Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Literary minefields

From Rousseau's Confessions:
I have always considered M. de Malesherbes to be a man of inviolable integrity. Nothing that has happened to me has ever made me doubt for a moment his probity; but, as weak as he is honourable, he sometimes harms the people in whom he takes an interest through his very desire to protect them. Not only did he have more than one hundred pages cut from the Paris edition [of Julie]; but he made a cut that could even be described as an act of disloyalty in the copy of the good edition that he sent to Mme de Pompadour. Somewhere in this work there is a remark to the effect that the wife of a coal-merchant is more deserving of respect than the mistress of a prince. This sentence suggested itself to me in the heat of composition without, I swear it, any allusion being intended. On rereading the work, I realized that the connection would nevertheless be made. Faithful, nevertheless, to my own very imprudent maxim of never suppressing anything out of fear that connections might be made, provided my conscience is my witness that I was not aware of them while writing, I was reluctant to remove this sentence, but contented myself with substituting the word prince for the word king, which is what I had originally written. This modification did not go far enough for M. de Malesherbes: he removed the whole sentence, which is missing from the new page he had printed specially and stuck as neatly as possible into Mme de Pompadour's copy. She was not deceived by this vanishing act. There was no shortage of charitable souls eager to inform her of it.

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