three spinners, the trois destinies, or the trois Parques, first appear in literature in Homer in connection to the motif that exists between the thread of life and destiny. In Roman literature, the three sisters appear in a poem by Catullus consecrated to the marriage of Thetis and Peleus. (14) Other ancient sources include Plato, Ovid, Aristophane, Hesiod, and Lucan. With the invention of the scissors in the Renaissance, the image of the Tria Fata becomes more commonplace in literature and in art. (15) Ariosto's Orlando Furioso bears witness to the fact that other elements such as gold, silver or silk, can be woven into the thread to render an existence more fruitful. In modern literature, the three Fates appear in a myriad of works from Adam de la Halle to Nerval, including Chateaubriand, Valery, Faulkner and Freud. The Parcae also appear in the contemporary poetry of Jude Stefan, and the comic strip Clotho by Jacques Bonodot and Gerard Dewamme.
Hanging by a Thread in Gracq's Tapestry
Besides this brief allusion to the Parcae, Un Beau Tenebreux presents an unusual number of images that evoke the three spinners of destiny. Gracq first surrounds his characters with a suffocating web of fabric. In traditional literary representations of the three Parques, their action is limited to the simple fabrication of thread. Their often malevolent prophecies are also related with tissue, tapestries and clothing. (16) With tissue, destiny is represented as a garment that materializes the future or as a spectacle represented on a canvas. Examples from Claudian (17) and Henri de Regnier (18) attest to this substitution of filage to tissage that enriches the symbolic dimension of the myth. Tellingly, in Gracq's Un Beau Tenebreux, Irene's room is associated with a frightening excess of fabric. With her husband away, she invites Jacques to her room. There, he discovers that it is full of "etoffes lourdes." (19) Ill at ease, Jacques considers the shifting wind "derriere les fenetres capitonnees d'etoffes." (20) Jacques wakes up in the middle of the night, half-conscious, and feels a sense of discomfort, as when waking up late in a dark room in which the deceptive appearance of the closed shutters
dementent, glisses aux interstices de l'etoffe, filtrant par toutes les coutures, deja les doigts pales du matin (21) [... ] La chambre paraissalt s'ecraser sous les etoffes lourdes, aux grands plis noirs. Dans toute la piece planait une atmosphere de veillee triste. Les grands rideaux de l'alcove surtout l'etonnaient, ondulants comme les parois d'une tente, si peu rassurants--derriere lesquels les murs semblaient reculer, deserter cette couche morne et mediocre, ce sommeil distinct, defendu. (22)
Kept from sleeping peacefully, Jacques's heart beats ever faster. Jacques turns towards Irene and with great violence, suddenly rips her veil, a piece of fabric that surrounds her face, piercing "les malefices de cette nuit fausse." (23) Her husband, Henri, while driving away from the hotel, also considers the "ceremonial malefique d'un ballet funebre" (24) unraveling before his eyes. Before their last, brief conversation, riddled with fear, Jacques's eyes trace the pale flowers of the tapestry. His unease before mere fabric invites the reader to believe that it is not just fabric, but a symbol of asphyxiation. (25) This same animation of funeral fabric in the wind occurs in Gracq's Le Rivage des Syrtes, where, when Aldo walks through the cemetery of Orsenna during a military ceremony, a brutal gust of wind sets off a "dechainement splendide et noble, pareil au deploiement a long plis, l'un apres l'autre, d'une interminable et raide draperie de sacre, ou jouaient les moires impalpables de l'Orient." (26) This allusion to the "moires," a type of fabric referred to as the moire antique from the Orient, is one of the fabrics on which the Greek Moirai represent destiny. Originally mohair, now usually shimmering silk, this fabric is subjected to heat and pressure rollers after weaving to give it a rippled appearance, referred to as moire. The feminine noun "moire" comes etymologically from the Arabic noun mukhayyar, literally "choice," the past participle of khayyara, "to choose." It is on this shiny fabric that the Moirai declare the fate they choose for the individual or group in question. Here, the depiction during the ceremony is that of Orsenna's disintegration and decline. Due to the fateful context of the chapter, Gracq might also be using Moires, the French term for the Greek Moirai, which is close to the moire antique for this representative reason. (27) Gracq's suffocating web of fabric denotes a foreboding destruction.
From the nineteenth century onward, the Three Fates are represented in literature with knitting needles. (28) Dickens provides the best known example with Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities. This character, with her fingers of fate, knits the names of those to be killed when the revolution comes. Gracq, too, shows his readers in whose direction destiny's fingers point. In Christel's letter to Gerard, referring to Allan, she affirms that "[i]l y a un doigt sur lui." (29) In Le Rivage des Syrtes, this same anatomical reference parallels with a determined fate revealed in the map room:
Les fenetres debroussaillees laissaient miroiter sur les tables noircies une clarte plus vive, et parfois un rayon de soleil, qui tournait lentement avec les heures sa colonne de poussiere, promenait comme un doigt de lumiere sur le fouillis des cartes, tirait de l'ombre dans un tatonnement ensommeille un nom etranger ou le contour d'une cote inconnue. (30)
For Aldo, the "doigt de lumiere," a ray of sun, points in the direction of the foreign enemy shore he is lead to explore, a transgression referred to as a "tentative de suicide." (31) In his short story, "La Route," the author writes: "[...] la Route, de loin en loin, desincarnee, continuait a nous faire signe, comme ces anges enigmatiques des chemins de la Bible qui, loin devant, du seul doigt levi faisaient signe de les suivre, sans daigner meme se retourner." (32) Lastly, Heide in Au Chateau d'Argol, a character who, like Allan, also commits suicide, is by an "effet de lumiere," "indiquee, mieux que n'eut pule faire le doigt du destin." (33)
What's more, Gracq places elderly knitting women at key moments in his texts. At the end of Un Beau Tenebreux, Henri's flight from Irene announces the death of Allan. Fleeing, Henri enters into a bar. Once he reaches the stool, he sees before him an old, gloomy woman, knitting, absent-mindedly, behind the empty counter. This unnamed woman is thus an incarnation of Dickens's Madame Defarge. Henri takes great interest in the woman's face and his eye closely examines "cette penombre soudain derobee," (34) a comment that clearly echoes the allusion to the Parques during the picnic scene at the Roscaer ruins in which the spinners of destiny were at work "derriere cette penombre confuse." Due to the repetition of word penombre, and the imagery of veiling and unveiling associated with it, the juxtaposition between the dark ruins showered by the moonlight comes once again into focus. The Parcae and their "visages fermes de juges" (35) are now unveiled as tangibly as Irene was unveiled by Jacques. Lost, Henri cannot bear to ask for directions from this Fatum. (36)
demi etendu sur la banquette, cette face inerte et morne le fascinait comme celle d'un juge. "Comment lui demander ou je me trouve ? C'est ma perte," se repetait-il stupidement. La femme se leva, toujours tricotant, sans quitter des yeux son ouvrage, et vint vers lui. Soudain une main glacee en une seconde se plaqua a sa peau tout entiere, la table vint a lui d'un mouvement brusque--il s'evanouit. (37)
The knitting woman takes the form of a judge. (38) The italics around Henri's remark to his self, "c'est ma perte," may indicate that Gracq underlines the juxtaposition between the banal idea of a perte--associated with a loss or ruin--and the idea of a deadly perte as in a perte humaine. The latter prepares the reader for the icy-cold hand that somehow knocks Henri out of consciousness.
Furthermore, in Gracq's short story, "La Presqu'ile," Simon kills time waiting for his love Irmgard to arrive by visiting in advance the places he will take her. Before him, knitting grandmothers appear on the beach: "[Simon] distinguait ca et la les grand'meres avec le gouter des enfants dans leur sac en tapisserie, qui tricotent en regardant la mer : un point a l'endroit, un point a l'envers." (39) In a text in which Simon debates whether his hour has come--that is the hour Irmgard's train will arrive--this image provides a symbolic web in which Simon considers his future with Irmgard. The knitting women, the judge and the Parque join as embodiments of fatality and destiny.
Some critics have suggested that in his fiction, Gracq's women play subordinate roles as objects of distraction or as mere initiators who disappear before the all-important end. Clearly, in Un Beau Tenebreux, the title alludes to Allan, but without Dolores, his partner in suicide, Allan would appear less appealing and less dynamic, for his suicidal desire would lack resolve. Without attempting to schematize the women of the novel, I will nevertheless make mention of an obvious rapprochement: an allusion to the three Fates in a novel with three female characters. Of Gracq's fictional works, only Un Beau Tenebreux includes more than one well-defined female character. (40)
That said, Christel, Irene and Dolores might represent Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, respectively. As Clotho in the Fata myth is the youngest sister who sings of the present time, and unrolls the thread of life, Christel is the youngest and most naive female character in the novel, reminiscent of Chateaubriand's Atala. She ravels the mystery that is Allan by seeking out his motivation for suicide. Tellingly, in a conversation between Jacques and Gerard, the narrator notes with an imagery of cutting, that in her attraction to Allan, Christel follows a dangerous path that "ni vous ni moi n'avons le pouvoir de couper," (41) precisely, the thread of destiny. Referred to as a "sphinge," (42) and thus as an enigmatic woman, Christel, like Clotho, is "entrainee au fil d'une pensee triste." (43) Furthermore, the narrator refers to her connection to destiny by saying that a relationship with Christel is "joue d'avance." (44) Lastly, Allan says that Christel only loves him "que mele a [s]a mort." (45)
Irene, on the other hand, is less seduced by Allah's suicidal thoughts. She exits the Roscaer ruins as Allan's enemy and protects Christel by preventing her from committing suicide with Allan and by writing to Christel's mother to let her know of her daughter's dangerous suicidal desires. Most importantly, Irene is also the only of Gracq's fictional characters to become pregnant, an important detail paralleling her with Lachesis, the second of the Fata whose special role is to determine fertility. Clearly, however, the most fatal of female characters in all of Gracq's writings would be Dolores. Gracq agrees she causes harm through her suicide pact, but places Le Rivage des Syrtes's Vanessa as the most fatal woman in his oeuvre as she brings about the greatest destruction. (46) Dolores looks to the future, cuts the thread of Allan's life at the end of the novel, and can most easily be linked to the scissors of Atropos by way of her suicide pact with Allan.
With three female characters mirroring the Fates, the novel itself deals with life, death, and destiny in the hands of the Parcae. Nonetheless, it is a product of Gracq's background as a reader of the classics, (47) as a moviegoer--his Parquian femmes fatales are, in part, based on those in cinema, such as Greta Garbo (48)--and of his childhood in the village of Saint-Florent-le-Vieil. (49)
Situating Gracq in the Literary Evolution of the Motif
Allusions to the Parques in post-Renaissance literature offer a variety of representations of destiny. Sylvie Ballestra-Puech's seminal study, Les Parques : Essai sur les figures feminines du destin dans la litterature occidentale, (50) presents--with the unfortunate exception of this allusion in Gracq--an impressively detailed panorama of the motif. A range of avatars exist in these literary renditions. Traditionally, the Fata are represented as a trio consisting of an adolescent, a mature, and an older woman, all chaste, dressed in white, (51) and kept physically apart from men. Literary allusions to the Fates, in a variety of sources from Dante to Melville and Holderlin to Joseph Conrad (52) attest to the fact that the three Fates are not always portrayed according to this schema. A spirit of malevolence is generally associated with them up to the nineteenth century, when, in literature, their stature shifts. Although sometimes associated with the Weird Sisters in Hamlet, benevolent Parcae do exist: on three occasions, they provide hope for love in Gilbert Dacqs's Trois baisers sous l'oeil des Parques. (53)
Ballestra-Puech reminds us that Chateaubriand referred to "les Parques de 1793" in order to link the Fata's scissors to la guillotine de la Terreur. (54) Dickens's Madame Defarge plays this same role. Despite his personal background in history, Gracq does not represent the Fata as playing a historical role. Freud,ss however, due to the influence of religious historians, considered the Fates in connection to the seasons, and, more specifically, in relation to the three faces of the maternal figure. Robert Graves, in this same vein, describes the three Fates as the three phases of the moon. (56) Within representations of the myth, Clotho, whose Latin name mimics the moment of birth, joins the image of birth related to spring where youth and life reign; Lachesis is linked to the fortune of summer in which a mother's strength rules; and Atropos symbolizes the death of winter. Nerval follows this same thread in his Aurelia, in which a fairy undergoes metamorphoses, from weaver to maternal figure to lover. With this last author as a general turning point in the modern representation of the three Fates in literature, the motif of the lover as Fata mixes with the image of the femme fatale, the prostitute and, in general, the femme legere in texts ranging from those of Daudet, Proust and the Goncourt brothers. (57) Victims of fin de siecle misogyny, the three Fates
[ ... ] perdent leur virginite pour se transformer en prostituees, vieilles le plus souvent. Frequemment utilisee dans des comparaisons et des metaphores, ces Parques deviennent l'embleme de l'alliance morbide d'Eros et de Thanatos qui definit la femme dans le discours misogyne. (58)
In the twentieth century, literary representations of the Fata undergo a transformation: the myth becomes internalized and the figure of the Parca no longer determines the fate of others, but instead, becomes a victim of her own destiny. Much like Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott," once she stops spinning, she dies. This suicidal Parca metaphorically turns the scissors on herself as an instrument of suicide in both Alfred Doblin's Die Tanzerin und der Leib (59) and Julien Green's Moira. (60) Valery's poem, "La Jeune Parque," Camille Claudel's sculpture, "Clotho," and Ponge's poem, "L'Araignee," also offer this image of the Fata. By the metaphor of artistic and poetic creation as a spider's web--wherein "text" itself etymologically refers to something woven--the artist, the poet, and the writer share the same inevitable path: they all take part in weaving their own death. Due to the fact that Un Beau Tenebreux's Clotho is seduced by Allan's suicidal thoughts, and the novel's Atropos carries out her suicide pact with the Tenebreux, Gracq's allusion to the Tria Fata places him most directly in a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literary and artistic approach to the motif.
Throughout various creative renditions of the three sisters, works of the artists Gustave Dore, Edward Burne-Jones and Goya can also be included in this development of the Parcae myth. (61) The works of these three artists are also alluded to in Gracq's oeuvre. First, Dore, whose engraving is alluded to in Un Beau Tenebreux and who is known for his illustrations of the works of Rabelais, Balzac, Poe, and Ariosto, officially presented in the Salon de 1877 his sculpture "La Parque et l'Amour" in which a robust Atropos, draped in a robe, holds a pair of scissors, ready to cut the thread of life, symbolized by the beautiful Amour. Secondly, in "Le Roi Cophetua," Gracq alludes to a Burne-Jones painting by the same name. Burne-Jones's "Wheel of Fortune," worked on during the same time, displays an instrument symbolic of destiny, le rouet. Ballestra-Puech remarks on this spinning wheel:
Si par la substitution du rouet a la roue, c'est plutot la figure de la Fortune qui est contaminee par celle des Parques, le phenomene inverse existe aussi. En effet, l'image de la roue de Fortune emportant les hommes dans son mouvement inexorable, aboutit a des representations picturales dans lesquelles la roue devient un veritable instrument de torture. C'est le cas sur un tableau de Burne-Jones. (2)
Lastly, in this same story, Gracq also alludes to Goya's etching, "La Mala noche." This particular work, plate number 36 of Los Caprichos, considers street prostitution. In his Ayala manuscript, Goya notes, "Business is bad when it is the wind and not money that lifts the good girls' skirts," (63) to provide a context for the plate. Although Gracq's novella does not address prostitution, as no money is exchanged between the narrator and the servante-maitresse, in the love scene, the narrator does imagine himself as taking part of a "service insolite," (64) and does not kiss the lips of the woman who offers herself to him without passion, ritually. Linking Goya's Caprichos to the Parques motif, his plate number 44, entitled "Hilan delgado" (65) ["They spin finely"; referred to in French as "Les Parques de la maison du Sourd"], displays three witches who spin, as the title suggests, so finely that "the Devil himself will not be able to unravel the warp they have woven." (66) These witches evoke the Fates. Of diabolical nature due to their likeness to Shakespeare's Weird Sisters, Goya's Fata implies a somber world in which even the devil is at odds with the Parcae. Gracq's brief allusion to the Fates, signaled to the reader's attention by its very anachronism, intertextually injects the entire history of pictorial and written representations of the Parques.
The Scissors of Atropos: Remarks on the Gracquian excipit
In a 1981 interview with Jean Roudaut, Gracq stated that his last sentences have a particular goal in mind: "[ ... elles] cherchent bien souvent a provoquer dans l'esprit du lecteur un ebranlement diffus, une sorte de systeme d'echos." (67) His Rivage des Syrtes was to have ended with a naval battle (68) and his original plans for Un Balcon en foret included a midnight mass loaded with religious significance. (69) It remains unclear why Gracq decided against these endings. His final sentences sometimes introduce an element of ambiguity. For example, Un Balcon en foret's rimbaldian (70) "[p]uis il tira la couverture sur sa tete et s'endormit" (71) has sparked a debate on whether, in the end, Grange takes a nap, or, instead, passes away. His most read work, Le Rivage des Syrtes, ends with "[ ... ] et je savais pourquoi le decor etait plante" which aimed to show that, for Aldo, the coming war, and thus destruction of his country, was an inevitable reality. (72) Inversely, to the reader's surprise, in "Le Roi Cophetua," after a windy, mysterious autumnal night, the narrator wakes up to a bright and sunny spring-like Sunday: "Il allait faire beau ; je songeai que toute la journee ce serait encore ici dimanche." (73) He escapes Jacques Nueil's house while the servante-maitresse is cleaning dishes in the kitchen, a closure that lacks a goodbye.
Un Beau Tenebreux's final sentence, "[d]e nouveau il entendit la porte s'ouvrir, et, calme, du fond de la chambre, il vit venir a lui sa derniere heure," (74) incorporates the question of the entire novel: will Allan and Dolores carry out their suicidal pact? In one of the last scenes, Allan is joined by Christel. She confesses that she knows of his plans and begs him not to commit suicide. Before his last hour, (75) Allan forgets his motivation for suicide and realizes that his suicidal plans are vain and illusory, but a necessary act of madness once put in writing. As in Le Rivage des Syrtes's aforementioned excipit, Gracq presents a metaphor for fate:
"Suicide" est vite dit. Un Etat ne meurt pas, ce n'est qu'une forme qui se defait. Un faisceau qui se denoue. Et il vient un moment ou ce qui a ete lie aspire a se delier, et la forme trop precise a rentrer dans l'indistinction. Et quand l'heure est venue, j'appelle cela une chose desirable et bonne. Cela s'appelle mourir de sa bonne mort. (76)
Like Orsenna, Allan also unravels. In the hands of the Parques, his death is inevitable. Allan illustrates the epigraph Poe used for his short story, "Ligeia," from the English moralist, Joseph Glanvill: "Man doth not yield to the angels, nor to death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will." (77) Linking death and the maternal, in accordance with the understanding of the Parcae motif shared by Nerval and Freud, the Tenebreux notes:
[ ... ] ce que je ne savais pas, c'est qu'il n'est pas bon de laisser la mort se promener trop longtemps k visage decouvert sur la terre. Je ne savais pas ... Elle emeut, elle eveille la mort encore endormie au fond des autres, comme un enfant dans le ventre d'une femme. Et comme quand une femme rencontre une femme grosse,--meme si elle detourne la tete--oui, tout au fond d'eux-memes, (78) si l'on descendait, on les sentirait complices. (79)
relation is at the center of a late nineteenth-century construction of the Parcae myth in which, at times, religious historians considered the Fates and the Season as one triad:
[ ... ] les trois Parques sont associees respectivement au printemps, a lete et a l'hiver. Les Parques se chargent de certains attributs de leurs sceurs [les Heures] pour devenir a leur tour des deesses des saisons. (Ballestra-Puech, Les Parques, op.cit.,p. 308-309).
This analysis bears witness to a modern perception of the myth to which Gracq appears to subscribe. Gracq's prologue to Un Beau Tenebreux, written on 8 October, the day of Allan's suicide, evokes the "journees glissantes, fuyantes, de l'arriere-automne" (Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 11), days that are so near to winter. Le Rivage des Syrtes also alludes to les Heures. After having crossed the line of patrol, Aldo remarks: "[l]e visage lave dans cette purete froide ; au sein de cette nuit qui dissolvait les contours, je me rassemblais, je m'identifiais de tout mon etre aveugle a mon Heure, je m'abandonnais a une ineffable securite." (Gracq, Le Rivage des Syrtes. in (Euvres completes, volume I, p. 741). Due to the capitalization of hour, and the fateful context, it can be argued that Aldo too is before his final Hour, signaled by not one, but precisely trois coups de canon.
The reason why Allan wants to die has lost importance because the pact with Dolores has already been signed. Tempted to join him in death, Christel picks up Allan's cup of poison but a tremor vibrates against her "comme une corde." (80) The rope imagery hints at an intervention on the part of the Parcae, as a "corde" is composed of several "ills," the thread with which the Fates work. Their action is most typically expressed in the verbs filer (to spin), and tisser (to weave), with a general evolution from filage to tissage. A simile comparing death to a fetus dormant inside a pregnant woman, ("la mort [ ... ] endormie [...] comme un enfant dans le ventre d'une femme"), should remind readers of the pregnant Irene, wrathful in her fight to save Christel. Allan also represents women as accomplices ("complices") of each other, a crucial connection to the Parcae myth, at the heart of which lies the notion of sisterhood. Trembling, Christel is eventually escorted to the door, after which Allan returns to the center of the room and its obscurity. Most critics suggest that this final sentence demonstrates that Dolores has penetrated into the room and that both characters will commit suicide, as planned. Frederic Canovas, (81) exploring the dream motif in the novel, suggests instead that Christel, not Dolores, might have come back into the room. In the end, Canovas suggests that Allan dreams his last hour has come. It is more logical that in reality, not in dream, Dolores enters into the room: both characters will thus carry out their suicide pact. Given that the last sixty-two pages of the novel are written by an unrevealed narrator who wishes to remain anonymous, a Parca quite possibly weaves together the final scenes.
Julien Gracq's oeuvre has long been associated with an elsewhere, both in time and in space. In her critical study of the literary allusions in Un Beau Tenebreux, Amossy draws the conclusion that the literary allusions in the novel mainly stem from references to texts of both Romanticism and post-Romanticism. Here too, Gracq remains faithful to his century of predilection. From his brief allusion to the Parcae, to his funeral web of fabric, knitting women and fateful fingers, Gracq's novel bears the mark of his taste for the classics, in which, among other motifs, the Tria Fata constitutes an undeniable force. In constant dialogue with the past, Gracq is more arriere-garde than avant-garde.
(1.) I wish to thank both the Institut francais de Washington for their award which supported this research and Vincent Aurora who offered helpful feedback on this essay.
(2.) "Suivre le jeu des allusions litteraires dans Un Beau Tenebreaux, c'est donc saisir dans sa specificite--dans son espace, sa logique, son travail propres--le texte gracquien. C'est en meme temps retrouver le mouvement par lequel il s'inscrit dans l'Histoire." Ruth Amossy, Les Jeux de l'allusion litteraire dans Un Beau Tenebreux de Julien Gracq (Neuchatel: Editions de la Baconniere, 1980): p. 28.
(3.) This particular verb, se defaire, is used six times in Un Beau Tenebreux, as opposed to zero in Au Chateau d'Argol and once in Le Rivage des Syrtes. Its repetition highlights the work of the Fata. Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux (Paris: Joss Corti, 1945): p. 217. Unless otherwise noted, all references to this work are taken from this edition.
(4.) This word is later changed in the official and definitive Pleiade edition to montagne which is more logical. A montagne magique makes reference to an important image in German Romanticism as well as Thomas Mann's book by the same name, wherein the main character, Hans, becomes aware of his fragility.
(5.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 93.
(6.) Gracq, op. cit., p. 95.
(7.) Robert Mortier, La Poetique des ruines en France: Ses origines, ses variations de la Renaissance a Victor Hugo (Geneva: Droz, 1974): p. 10-11.
(8.) A text by Poe shares the same geographic region--the Rhine--the ruin and a relative of the Fata. In his 1840 short story, "Ligeia," the narrator claims he first met Ligeia "first and most frequently in some old, decaying city near the Rhine" [Edgar Allan Poe. Poetry and Tales (New York: The Library of America, 1984), p. 262.]. The name of his love, the Lady Ligeia, is indeed the name of a siren in Virgil's Georgics. Since Plato, the Sirens appear in literature alongside the Fata, singing. Their voice is further connected to the activity of the spinners whose weaving is a prophetic song. With the ruin of the city in the background, the widow is in mourning. The narrator mirrors the ruin, "[he], crushed into the very dust with sorrow, could no longer endure the lonely desolation of [his] dwelling in the dim and decaying city by the Rhine" (p. 269).
(9.) Much can also be said of the ruins in both Gracq's aborted novel, "La Route," and his Rivage des Syrtes. See the latter's Chapter IV, "Les Ruines de Sagra," where, to follow the allusion referenced in Footnote 26, another instance occurs in which the Parque and the ruin superpose.
(10.) The footnote in the Robert Laffont edition states: "l'autre sens d'anus en latin est 'vieille femme.'"
(11.) Victor Hugo, (Euvres completes (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1987): p. 200.
(12.) Julien Gracq, pseudonym of Louis Poirier, professor of history and geography, was more than likely attracted to the image of the ruin for other reasons as well. Given that the thoughts of Spengler animate his writings, Gracq's use of the Roscaer ruins seems to demonstrate a theoretical outlook in which, as in modern society, infertility and fertility, decomposition and nature, go hand in hand. Spengler argued that western culture is currently in its final, dying phase, Civilization. The phase of Culture, when a society creates its characteristic art, politics, religion and science, is defined as pioneering, aesthetic, fertile. The phase of Civilization--the image Gracq gives of his adversaries and what they engender in the twentieth century in his pamphlet La Litterature a l'estomac, and in his speeches and interviews--is marked by sterility.
(13.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 95.
(14.) LXIV, vv. 306ff.
(15.) Sylvie Ballestra-Puech, "Les Parques" in Pierre Brunel, Editor, Dictionnaire des mythes litteraires (Paris: Editions du Rocher, 1988): p. 1141.
(16.) Silvia Balluestra-Puech, Les Parques : Essai sur les figures feminines du destin dans la litterature occidentale (Toulouse: Editions universitaires du sud, 1999): p. 100.
(17.) Eloge de Stilicon, II, vv. 330-339. Here, a ceremonial coat trimmed with crimson prefigures destiny.
(18.) Henri de Regnier, "L'Homme et la Sirene," in Les Jeux rustiques et divins (Paris: Mercure de France, 1918): p. 56-57. A choir of weavers in this poem make a garment destined to dress the protagonists, a garment on which their destiny is assembled.
(19.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 240.
(20.) Gracq, op.cit., p. 241.
(21.) This expression, "les doigts pales du matin," is modeled closely on Homer's "L'Aurore aux doigts roses."
(22.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 243.
(23.) Gracq, op.cit., p. 244.
(24.) Gracq, op.cit., p. 236.
(25.) A connection can be made here to "Les Trois citrons," a short story by Edouard Laboulaye (In Contes bleus. Paris: Furne, 1864), in which a tapestry witnessed by the narrator on l'ile des Parques represents a torture-filled destiny. A tapestry of funeral fabric as a symbol of predestination is also reminiscent of the bridal chamber in Poe's short story, "Ligeia" (see Footnote 8), a text which includes a relative of the Fata. In the Lady Ligeia's bridal chamber, the narrator sees a massive-looking tapestry whose "phantasmagoric effect was vastly heightened by the artificial introduction of a strong continual current of wind behind the draperies--giving a hideous and uneasy animation to the whole." (Edgar Allan Poe, Poetry and Tales. New York: The Library of America, 1984: p. 271). Gracq possibly finds inspiration from the tapestry on l'ile des Parques, and from the bridal chamber of Poe's siren.
(26.) Gracq, Le Rivage des Syrtes in (Euvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, volume I, 1989): p. 609.
(27.) Ballestra-Puech also wonders whether in his poem, "L'Homme et la Sirene," Henri de Regnier designates the Moirai when he refers to the moire: "La moire est trouble et grasse comme une eau tranquille. / Et qui frissonnerait interieurement / D'une araignee et de sa toile qu'elle y file." (Les Jeux rustiques et divins. Paris: Mercure de France, 1918: p. 57).
(28.) Ballestra-Puech, Les Parques : Essai sur les figures feminines du destin clans la litterature occidentale p. 104.
(29.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 168.
(30.) Gracq, Le Rivage des Syrtes. in (Euvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, volume I, 1989): p. 663.
(31.) Gracq, Le Rivage des Syrtes, in (Euvres completes, volume I, p. 742.
(32.) Gracq, "La Route," in (Euvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, volume II, 1995): p. 407.
(33.) Gracq, Au Chateau d'Argol, in (Euvres completes, volume I, p. 32.
(34.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux, p. 239.
(35.) Gracq, op.cit, p. 95.
(36.) Although, to the best of my knowledge, the allusion to the Parques on page 95 [page 156 of Gracq, (Euvres completes, volume I)] has not been addressed in criticism, it is only fair to mention a few sentences on this particular episode regarding Henri in an article by Isabelle Husson-Casta: "Les dernieres apparitions feminines ont une connotation indeniablement funeste; a Henri, apparait une 'femme, vieille et morne, [qui] tricotait, l'air absent devant le comptoir vide' (BT, 204). Il ne faut pas beaucoup d'imagination pour sentir dans cette presence une 'Parque' affairee et triste." Unfortunately, Husson-Casta does not take her argument on the presence of a Fatum further. See Isabelle Husson-Casta. "Ecriture et connaissance signes du feminin dans Un Beau Tenebreux" in Patrick Marot, Julien Gracq (Revue des lettres modernes. Paris: Lettres modernes, 1991): p. 58.
(37.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 239.
(38.) The image of a judge and a web of destiny is found in the poem "La Justice" in Liberte grande, a collection of Gracq's poetry published in 1946, just one year after his Beau Tenebreux. In this poem, both comic and ironic in nature, a spider takes up her abode in the middle of a courtroom. She climbs up and down her thread as if the courtroom was a theater, and in the process, one criminal is sentenced to death, three are sentenced to prison for life and others escape theatrically in the spider's web of lies.
(39.) Gracq, "La Presqu'ile," in (Euvres completes, Volume II, p. 456.
(40.) One exception is his short story, an aborted novel, "La Route," in which there is a large group of unnamed women met on a time-worn road.
(41.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 39. Her path is described as a fiber unable to be cut. Christel also refers to her body with this same imagery. Emotionally moved during a representation of La Tosca, Christel says that "toutes les fibres de [s]on caeur etaient touchees a la fois" (Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 27).
(42.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 34. As Charles Maingon points out in L'Univers artistique de J.-K. Huysmans (Paris: Nizet, 1977, p. 71), the femme-sphinx is an important symbolist theme found in the paintings of Gustave Moreau, Felicien Rops (see his "Le Sphinx" which Huysmans comments on in Certains), and A Rebours's Miss Urania. Here, to describe Christel, Gracq's noun is in the feminine form, a rarity that links his character to these enigmatic female monsters of the symbolist era.
(43.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux, p. 29. My emphasis.
(44.) Gracq, op.cit., p. 40.
(45.) Gracq, op.cit., p. 254.
(46.) Personal Interview, 2 August 2002.
(47.) Literary allusions in the novel, as aforementioned, are explored in Ruth Amossy's Les Jeux de l'allusion litteraire dans Un Beau Tenebreux de Julien Gracq.
(48.) Personal Interview, 2 August 2002.
(49.) Gracq tells us in Lettrines II that his paternal ancestors were filassiers, and thus they made rope with hemp cultivated on the islands and the banks of the Loire Valley. In this text, Gracq evokes the last artisan rope merchant and the barges of hemp that passed on the Loire every September of his youth. When Gracq recalls the chanvre of his family's past as artisans, he defines what is, for him, with dead leaves of poplar trees, the perfume of Autumn itself (Gracq, Lettrines II. in (Euvres completes, volume II, p. 261). As a writer, Gracq has carried on his family's craft, but not with hemp, with words and life experience. He states:
Un ouvrage litteraire est bien souvent la mise bout a bout et le tricotage intime dans un tissu continu et bien lie--telles ces couvertures faites de bouts de laine multicolores--de passages appuyes a l'experience reelle, et de passages appuyes seulement a la conformite au caprice de la langue [ ... ] [Gracq, En lisant en ecrivant, in (Euvres completes, volume II, p. 666.]
Gracq also refers to Breton's legacy with the same imagery; for Gracq, Breton was the first to hold deliberately between his fingers the structure of the French language that he rendered flexible, in the way of a "baguette de coudrier." [See Gracq, Andre Breton. Quelques aspects de l'ecrivain. (Euvres completes, volume I, p. 493.].
(50.) Sylvie Ballestra-Puech, Les Parques ". Essai sur les figures feminines du destin dans la litterature occidentale (Toulouse: Editions univeritaires du sud, 1999), p. 425.
(51.) Ballestra-Puech, op.cit., p. 329. In this light, it is clear why on page 240, Jacques suggests Irene wear a white gown.
(52.) See Ballestra-Puech for a discussion of these allusions, and those of Bernadin de Saint-Pierre, Anatole France, Edouard Laboulaye, Paul Claudel, Jeanne Hyvrard, Yourcenar, Tournier, Stefan, Rimbaud, Sartre, Agatha Christie, Novalis, Junger, Lesage, Montesquieu, Moreas and Kleist.
(53.) Gilbert Dacqs, Trois baisers sous l'oeil des Parques (Paris: Les Editions du Scorpion, 1959). This lesser-known novel, also unmentioned in Ballestra-Puech's study, and sadly the author's only published work before his untimely death, can be placed in the tradition of the recit poetique alongside Alain Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes.
(54.) Chateaubriand, CEuvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, volume I, 1966): p. 459.
(55.) See his "Le Theme des trois coffrets" in L'Inquietante etrangete et autres essais (Translated by. B. Freron, Paris: Gallimard, 1988): p. 65-81. The key terms for these three phases and faces are generatrice, compagne and destructrice.
(56.) "'Moire' signifie un 'quartier' ou une 'phase' et la lune a trois phases et comporte trois personnes : la nouvelle lune [ ... ] la pleine lune [ ... ] et enfin la vieille lune" (Robert Graves, Les Mythes grecs. Translated by Mounir Hafez. Paris: Fayard, p. 71).
(57.) See Daudet, Sapho, moeurs parisiennes (Paris: Charpentier, 1884): p. 166; Proust, Le Cote de Guermantes (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, volume II, 1988): p. 196-197; Goncourt, Journal: Memoires de la vie litteraire 1851-1865 (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1989): September 1853 and 31 December 1862. In their Journal, the Goncourt brothers name a house of ill repute "les Parques." This same representation of the Parque as femme fatale continues in the modern-day comic strip Clotho by Bonodot and Dewamme. Clearly, much has evolved in the representation of the Fata as both spinner and spinster to, in today's comic strip, a sexually powerful woman known for her well-endowed measurements.
(58.) Ballestra-Puech, Les Parques : Essai sur les figures feminines du destin dans la litterature occidentale p. 375.
(59.) This short story was first published in the review Der Sturm, n. 2, 10 (March 1910).
(60.) Julien Green, Moira (Paris: Plon, 1950). In his novel, Green highlights less a suicidal aspect, and places more of an accent on Moira's game with death. The eponymous character's name is taken from the Irish version of Mary (close also to Maura and Maureen), with the addition of a diaeresis. Later, as related in the Pleiade notes to the author's works, Green discovered Moira's orthographic resemblance to the Greek Moirai; a discovery "dont [ill ne saurai[t] Isle plaindre" (Green, (Euvres completes, ed. J. Petit. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, volume III, 1973: p. 1533).
(61.) Within the opus of Dore and Burne-Jones, images considering ruins can also be found, including Dore's "Ruines de Kenilworth" and Burne-Jones's "Love Among the Ruins." Furthermore, Goya's etchings in response to the horrors of war, Los Desastres de la guerra, provide much to contemplate in regards to scenes of ruin (in particular, number 22, "Tanto y mas"). Since the Fata motif does not come into play in either of these works, these particular works are outside the boundaries of this essay. I nonetheless note this thematic realm in which Gracq is fully engaged alongside his nineteenthcentury counterparts.
(62.) Sylvie Ballestra-Puech, op.cit., p. 117.
(63.) Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez and Juliain Gallego, Goya: The Complete Etchings and Lithographs (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1995): p. 54.
(64.) Gracq, "Le Roi Cophetua." in (Euvres completes, volume II, p. 520.
(65.) On this title, Ballestra-Puech notes that the verb hilar (to spin, in French: filer) produces in slang the idea of selling one's body.
(66.) Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez and Julian Gallego, Goya: The Complete Etchings and Lithographs p. 59.
(67.) Gracq, Entretiens, in (Euvres completes, volume II, p. 1228.
(68.) Gracq, Lettrines, in (Euvres completes, volume II, p. 152.
(69.) Gracq, Lettrines, op.cit, p. 151-152.
(70.) Here, Rimbaud's "Le Dormeur duval."
(71.) Gracq, Un Balcon en foret, op. cit., volume II, p. 137.
(72.) Gracq, Entretiens, in (Euvres completes, volume II, p. 1228.
(73.) Gracq, "Le Roi Cophetua," in (Euvres completes, volume II, p. 523.
(74.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 257.
(75.) Allan's final hour can be read both literally and mythologically. In a Freudian interpretation of the final sentence (See his "Le Theme des trois coffrets"), Dolores, the last of the three Parques, enters the room as one of the deesses des saisons, genealogically related to the Parcae and referred to as an Hour. Ballestra-Puech indicates this
(76.) Gracq, Le Rivage des Syrtes. in (Euvres completes, volume I, p. 835.
(77.) Edgar Allan Poe, Poetry and Tales (New York: The Library of America, 1984): p. 269.
(78.) It remains unclear why Gracq wrote "eux-memes" instead of "elles-memes," which is more logical. Bernhild Boie, editor of the definitive Pleiade edition, has not commented on this grammatical oddity.
(79.) Gracq, Un Beau Tenebreux p. 252.
(80.) Gracq, op.cit.,p. 256.
(81.) Frederic Canovas, L'Ecriture revee (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2000): p. 273-275.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2004|
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