Tuesday, April 12, 2011

of mauve ribbons, white wax and petit bleus

In a retelling of his romantic childhood fascination with Gilberte (daughter of the previously mentioned Monsieur Swann) Marcel Proust very beautifully unveils the hidden markings, the social relations, the meanings and the hope bound up in pneumatic correspondence:

"Another time, still preoccupied by the desire to hear La Berma in a classical play, I had asked her [Gilberte] if she happened to own a little book in which Bergotte talked about Racine, and which one could no longer find. She had asked me to remind her of its exact title and that evening I had addressed an express letter to her, writing on the envelope that name, Gilberte Swann, which I had so often copied out in my notebooks. The next day she brought me a packet tied up in mauve ribbons and sealed with white wax, containing the little book, a copy of which she had asked for someone to locate for her. 'You see? It really is the one you asked for,' she said, taking from her muff the letter I had sent her. But on the address of this pneumatique1 - which, only yesterday, was nothing, was merely a petit bleu which I had written, and which, now that a telegraph boy had delivered it to Gilberte's concierge and a servant had carried it to her room, had become this priceless thing, one of the petits bleus she had received that day - it was hard for me to recognize the insignificant, solitary lines of my handwriting under the printed circles apposed to it by the post office, under the inscriptions added in pencil by one of the telegraph messangers, signs of actual realization, stamps from the outside world, violet bands symbolizing life, which for the first time came to espuse, sustain, uplift, delight my dream" (The Way by Swann's, Penguin edition translated by Lydia Davis, p406).

1. pneumatique: express letter sent by pneumatic tube. This delivery system existed in Paris as late as the 1970s or 1980s; as the telephone system was very slow to develop, casual appointments were made and messages transmitted by pneumatique, also known as a petit bleu, literrally 'little blue'. (The Way by Swann's, Penguin edition translated by Lydia Davis, p446).

Image from active social plastic.

No comments:

Post a Comment