Two Never Before Published Letters from Marcel Proust to His Neighbor
Lydia Davis Translates a Couple Requests for Quiet
Translated from the French by Lydia Davis.
[July or August 1915]
I hope that you will not find me too indiscreet. I have had a great deal of noise these past few days and as I am not well, I am more sensitive to it. I have learned that the Doctor is leaving Paris the day after tomorrow and can imagine all that this implies for tomorrow concerning the ‘nailing’ of crates. Would it be possible either to nail the crates this evening, or else not to nail them tomorrow until starting at 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon (if my attack finishes earlier I would hasten to let you know).
Or else if it is indispensable to nail them in the morning, to nail them in the part of your apartment that is above my kitchen, and not that which is above my bedroom. I call above my bedroom that which is also above the adjoining rooms, and even on the 4th since a noise so discontinuous, so ‘noticeable’ as blows being struck, is heard even in the areas where it is slightly diminished. I confess that it bothers me very much to speak to you of such things and I am more embarrassed by it than I can say. My excuse for doing so today is perhaps first that I haven’t done it at all this year; then that the circulars of the Minister of War follow one another so rapidly and so contradictorily that my military situation, already settled three times it seemed is once again called into question. I await my visit from the Major announced ten days ago and which has not yet occurred, something that gives me only too many reasons to live ‘keeping an ear out’, interferes with my fumigations which might bother him (since I don’t know the day or the hour of his coming) and thus leaving me more defenseless in the face of my ailments. Following upon your trip, this situation has prevented me from repeating a visit that had left upon me such a charming impression. And your son is no longer here which saddens me also, for he at least could perhaps have ‘come down’ if I cannot ‘go up’ and I have with respect to him numerous debts which cry out to me about promises not kept. I don’t know if you have seen Clary at the Hôtel d’Albe. I have not been able to visit him yet and dread at the same time as I desire the emotion of such a moment.
Please accept Madame my very respectful greetings.
Don’t tire yourself out answering me!
I have been wanting for a long time to express to you my regret that the sudden arrival of my brother prevented me from writing to you during the last days of your stay in Paris, then my sadness at your leaving. But you have bequeathed to me so many workers and one Lady Terre—whom I do not dare call, rather, ‘Terrible’ (since, when I get the workers to extend the afternoon a little in order to move things ahead without waking me too much, she commands them violently and perhaps sadistically to start banging at 7 o’clock in the morning above my head, in the room immediately above my bedroom, an order which they are forced to obey), that I have no strength to write and have had to give up going away. How right I was to be discreet when you wanted me to investigate whether the morning noise was coming from a sink. What was that compared to those hammers? ‘A shiver of water on moss’ as Verlaine says of a song ‘that weeps only to please you.’ In truth, I cannot be sure that the latter was hummed in order to please me. As they are redoing a shop next door I had with great difficulty got them not to begin work each day until after two o’clock. But this success has been destroyed since upstairs, much closer, they are beginning at 7 o’clock. I will add in order to be fair that your workers whom I do not have the honor of knowing (any more than the terrible lady) must be charming. Thus your painters (or your painter), unique within their kind and their guild, do not practice the Union of the Arts, do not sing! Generally a painter, a house painter especially, believes he must cultivate at the same time as the art of Giotto that of Reszke. This one is quiet while the electrician bangs. I hope that when you return you will not find yourself surrounded by anything less than the Sistine frescoes . . . I would so much like your voyage to do you good, I was so sad, so continually sad over your illness. If your charming son, innocent of the noise that is tormenting me, is with you, will you please convey all my best wishes to him and be so kind as to accept Madame my most respectful regards.