Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
45 rue d'Auteuil. Surely no past life can still persist inside. Tap the stone
with a finger. There is only emptiness. The echo of emptiness. Hollow
stone. The past now a mere pebble. There's no risk that a tall old woman
in black will appear at the window and lift a curtain of guipure lace to spy
on Flora Fontanges and point at her. No harsh old woman's voice can seep
out the window and pronounce a death sentence on a little girl who was
rescued from the Hospice Saint-Louis. 'You'll never make a lady of her.'
Flora Fontanges tells herself that no one is more deaf than she who does
not want to hear. (21)]
The passage is typical in its brilliant involvement of the reader in this
identitary mystery. In activating segments of Flora's memory, Hébert
simultaneously engages the reader's own by obliging us to remember
that 'les façades grises de l'Esplanade' (20) denote the former house of
the 'fausse grand-mère,' who must, then, be the 'vieille femme en noir,'
which in turn leads the reader to deduce that Flora herself is the 'petite
fille.' At the same time as she gratifies the reader's deductive skills,
Hébert rewards us by confirming earlier conjectures that Flora had
been adopted, since she is 'rescapée de l'hospice Saint-Louis,' presum-
ably an orphanage. Furthermore, Hébert manages to pique the reader's
curiosity since her 'answers' invariably provoke further questions, such
as the nature of the predicament from which Flora was 'rescued' (sim-
ply by finding a family or by escaping a disaster?) and the meaning of
the phrase 'Vous n'en ferez jamais une lady' (who is designated by the
pronouns 'vous' and 'en'?). Moreover and especially, Hébert engages
the reader through irony by revealing the protagonist's penchant for self-
contradiction, thereby enabling the author to break through the barriers
of a narrative form limited to Flora's consciousness; at the very moment
Flora tells herself there is no risk of the old woman appearing, she does
so in a precise image, through memory. Finally, the passage ends with
the beginning of a realization on Flora's part that the deafest person is
she who will not listen, which shows the seeds of self-knowledge if not
(yet) the fruits of listening to the voices of her past.
A similar attempt at avoidance fails when Flora, about to visit the city
with Raphaël as her guide (a trade he plies to sustain his studies in his-
tory), eliminates 'forbidden' areas associated with her past, such as the
Côte de la Couronne and the quartier Saint-Roch (37). Flora expresses
no such fear of the rue Plessis, since it no longer exists (37), only to have
it arise from the ashes of memory in an image from the past of excruci-
ating detail, especially a cut-glass doorknob. From this image springs,
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