Back to Márai again for another of those dramatised riffs that so fascinate him. Here Peter, the twice married, twice divorced ex-industrialist, is talking to an unnamed friend in a cafe. That entirely one-sided conversation is, in effect, the whole Peter section:
'Women.’ Have you noticed the wary, uncertain way in which men pronounce the word? It is as if they were speaking of a not completely enchained, ever rebellious, conquered but unbroken tribe of discontents. And, really, what does this everyday concept ‘women’ signify in the hurly-burly of existence? What do we expect of them?... Children? Help? Peace? Delight? Everything? Nothing? A few moments of pleasure?
We carry on living, desiring, meeting, falling in love, then we marry, and, with that one woman, experience love, childbirth and death, while allowing our heads to be turned by a neatly formed ankle, ready to face ruin for the sake of a hairdo or the hot breath emanating from another’s lips, in middle-class beds or on sofas with broken springs in cheap no-questions-asked hotels down filthy side-streets, feeling a very brief satisfaction, or drunk on high-flown sentiment with some woman, both parties weepy and full of vows, promising to stand alone together, to assist each other, to live on a mountaintop, or at the heart of the great city… But then time passes, a year, or three years, or two weeks – have you noticed how love, like death, is nothing to do with clocks or calendars? – and the grand plan to which they have both agreed, has not been carried through, or only partially carried through, not quite as they had imagined. And then they part, in anger or indifference, and once again they are full of hope, ready to start again with someone new. Or perhaps they are exhausted, remaining together because of exhaustion, draining each other’s energy and life-blood, and so sicken, and kill each other, just a little, then die. And in that last moment, as they are closing their eyes, do they understand?... What was it they wanted from each other? They have done nothing except conform to an old, blind law at whose command the world constantly renews itself under the sign of love, a world that requires the lust of men and women to perpetuate the species? So was that all? What, poor things, had they been hoping for? What have they given each other? What have they received? What a terrifying, secret audit! Is the instinct that draws one man to one woman personal? Isn’t it just desire, always, eternally, nothing but desire, that occasionally, for brief intervals, is incarnated in a particular body? And this strange artificial excitement, the fever in which we live: might that not have been nature’s fully conscious way of prevent men and women feeling utterly alone?
Márai is only in his forties when he writes this. He married just the once and remained married to his wife until she died, shortly after which he shot himself at the age of eighty-nine in San Diego, in1989.