‘Providence’ by François-Guy Abauzit

A failed seduction along these lines is the subject of my eighth choice, ‘Providence’, by François-Guy Abauzit. It has not been translated yet. An aging professor of French literature, great admirer of Stendhal, in a tired marriage, is attracted to their student lodger, Marina. He does not push his luck; but one evening, she comes into the dark garden where he is smoking, asks him for a cigarette, and collapses in tears on his shoulder. Her boyfriend is leaving for Italy: she asserts that there is no one like him in the whole world. In genuinely avuncular mode, the protagonist puts his arm round her shoulders, and crassly explains that the only reason she attributes every virtue to the boy is because she is in love: it is what Stendhal calls ‘cristallisation’. She curses ‘his’ Stendhal – “encore un vieux con”, the “encore” implying ‘like you’, and storms inside. The prof’s appeal to a literary predecessor has done nothing but alienate the young woman. But paradoxically, he feels more tender towards his wife – although he sits down to write, in French, the story (the récit) of what has just happened, specifically because his wife does not read French. He betrays her without having betrayed her.

Published in the collection Puits de lune, Éditions de la Fenestrelle, 2015

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