Filial Sentiments Of A Parricide by Marcel Proust, 1907
The magic trick:
Establishing a murderer first as a kind, well-adjusted friend
The story’s magic trick is a simple one. We are introduced to Henri van Blarenberghe through a letter at the beginning of the story. He couldn’t be more proper, polite or sympathetic. It’s shocking then to the reader and the narrator alike when news emerges three pages later that Mr. van B. is guilty of a grisly murder. The parting statement in his letter that “I do not know what the year 1907 holds for me, but let us pray that it may bring some improvement to us both…” adds a final bit of tragic irony. And that’s quite a trick on Proust’s part.
No sooner was I awake than I sat down to answer Henri Van Blarenberghe. But before doing so, I wanted just to glance at Le Figaro, to proceed to that abominable and voluptuous act known as reading the paper, thanks to which all the miseries and catastrophes of the world during the past twenty-four hours—battles that have cost the lives of fifty-thousand men, crimes, strikes, bankruptcies, fires, poisonings, suicides, divorces, the shattering emotions of statesmen and actors alike—are transmuted for our own particular use, though we are not ourselves involved, into a daily feast that seems to make a peculiarly exciting and stimulating accompaniment to the swallowing of a few mouthfuls of coffee brought in response to our summons. No sooner have we broken the fragile band that wraps Le Figaro, and alone separates us from all the miseries of the world, and hastily glanced at the first sensational paragraphs of which the wretchedness of so many human beings ‘forms an element’, those sensational paragraphs the contents of which we shall later retail to those who have not yet read their papers, than we feel a delightful sense of being once again in contact with that life with which, when we awoke, it seemed so useless to renew acquaintance.
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