But one sort of penetration, to awaken an idea

From Within a Budding Grove:

As I came away from the church I saw by the old bridge a cluster of girls from the village …. My eyes rested upon her skin; and my lips, had the need arisen, might have believed that they had followed my eyes. But it was not only to her body that I should have liked to attain, there was also her person, which abode within her, and with which there is but one form of contact, namely to attract its attention, but one sort of penetration, to awaken an idea in it.


That was what I wished her to know, so that she should regard me as someone of importance. But when I had uttered the words ‘Marquise’ and ‘carriage and pair,’ suddenly I had a great sense of calm. I felt that the fisher-girl would remember me, and I felt vanishing, with my fear of not being able to meet her again, part also of my desire to meet her. It seemed to me that I had succeeded in touching her person with invisible lips, and that I had pleased her. And this assault and capture of her mind, this immaterial possession had taken from her part of her mystery, just as physical possession does.

Comme je quittais l’église, je vis devant le vieux pont des filles du village … Mes regards se posaient sur sa peau et mes lèvres à la rigueur pouvaient croire qu’elles avaient suivi mes regards. Mais ce n’est pas seulement son corps que j’aurais voulu atteindre, c’était aussi la personne, qui vivait en lui et avec laquelle il n’est qu’une sorte d’attouchement, qui est d’attirer son attention, qu’une sorte de pénétration, y éveiller une idée.

C’était cela que je voulais qu’elle sût pour prendre une grande idée de moi. Mais quand j’eus prononcé les mots «marquise» et «deux chevaux», soudain j’éprouvai un grand apaisement. Je sentis que la pêcheuse se souviendrait de moi et se dissiper avec mon effroi de ne pouvoir la retrouver, une partie de mon désir de la retrouver. Il me semblait que je venais de toucher sa personne avec des lèvres invisibles et que je lui avais plu. Et cette prise de force de son esprit, cette possession immatérielle, lui avait ôté de son mystère autant que fait la possession physique.

Unfortunately some of us only realize well into life that if attracting and holding someone’s mental attention can be viewed as a form of seduction, it can also rouse in that person the same senses of grievance, entitlement, and presumed intimacy of spirit that an actual seduction and withdrawal would do.  But obviously this is in the context of more prolonged contact than the scene above.


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