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Composition No. 1 by Marc Saporta

Reading notes by Nick Montfort

Composition No.1: a novel by Marc Saporta. Translated from the French (published 1961, Paris: Éditions du Seuil) by Richard Howard. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Read at the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library

I was surprised to find that as of December 2003, there seems to be exactly one page devoted to Composition No. 1 on the entire Web; it is in Polish and consists of two paragraphs.

Gerald Prince described this book to me as being well-known as a curio, but hardly ever considered as a piece of literature. Scholars of electronic literature, hypertext, ergodic literature, and related matters have, fortunately, paid some attention to literary dimensions of the book, although the discussion is brief. I knew about this book in the first place thanks to discussion by Jane Douglas in The End of Books or Books without End?, Espen Aarseth in Cybertext, and J. David Bolter in Writing Space. I read Composition No. 1 myself thanks to last-minute urging as I was finishing Twisty Little Passages, and I wrote about it briefly in chapter 3 of that book.

Here, I've simply put my notes from that reading online, inspired by Jane Douglas's willingness to make her "Absolutely Unadulterated WOE Reading Log" available as part of the New Media Reader. The notes below, as you may discover, sometimes betray my allusional and historical ignorance. I have not gone back to change the text, even in cases when these have been remedied, although I did correct a few obvious typos. Please note, however, that typos definitely remain and you should not quote from these notes as if they contained authoritative quotations from the novel. The main reason I have quoted text is to keep track of the order in which I read pages. Other than that, I typed little more than would allow me to use these notes to jog my memory. I'm not sure how useful these notes will be to others, if they're useful at all. But, given the paucity of information about Composition No. 1, it seemed reasonable to make this available in support of any future literary investigations of this work. I hope there will be some!

Began Reading 6 Dec 2002

The inside cover of the box names the main character "X," provides instructions (shuffle the pages and read) and lists some events that transpire in the text. On the bottom half, the text from one of the sheets is printed.

Shuffling the pages now ... no frightened looks from the rare books librarian yet ...

Conventions: The beginning of each text, in the order in which I read the sheets, is quoted at the start of each paragraph. All quotations from that text are in double quotes "like this," while any quotations from other parts of Composition No. 1 with a paragraph are in single quotes, 'like this.'

There is a sheet with a title page on one side and a copyright notice on the other, which apparently is included in the count of 150 sheets, so there are only 149 recombinable texts.

"The president of the club has been categorical. If the debt is not paid within forty-eight hours, expulsion will result."

"Marianne locks herself in the bathroom." Marianne threatening suicide...

"The law school is divided."

"Helga no longer offers any resistance." Sex with Helga and her "body of silence rather than consent" is lugubriously described ...

"The stretcher floats silently down the white corridors." It seems the texts do build on each other as if through accumulation of any sort, rather than sequence, as in the usual novel. Is this actually not about the characters, but a novel of ideas in which the texts, read in any order, are piled into a Platonic whole? And is this unique in the French (anti-)novel? Much of Nadja would read the same way since it is a character sketch in which description is piled up, but Breton saved the revelation that Nadja went insane and was institutionalized until the end. It would be a very different book with that revealed up front on in the midst of a reading.

"The motorcycle policemen are in ambush at the street corner ..." with the sinister image of the motorcycle policeman as a robot fused with his motorcycle — immediately followed by the auto accident text...

"Plunging into black night. ... The police are good. The boots of the policemen make a fence. The police ambulance is peaceful." Reversing the perception of the police immediately — incidentally, since those texts could appear anywhere. But wouldn't their placement next to each other, originally, make it more likely that they would stay next to each other even after repeated shuffling? Howard's translation is quite exquisite, and each page would read well by itself since it treats a particular experience sharply, evoking the interest of the reader even if that reader doesn't know who the characters are. Excellent description of the aftermath of the accident, the sight of gates of the hospital bringing back a surge of life. Here we may have the first occurrence of an auto accident in an ergodic text.

"Buisson says: We'll take care of you after school."

"Marianne is at her desk. The scribbled papers accumulate around her, covering each other. The writing is almost a shriek. Illegible. No single letter is actually formed. No sentence seems finished. Some sheets show only a few words. Others are completely covered. Once the page is filled, Marianne has written in the margins, vertically. The text is full of crossings-out and rewritings. No sheet is numbered; she can't possibly find where she is in all this mess. ... Finally she stands up. She says, 'I've begun to write a novel.'" Plagiarism by anticipation of Michael Joyce and Shelley Jackson's metahyperfictional musings.

"Dagmar's absence creates a void on the right side ..." I find myself looking back at what I've read to see if I have encountered Dagmar so far. And indeed, in the "Buisson says:" text (which reads a bit like a list of dramatis personae, and, incidentally, is the text that is printed on the inside front of the box) he is one of the many characters who say something: 'I could never forgive a lie.'

"The little secretary sniffs." The characters themselves remind me a bit of people like Horacio Oliviera and La Maga from Hopscotch, although they certainly less odious; I wonder if this association is due to the similarity in form or due to both being novels set (in part) in Paris, written by authors living in Paris?

"The hallway is dark." Helga's room being, well, violated, by someone unspecified? Followed (!!!) by...

"Marianne agrees to let a girl board with them ..." Another particularly striking juxtaposition, making it rather more explicit (although we certainly should have known...) that it was X.

"The man runs alongside the road."

"Dagmar is sitting on the low couch ..." She is described; the last line reveals that after lighting her cigarette she is "waiting for the kiss."

"The dark, varnished door with ornamental moldings ..." The grimly efficient boss, banknotes in the safe.

"Helga buzzes like a golden insect in the sun." The nymphet studying, enjoying being watched.

"The humus must be placed, still moist, in the bottom of the pots ... To obtain bloom, even under imperfect conditions, one must treat the plant like an adolescent girl who is still uncertain of her own blossoming." Which seems to be narrated by Humbert — er, X. Although perhaps it might read more innocently in a different immediate context.

"Dagmar stands erect in the light from the lamp." She states that the one thing she wouldn't tolerate is lying.

"Helga is sitting naked on the edge of the couch." The same couch Dagmar was sitting on, I suppose? At any rate, the same Platonic idea of a couch. Helga is lovingly described. She's smoking, as Dagmar was. She says (obviously to X) "Get out" in the last line.

"Helga walks down the hall carrying a tray ..."

"The doctor explains that Marianne should be in the hands of a good psychoanalyst. ... The young woman is undermined by a morbid fear of death ... As a matter of fact, she regards herself as a dead woman who has been reprieved."

"Helga is recovering her spirits." After being raped by X, it seems. "the scattered garments indicate the violence of the struggle." The fourth text cannot just be read as bad sex, at this point. The end of this recapitulates the text beginning 'Helga is sitting naked on the edge of the couch,' also ending with "'Get out,' she says." As far as I can tell this is the first time I have found the same incident (her sitting naked on the couch, standing up, going toward the sink, picking up the comb, and then saying 'get out') recounted at length in two different texts.

"Marianne, a young bride, has invited her former professors;" Marianne, extremely bright and having been a star student at the Sorbonne, is also described as very thin in her "beautifully cut dress."

"The stairs leading to the office look like a service entrance." The boss again; this time a female apprentice clerk is mentioned as having "slender legs." Uncanny.

"Marianne confronts the attendants who have come by order of Dr. Brun to tear her from Francine's bed. The dying girl's bohemian studio is still full of traces of the hemorrhage. ... In her elegant dress soiled with clots of blood and filth, Marianne is more unmoving than a fashion model before the photographer's lens."

"Marianne's features are tense under the white veil." A wedding follows when a funeral more naturally would have ... She's extremely nervous, as often is the case.

"Marianne has been invited to the convention by one of her former professors," She's fashionable, again. Marianne, star student, will not take the exams for the École Normale since she is afraid of failure, even though it is unlikely.

"Dagmar is sitting to the right, her back against the car door, ... which it is a good idea to lock so that the young woman doesn't fall out backward in case it opens unexpectedly." This is an almost moralistic sort of ominous folklore voice, as in 'Little Red suddenly met the wolf, the sort of stranger whom it is a bad idea for little girls to speak with.' But it seems a bit in keeping with the Cortázar-like narration in which the narrator expresses characteristic concerns through such statements. "She pays no attention to the road, at the risk of being thrown against the windshield if the car should stop suddenly." This is amusingly obvious in its obliqueness, suggesting Dagmar was in the auto accident in a very ham-handed way. Like Dagmar sitting perpindicular to the direction of travel as the car drives on straight ahead?

"Helga protects her face with her elbow, still stunned by the slaps." A rather disturbing description of one stage of the rape, with statements like "The athletic girl's flat belly, between her delicate hips, pleads for kisses." But, oddly enough ... the text beginning 'Helga is sitting naked on the edge of the couch' states, clearly referring to Helga, 'The body is a trifle pudgy.' What is this? Unreliability in the narrator, different visions of Helga, different Helgas, a problem with Howard's translation, or simply a sort of "Saporta nods" situation in which the author did not keep track of Helga's physical appearance throughout the writing? "Now the panties fetter the muscular calves, then the ankles, like those of a slave girl."

"The street is empty." Ending with "The moment has come to go into the house whatever happens and whatever the cost, as planned."

"The candles serve as footlights for a wonderful spectacle." A sad church scene; "It is no longer possible to recreate the white procession."

"Robert appears at Lise's door in a bathrobe, his face haggard with jealousy. ... Lise, half naked, flings herself in front of him, motioning for him to be still. She should have remembered to lock her door." Referring most strongly to 'The hallway is dark,' this tends to destroy the reading of that text as referring to Helga's room.

"A caldron is placed in the middle of the sidewalk," Salvation Army donations ... referring back to the club of the first text.

"Marianne turns over and over in bed."

"Helga's room is on the third floor." Her room described in great detail, as is familiar from certain types of ergodic texts (>OPEN THE HUGE MIRRORED WARDOBE).

"Gradually Helga begins moaning to herself, her face toward the wall, to the right; her contracted features express her desire to go all the way. 'No,' Helga says," but the narrator sure thinks that means yes ... "the girl's resistance comes to an end. Now and then her body takes the offensive. ... Her legs, solicited, rise; she reacts to the slightest pressure like a pony to the bit. Her eyes open, become darker and darker, and close again. Another languid glance of overwhelming gratitude sparkles through the lashes. ... It remains only to bring the carnival [referred to in 'Helga is recovering her spirits'] to a perfect conclusion." This text is difficult to reconcile with 'Helga no longer offers any resistance' which describes Helga as 'A body which no longer expresses anything.' While both texts focalize Helga, 'Helga no longer offers any resistance' seems to be narrated more from the perspective of Helga (despite referring to her in the third person) while "Gradually Helga begins moaning to herself" is narrated more from the perspective of X? Perhaps not, perhaps we have a narrator who is more mournful in the former case and more bitter (with forced relish) in the latter.

"Dagmar walks away without another word."

"Helga opens her eyes wide. Her cheeks are very Red, whereas Dagmar's are pale. But perhaps this is only on account of the two slaps she has received,"

"Dagmar is the picture of serenity." "Like all girls who are too tall, too solidly built, she has a fantasy of being delicate"

"From the garden, every pane of Helga's third-floor window seems to be signaling."

"The house is typically Franconian, [German?] ... The old woman peers suspiciously at the billeting order. The idea of lodging enemy soldiers under her roof doesn't appeal to her ... Over the bannister, on the floor above, appears the pink face of the girl, now staring curiously at the foreign soldiers." Helga? She wouldn't have been old enough to look over the bannister if her rape by X took place c. 1960 ... but perhaps it didn't.

"The farm is surrounded." German soldiers, ferreting out members of the Resistance? Ends with: "A tall German woman with queenly bearing nonchalantly crosses the barnyard. She would be beautiful without her uniform." The recognition of beauty beneath the surface of political turmoil — with a hint of 'hey, that's a nice uniform of the occupying army. It'd look great on my floor.'

Resumed reading 9 Dec 2002

"The unpaid bills remained stuck in the mirror frame."

"The stairs are made of solidified night." Checking in at night in preparation for some mischief in the office.

"The cheeks reddened by slaps look as if they owed their color to nothing but the girl's youth." Repetition of the same scene this many times, or narrating small parts of it while making the overall context of it clear, makes it almost certain the scene will be encountered early on, for one thing. These text cannot be read as occurring in the sequence in which they are read, of course: they all are snippets of the same narrative. This undercuts the dust jacket statement on the inside front of the box: 'For time and the order of events control a man's life more than the nature of such events.' This text states "The expression on the face is now the same as Dagmar's" which means Helga must have been raped by X after he bedded Dagmar.

"Dagmar has done her hair into two little braids ... She is not even pretty."

"The temperature chart attached to the foot of the bed shows a cross-section drawing of high mountains."

"The street flies past both sides of the car." The accident. "The pushcart women all shout together to sell some shoppers the accident, others the gas, others the victim." Isn't clear if the car hit another car or something else, although the latter is suggested.

"The villa's inside staircase rises toward the skylight," with fetching Helga ascending it.

"A sputter in the telephone receiver." Dagmar answers the phone several times, hangs up.

"Dagmar is stretched out on her back on the couch, completely dressed." She seems to answer in direct discourse the narrator's indirect comments: "Stretched out this way, she is in space, and trajectory in space, the arrow winging towards its target. She says, 'Yes, but like Zeno's arrow that never reaches the dove. Because the idea stops it in midair.' She adds, 'Besides, the arrow is the dove too.'"

"Marianne utters a shriek:" She's been given a scarf as a birthday gift (from X) with a battle scene on it and a dead soldier, and rejects it with horror.

"'If I don't go, it will bring me bad luck,' Laurent grumbles. ... Laurent is conspicuous by the haste with which he walks forward to take Communion. He is still kneeling when the bombing begins." He dies. "What were the prayers addressed to heaven by the village women? Perhaps they asked for Germany's enemies to be punished. One of them is the mother of a young woman with whom the detachment has had a little fun."

"The desk stands, as expected, in the middle of the room, facing the window." The confessions of resistance fighters ... this is perhaps the office referred to earlier.

"The policemen walking under the windows can't have been alerted yet."

"The detachment has just entered the village without firing a shot." The suggestion is strong now that Helga was not raped by X while living with him as a boarder, but while he was in the occupation forces in Germany. Men from the detachment destroy fine German furniture, drink wine that they find.

"The blue stairs descend blithely toward the blue water of the pool, to the slapping rhythm of naked heels." The young Dagmar and X frolicking in the pool.

"The girl stands in the doorway, a little embarrassed but smiling. ... She can't be more than eighteen and may not even have reached her full growth. ... She looks like a lamb ready to gambol on its delicate, muscular legs ... 'I'm the girl who answered the advertisement.' She speaks very softly. She adds, 'I'm from Cologne.'" Marianne's interview for her office job? She studied in Paris, but perhaps is from Cologne. Certainly not Dagmar, from the physical description.

"Helga is alone in her room." Offered a cigarette, waiting for an explanation for the intrusion, backs toward the couch.

"ARTICLE 332. Anyone committing the crime of rape will be sentenced to criminal confinement for a period of ten to twenty years." Full article and beginning of 333 is given. "The professor of criminal law adds that ... it is quite difficult to distinguish between the use of force pure and simple, which characterizes rape, and the recourse to what Roman jurists call vis grata puellis, violence dear to young girls." X is studying law, presumably ... unless he is the professor ...

"The hallway is pitch dark." Part of the break-in: the office opens.

"The house is empty. The maid has left to do the marketing," Seeking toy soldiers.

"The rosebush is planted in a pot on the balcony." Protecting and pruning the roses so they will bloom — "pure sentimentality."

"'We'll take care of you after school'" said by Buisson. Perhaps the statements at the beginning represent X's life flashing before him? They recapitulate statements elsewhere. X ends up getting slandered instead of pummeled, since he runs for the top of the stairs where he can throw a few of them down before getting hurled down himself and they end up not attacking him.

"Helga palpitates in the hand like a captive Bengali." There's bizarre diction. X holds her down.

"The collision is black and shiny, like the hood of the car." A very subjective (but oddly so) description of the moment after impact. The rescue begins, to the narrator it seems the accident "took place at least a hundred years ago." Musing on the relative nature of time.

"The house in empty. Only the night watchman ..." The big envelope is seen; it's not mentioned that it is taken. Descent down the steps. A police car passes, then suddenly returns...

"Helga has let her cigarette go out ..." Seems to narrate the events after 'Helga is alone in her room.' She tries to wait to put it out as long as possible since it provides her with a weapon. Putting it out finally, she purses her lips.

"'I'll kill you,' Marianne says." A big fight between her and X; the children run in.

"Dagmar gets into the car, as she does everything, with a clear awareness of all her movements. ... Her bright-red mouth and her green eyes are contradictory signals which compete, at the intersections, with the orders of the stoplights, at the risk of provoking accidents."

"Dagmar steps back to consider the effect." She is painting her Composition Number One, a self-portrait that she first calls "only my shadow" and then "It's me, only my negative." See photocopy.

"An assistant manager of a firm is almost a boss, without the profits." X is the assistant manager, who decides to steal from the boss? (The envelope in the safe...)

"The barracks, after the free life of the Maquis, is a real prison." Basic training, essentially. Closes with a note about being "Far from any women who might inspire a man to protect himself." A funny phrase — as if a man needed to protect himself from the women...

"The croupier drawls, 'No more bets.'" X must be gambling away his money — hence the bills.

Resumed reading 19 Dec 2002

"The little girl is dressed like a boy." She's angry at being accused of cheating, is caught by other children and held...

"The car drives through the uproar and floats for a long time on a river of exclamations." Shouts, after the crash. "I had the right of way, he was driving much too fast." (So there was a second far, that driver must be in better shape.) Different perspective on the police: "The floor of the police emergency van hardens under the body like a contracting muscle. The iron doors slam with the sound of a prison."

"'The child is too nervous,' Maman says. 'He should spend some time up in the mountains.'" He (X, I suppose) breaks two windows with his fists.

"Trois, rouge, impair et manque." Gambling... handing over counterfeit money.

"Dagmar walks down the street with her unconcerned by firm stride." She is "too tall." Yet like the Gothic statues of saints, she is alluring.

"Dr. Brun tries to reason with Marianne," who reveals that she also has cancer. But it's not true. She makes herself believe she has caught it.

"The whiteness of the hospital penetrates the closed eyelids." X imagines Dagmar, then Helga, has visions of the wedding.

"The apartment door opens on a long slender figure in a black hat." X visiting Marianne, who says "'My nose is my despair. I wish it were shorter." X thinks: "How to keep from telling her ... that she is wonderfully desirable?" Marianne proclaims her love, adding "You mustn't be disappointed with me. I'm horribly inexperienced. It's my first time."

"The prints that hang along the hallway describe in several episodes the courtship of a lovely lady..." Helga's house; she sings. X glimpses her, naked to the waist, but she leaps forward and shuts the door.

"Marianne shrieks, 'That's how you treat your wife.'" She breaks the heel of her shoe. She is in a rage.

"The leaflets must be distributed at the university, despite or on account of the many arrests." During the Vichy government, German officers taking courses at the Sorbonne. Trying to distribute leaflets, two Germans are alerted.

"Helga gives a start and her lips pout with vexation." She is 18 years old. She lights the intruding visitor's cigarette, draws back toward the couch.

"Marianne is huddled in the rickety armchair near Francine's bed." Again, she hasn't left: another interminable scene at her bedside. A reasonable follow-up to her last assertion of having cancer, it seems.

"The boss seems very annoyed." Annual profits per employees, machines for making money, the safe mentioned again and the assistant manager's knowledge of it. (X?)

"'A little pink dog with a pig's head, an elephant's trunk, and a corkscrew tail.'" X makes up an animal, the teacher writes a note to his mother, who decides "'This child has too much imagination,'"

"The Bengalis cheep in their cage." Helga watches the timid creatures who fear the intruding hand, and must learn it only wishes to free them: "Like a girl whose body must slowly be taught to find its pleasure."

"Attacked, Helga recovers her spirits." Here she gets slapped as she tried to free herself, held down on the couch.

"The police are playing puss-in-the-corner in the failing light."

"Dagmar suffer from her own racial prejudice, which drives her to save her kindest remarks, her sweetest smiles, for Jews and Negroes." She dances with a Negro. "When she sits down again, accompanied by her partner, who bows affectedly: 'Land,' she says." ???

"Dagmar walks on in her fawn-colored fur coat," Again, she walks and is desirable.

"The office, the office, the office, the office, the office." Calculations, numbers, requests. ENRON-STYLE accounting, a ploy to take money out of the safe while covering it up.

"Dagmar sets two candles on the table." She kisses X, her solitude remains, she asks him to dine.

"Only one place is set at the table. Marianne serves..." Clearly a companion text to the previous. Coincidence that they appear one after other? Or did they start out that way and never get shuffled apart, as must have happened with several (not all) pairs? Insane, she serves herself food and then takes only two grapes to eat.

"Marianne's scream saws through the night," she believes she's dead.

"Dagmar's forehead, in bold relief, is tilted back" She is working on 'Composition No. 1"

"Marianne is fussing around with her pots and pans." She's fired the cleaning woman. She is wearing a stained dress (as was the case two texts ago.) She burns herself, soothes it with butter.

"Helga is sitting at the family table and pretending to be absorbed in helping one of the children," Footsie with X.

"Marianne smokes nervously." Again, she acts insane, running about the house.

"Marianne, a young bride tense under her veils, walks away from the altar ... She longed for this marriage ... Perhaps she is already thinking of the consequences of a union brought about by a threat accompanied by the blackmail of suicide." Makes X seem not so bad, as pertains to his treatment of Marianne: she was insane before, he married her to try in a way to help.

"Dagmar simply cannot understand what makes people tell lies." X must have started dating Marianne when seeing Dagmar, then lied to her about it. It doesn't seem X could be cheating on Dagmar by having raped Helga; this isn't what Dagmar is upset about. Dagmar lies on the bed "with the same hunted expression that Helga has."

"Every week Dagmar spends Wednesday afternoon at the museum." X considers stalking her ... he does, but doesn't know what exit from the museum she is taking, and seems to miss her ...

"It is impossible to pay attention to Mass when Gisèle sticks her legs out of the row ..." X distracted by a nubile. Guilt, confession. Gisèle takes X to a party and laughs at him for not knowing how to kiss.

"Helga is becoming aroused." That's a paragraph all by itself, and is a pretty good one is presented apropos of nothing. Ends with "And suddenly she is nothing but a glowing torch from head to foot."

"Dagmar left behind only this tireless termite that gnaws away at the heart." Again, a reasonable follow-up to the stalking test, three texts ago. Dagmar has left X.

"The safe is in a corner of the office." Noticing the envelope; the boss thinks it is closed up in the safe, the combination spun away. But it's still in the desk drawer. "Of course it is plausible that thieves should attack the office during the night and take the envelope. ... the presence of thieves on this one night would be an almost incredible coincidence."

"Maman looks severe as she leafs through the notebook covered with heavy blue paper." A forged grade (that doesn't even count); lying as "a kind of necessary ordeal."

"The harrow is standing on the sidewalk, at right angles to the roadway." A lot of things (Dagmar in the car) seem to be at right angles to each other. Police jerk the rope on this thing to blow out a car's tires, if it doesn't stop for a random check. Suggesting that the getaway car from the theft was made to crash because of this. The distraction of Dagmar is another candidate, but she seemed to leave X without having been in a traffic accident with him.

"Article 379. Anyone fraudulently removing a thing which does not belong to him is guilty of theft." Also Articles 381 (if 4 of 5 conditions hold, life imprisonment: nighttime, two or more people, housebreaking, done with violence, used a motor vehicle to escape) and 384 (10-20 year if any one condition holds). It seems that night is certain and three of the other four are unlikely to hold. The office was rented in an apartment building, to be cheap, making housebreaking possible but uncertain. Violence was not, it seems, mentioned. It does not seem others were involved (who would X involve?), although a car may have been.

"Marianne, face rigid, features drawn, works like a charwoman." She scrubs blood, waits by Francine's bed. "Marianne is in the process of giving herself the last rites."

"The girl crumbles the rest of her cake for the pigeons. She is tall, slender, and not at all embarrassed about stretching out her provocative crossed legs." An insolent person speaks to her, she tries to walk away, finally deciding to greet the person: "My name is Dagmar." Dagmar is slender? Clearly she is oversized and not attractive, I thought she was described as having a solid frame or otherwise begin non-slender at some point. Perhaps here she learns from Marianne of X's infidelity.

"Helga turns, is motionless, goes tense and then limp." She starts yipping like a puppy, her moans mature.

"The night is pitch black." Not the office theft: German soldiers searching for members of the resistance. "Among them is a tall, handsome girl with blond hair, to whom the officers politely defer." Helga as a German officer (the one who was described in a previously-read text as being hot)? No, stupid, that would be anachronistic: the French occupation of Germany happened after the Germans rolled into France. Is this blond, female, French-killing German officer a figure who motivates X's rape of Helga in some way, then?

"The debts are now so enormous that the lawyer advises mortgaging the family property."

"Marianne is deep in a huge medical dictionary." Seeking evidence she has cancer. She has been starving herself, eating only sweets that have destroyed her mouth and kept her on the edge of survival.

Resumed reading 20 Dec 2002

"The bulging envelope is on top of the other papers and folders in the middle drawer." "the contents, intelligently handled, might be worth millions" X is contemplating gambling this already. "It will be necessary..." describes what must be done to complete the crime.

"Helga is sitting in the children's room." She tells The Little Mermaid to the children, gets her French book to study. This does suggest Helga is the boarder / au pair, taking care of the kids.

"For the summer vacation, Maman has decided to hire a girl to live in and take care of the two younger children. Preferably a German girl" (!!!) (I missed this text, actually read it last although I shuffled it into this order.) "Considering how subtle Manan is, it would be best not to oppose the plan too openly. She would guess at once that girls do not necessarily constitute an object of contempt, as boys of sixteen or seventeen prefer people—at least their parents—to think." Now the rape of Helga seems most clearly situated not at her house during the occupation but at X's family's country house.

"The office overlooks the street, but the buildings opposite, far too high, cast their gray shadows in through the window." The first line explains that it is not night. Typewriter working, girls subject to sex in order to get raises,

"From the side the flight of stairs is merely a series of tiny puppet stages,"

"Marianne announces her engagement to a small group of friends" Francine is never invited back to the apartment after this.

"The silence is very embarrassing." X seems to have lied about a relative's death, asked for a day off of work, then declined to take it. Another case of lying on principle?

"Number three to win." Horse race, a contrast to the roulette gambling. A horse comes from behind to win.

"The stairway is quite dark." Francine, who is overdressed for a Bohemian party, shows with Marianne, but at the party Marianne claims to have just met Francine on the stairs.

"Helga's eyes show green reflections under the pale lashes." She has a high forehead, like Francine (mentioned in the previous text.)

"Marianne's room is a wonder of equilibrium, and to move anything in it is strictly forbidden." She vacuums around objects lying all over.

"Dagmar stands in the light from the Christmas tree," Ending with "She is naked."

"The skin of Helga's naked legs becomes imperceptibly grainy under the caress." "One of her legs forms a right angle with the floor." (Again, right angles.) She neither accepts nor declines the kiss, then decides to defend herself.

"Dagmar's eyes have green reflections beneath the pale lashes." She cries, claiming it's because she is happy.

"The first thing that must be subtracted from the monthly pay check is the amount necessary to pay the largest debts Marianne has contracted during the month." Table service destroyed, broken chair, linen that wasn't washed. She must buy records, too. She doesn't eat since there is no money.

"Maman is sitting on a chair beside the bed." Feverish, X is in the hospital. A childhood illness? There is the sound of "a motor humming" through the window.

"Dagmar is at the vanishing point." This time a "bold man," it's said, approaches her.

"Marianne's eyes are black, hard, and shiny"

"Footsteps echo on the stairs." The barracks.

"Sentries have been placed at the entrance of the village" Searching the German houses. They rape girls.

"The café is empty." They plot to get the envelope from the Germans; it has a list of confessions.

"The boss decides to be understanding once again, and he agrees to an advance" Everything mortgaged. He gets — an envelope! He gambles it away, has to go home to tell Marianne he didn't get the advance.

"The blouse is cool, crisp, spotless. But Helga's breasts throb" She struggles.

"Sitting on the couch, her legs folded under her, Dagmar selects a chicken leg"

"Dagmar walks on with her supple, thoroughbred's stride." Talking to someone, she asks "You don't like Germans, do you?"

"The hospital room is only a heap of chaotic memories." Flowers blooming, as with the car accident. Dagmar visits, dressed all in white.

"Dagmar is standing in front of her drafting table." T-square (right angles again).

"Marianne slams the door. The apartment remains strangely silent. The children have not been awakened." She leaves, then the "inevitable reconciliation."

"The third-floor hall is empty. All the guest rooms are empty except for Helga's" Guest rooms? Again, suggesting she's boarding with X and Marianne. Picture of the gallant wooing the heroine, again.

"Dagmar's room is on the fourth floor, tucked under the eaves, and has to be reached by the service stairs" The end: "At the left is the studio, which also serves as a living room and bedroom. The easel stands in front of the window. It is the only place in the room that is clearly lighted by the big skylight opening onto a prospect of roofs. On the wall, an abstract work, unframed and tacked above the drawing board. The canvas is signed by a young artist whose last show made a stir. ... The couch, along the wall, is covered with a Mexican serape. Dagmar is sitting there with her legs folded under her. Above her head, contrasting violently with her blond hair, the dark abstract painting with clots of color that seem to be on fire is still unfinished. It is called Composition No. 1."

original text 2002-12 / posted 2003-12