‘De binocle’ (‘The Binoculars’) by Louis Couperus

Suggested by Bas Belleman, a poet, reviewer, essayist and translator of Shakespeare’s sonnets, who is currently managing Holland’s youngest and hottest funk quartet, starring his three sons and their cousin.

It’s hard to imagine that this dark tale of obsession was first published more than a century ago. The charming, florid prose may seem slightly dated, but the obsession that plagues a young operagoer is all too familiar in a world where a vast array of stimuli constantly vie for our attention.He could not clearly see who was seated there, directly below him. The theatre was very dark. But it was this darkness, in which the outlines of the audience dwindled, that he saw once more, yonder, the dove-grey lady he had noticed earlier, who had grabbed the fluttering programme. And the shave-skulled gentleman who sat beside her…
His skull gleamed. Amid the thousand, closely clustered, attentive silhouettes and coiffured feminine heads, but also bald masculine heads, the distant skull gleamed… It gleamed at approximately three-quarters of the sloping distance between the fourth rank and the stage below… It gleamed round, as a full moon of obsession, sunken between figures cloaked in darkness; pious crowns and motionless backs, enraptured; it gleamed like a goal, like a target; it gleamed white; it glistened…

From the collection Proza, (Prose), 1920.  Available in English translation in The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories, Penguin, 2016 and available online in Dutch here

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