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7.6.12

À mon chevet: 'Bel-Ami'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
They said nothing while they ate their soup, and then Norbert de Varenne asked: "Have you read about that Gauthier trial? What a funny business!" And they discussed that case of adultery complicated by blackmail. They were not speaking at all as one speaks, among family, about events recounted in the public news, but as doctors speak of an illness or grocers speak of vegetables. They did not become indignant, they were not surprised by facts; they were searching for the deep, secret causes of them, with a professional curiosity and an absolute indifference to the crime itself. They were trying to explain neatly the origins of actions, to determine all the cerebral phenomena from which the crime was born, the scientific result of an individual state of mind. The women also were passionate in this pursuit, in this work. Other recent events were also examined, commented on, viewed from every side, weighed for their value, with that practical eye and that special way of seeing among news merchants, among sellers of the human comedy by the line, just how one examines, considers, weighs, in a business, the goods one is going to sell to the public.

* * * *

The young man's bedroom, on the fifth floor, looked out, as if over a deep abyss, over the immense trench of the Western Railway, just above the exit from the tunnel, near the Gare des Batignolles. Duroy opened his window and leaned his elbows on the support of the rusted iron rail. Below him, at the end of the dark hole, three red unmoving signals looked like large animal eyes; and farther away others were seen, and still more, farther away. Every few momenets, prolonged or short whistles passed by in the night, some near, others barely audible, coming from below, on the Asnières side. They had modulations like the calls of voices. One of them was getting closer, always making its plaintive cry that grew louder second by second, and soon a large yellow light appeared, running by with a loud noise; and Duroy watched the long rosary of train cars be swallowed up in the tunnel.

-- Guy de Maupassant, Bel-Ami, pp. 36-37 / 67-68 (my translation)
Guy de Maupassant's short stories and novels are always sure to provide a good read. Maupassant got his start as a newspaperman, a journalist and eventually editor for several Parisian newspapers. The protagonist in his novel Bel-Ami gets a similar break, and in the second passage above struggles, in his apartment in the Rue Boursault overlooking the train tracks, to come up with the ideas to meet his first deadline. Maupassant's account of the power of newspapers and how the people who ran them shaped their times has been making me a little rueful about the impending death of the newspaper.

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