Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cracked kettles

From Madame Bovary, part II (translation by Lydia Davis), one of my favorite passages in all of nineteenth-century fiction:
He had heard these things said to him so often that for him there was nothing original about them.  Emma was like all other mistresses; and the charm of novelty, slipping off gradually like a piece of clothing, revealed in its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and uses the same language.  He could not perceive—this man of such broad experience—the difference in feelings that might underlie similarities of expression.  Because licentious or venal lips had murmured the same words to him, he had little faith in their truthfulness; one had to discount, he thought, exaggerated speeches that concealed mediocre affections; as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors, since none of us can ever express the exact measure of our needs, or our ideas, or our sorrows, and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when we long to move the stars to pity.

1 comment:

  1. I read this novel a year ago and I must say, this passage struck me then and it struck me now as I was just buzzing through random blogs. Much of the novel reminded me of "Closer" that Mike Nichols movie because both point out that we really are alone and we can never truly express to another human how we feel, even if we use the most poetic of language. Nobody can ever really know another person. Thus, there is this over lying theme of "the stranger" in both pieces. Yay. I'm so glad I found your blog. Good passage to post. Thanks!