The Square by Marguerite Duras

All Paris parks are the Luxembourg Gardens as far as I’m concerned.

C.J. and I arrived early for the matinee.  (Everything David Sedaris says about going to the movies in Paris is true.) Time to kill and no money to spend, the Luxembourg Gardens just up the street. Thirty minutes later and both of us are tempted to skip the movie in exchange for an afternoon in chairs in the Luxembourg Gardens, as if Paris wasn’t wonderful enough to begin with.  Now, whenever the words “Paris” and “park” are mentioned together, I think of the Luxembourg Gardens.  Just can’t help it.

Marguerite Duras novella, The Square, takes place in an un-named Paris park.  It’s probably one of the many small parks we found in every part of the city we walked through from Place d’Italie to St. Denis.  But it can be the Luxembourg Gardens if I choose.

In The Square a young woman and  an older man share a bench in the park one afternoon.  A maid for a wealthy family, she watches the child she is in charge of and dreams of the marriage she hopes Saturday evenings at the local dance hall will someday lead to. A travelling salesman,  he has never been more than an observer, immersed in his newspapers and watching the people who pass by.  He  does not make enough money to settle down or support a wife.

The two discuss their lives, share the views, in what should produce an adolescent piece of writing full of forced attempts at the profound.  Instead, I found two lonely people sharing an afternoon.  People I believed in and who had something to say about life.

See what I mean.

Here’s the young woman talking about happiness:

“I don’t know if it is that people are not good at happiness or if they don’t understand what it is. Perhaps they don’t really know what it is they want or how to make use of it when they have it. They may even get tired of trying to keep it.  I really don’t know. What I do know is that the word exists and that it was not invented for nothing.  And just because I know that women, even those who appear to be happy, often start wondering towards evening why they are leading the lives they do, I am not going to start wondering if the word is meaningless. That is all I can say on the subject.”

I hope the stilted nature of this dialogue is the result of mediocre translation, not of mediocre writing.  If the dialogue in the original sounds stilted, is a translator honor bound to preserve this quality?

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