Thursday, 17 September 2009

Márai: Plenty

Judit, the maid, reflecting on her time in service...

It was the servant who shaved them but my husband’s bathroom contained half a dozen shaving sets, the latest on the market. And in a deerskin case there were another half dozen cutthroat razors, Swedish, American and English blades, though he never touched his face with them. It was the same with lighters. My husband bought every lighter going, then threw it into a drawer to rust along with other smart gadgets because he actually preferred to use a common match… One day he brought home an electric shaver in a leather case but he never used it. If he bought records to play on the gramophone he would always buy a complete set, the complete works of this or that composer, all at once. The complete Wagner, the complete Bach, all the different recordings. There was nothing more important than having every single piece of Bach in the collection, every single piece, the full set, you understand?

As for books, the book dealer no longer waited for them to decide to buy a book but sent them every new book that came in, anything they might possibly pick up and read some time. It was the servant’s job to cut the pages and then arrange them on the shelves in their cut but mostly unread condition. They read, of course. They read plenty… The old man read books about trade and travelogues. My husband was an extraordinarily cultivated man: he even took pleasure in poetry. But all those books the dealers – in the name of courtesy – showered us with, well, no mortal could ever have read them all, one life wasn’t enough. Nevertheless they didn’t send the books back; they didn’t feel justified in doing that because one had to support literature. And on top of that all the worry and tension in case the marvelous novel they had just bought was not the best possible, or indeed, God forbid, there might be a novel somewhere else more perfect than the one they had had sent over last week from Berlin!... They were very worried that some book, some implement, some object that was not part of a set, something sub-standard and of no value, in other words imperfect, might find its way into the house.

Everything was perfect there, kitchen, parlor, all the things in all the stores…everything was whole and perfect. It was only their lives that fell short of perfection.

Me? At university all day, marking: marking some wonderful stuff.Tomorrow to London for the judging of the Stephen Spender prize.

Cooling towards autumn. C out life drawing round the corner. Here any moment.


Vita Brevis said...

I'm confused... the maid's husband bought all the gadgets?

George S said...

Ah, of course. In the earlier episodes I had posted - and there have been quite a few, it is made clear that the maid eventually marries the son of the couple she is working for. That is the whole story, except that the marriage fails.

It's an eternal triangle story. The son first marries a perfeclty nice lovely middle-class girl but has long been in love - impossibly in love - with the maid, who goes away a few years them returns. The son then divorces his wife and marries her.

The story is in fact three stories. The wife's version, the husband's version, and, finally, the maid's version, though hers is told several years later, after the war and the Communist take over.

So, this being long after her marriage to him, she refers to her employers' son as her husband.

Does that help?

Vita Brevis said...

Thank you, yes, it's very clear. I didn't realise there were earlier episodes posted.

Anthony said...

Thank you. It is a funny quotation and familiar to any ardent lover of music and literature: that passion to own all the best possible literature and music, even if one never has sufficient time to read and listen to everything.