Monday, 19 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 8

Chapter 8, the first part of which comprises a long extract from one of Edith's letters to David, focuses on the timeworn themes of appearance and reality. Mrs Pusey, so spry, is revealed to be seventy-nine, and possibly deaf, and her daughter, who looks about fourteen, is in fact Edith's age, thirty-nine. Edith's disappointed Viennese mother is pictured reading innocent romances ('Perhaps that is why I write them') while dressed in an ancient peignoir. 'My mother's fantasies, which remained unchanged all her life, taught me about reality. And although I keep reality in the forefront of my mind, and refer to it with grim constancy, I sometimes wonder if it serves me any better than it served my mother.' Such reflections are occasioned by the elaborate fantasy of Mrs Pusey's birthday party, the artificiality and theatricality of which Edith compares and contrasts with her own memories and also with the less than enviable lives of the other guests - Mme de Bonneuil, for example, dutifully attending the entertainment but 'a stranger to such elaborate games of make-believe'.

'Suddenly', writes Edith, 'I had the uncanny feeling that this was all for show, that everything was a pretence, that this had been a dinner of masks, that no one was ever, ever going to tell the truth again.' The lightly comic ironic tone of much of the novel so far begins here to be undermined. 'Unsound elements seemed to have crept into [Edith's] narrative,' comments Brookner. David, we are told, likes to be amused by Edith's 'news from Cranford', a reference to one of the most charming and delightful works in the whole of English literature.

The chapter finishes on a note of true sobriety. Edith is at last ready to review in her mind the events that led to her exile at the Hotel du Lac. The novel's revels, it seems, are at an end.
The careful pretence of her days here, the almost successful tenor of this artificial and meaningless life which had been decreed for her own good by others who had no real understanding of what her own good was, suddenly appeared to her in all their futility.

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