Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Colored Panes: Flaubert & Pearce

Doorway and Window at the Villa Majorelle

Briefly on this blog, and at greater link on my Fortnightly site, and most recently on my book blog, I have mentioned the lovely but sadly omitted stained - glass window passage from Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857). This segment is not easy to locate, in print or online, so I'll include it here for future reference, in case you would like to slot it into your reading of this classic French novel:

Omitted Scene #5
"Emma and the Colored Window Panes at Vaubyessard"
Wandering at random, she reached a small wood, where she stopped in amazement before a little low house . . . . It was a retreat for summer days, a place for meetings, where, hidden from all eyes, but viewing the horizon through a break in the trees, lovers must have come many times in the still hours to pass the melancholy moments of love against the murmuring of the water. . . .

Diamond - shaped panes had been set into one of the two windows. She looked out at the countryside through the colored glass.

Through the blue pane everything seemed sad. A motionless azure haze diffused through the air, lengthened the meadows and pushed back the hills. The tips of the trees were velveted with a pale brown dust, dotted irregularly here and there as though there had been a snowfall, and far off in a distant field, a fire of dry leaves someone was burning seemed to have flames of wine alcohol.

Seen through the yellow glass, the leaves on the trees became smaller, the grass lighter, and the whole landscape as though it had been cut out of metal. The detached clouds looked like eiderdown quilts of golden dust ready to fall apart; the atmosphere seemed on fire. It was joyous and warm in this immense topaz color mixed with azure.

She put her eye to the green pane. Everything was green, the sand, the water, the flowers, the earth itself became indistinguishable from the lawns. The shadows were all black, the leaden water seemed frozen to its banks.

But she remained longest in front of the red glass. In a reflection of purple that overspread the landscape in all directions, robbing everything of its own color, the trees and grass became almost gray, and even red itself disappeared. The enlarged stream flowed like a rose - colored river, the peat - covered flower beds seemed to be seas of coagulated blood, the immense sky blazed with innumerable fires. She became frightened.

She turned away her eyes, and through the window with transparent panes, suddenly ordinary daylight reappeared, all pale with little patches of skycolored mist. . . . all at once, the white sunlight leapt into the closed room . . . . Exhausted, she sank down on a cushion.
(pp 268 / 38)

Writing a century later, British author Philippa Pearce described an incredibly similar scene, from a child's perspective, in her mystical young adult novel Tom's Midnight Garden (1958):
Tom and Hatty looked through "the coloured panes that bordered the glass panelling of the upper half [of the doorway of the greenhouse]. Through each colour of pane, you could see a different garden outside. Through the green pane, Tom saw a garden with green flowers under a green sky; even the geraniums were green-black. Through the red pane lay a garden as he might have seen it through the redness of shut eyelids. The purple glass filled the garden with thunderous shadow and with oncoming night. The yellow glass seemed to drench it in lemonade. At each of the four corners of this bordering was a colourless square of glass, engraved with a star.

"And if you look through this one -- " said Hatty. They screwed up their eyes and looked through the engraved glass.

"You can't really see anything, through the star," said Tom, disappointed.

"Sometimes I like that the best of all," said Hatty. "You look and see nothing, and you might think there wasn't a garden at all; but, all the time, of course, there is, waiting for you."
(pp 76 - 77)
Stained Glass Suncatcher from Beata

For another old house book by Philippa Pearce
see The Children of Charlecote

For more on Tom's Midnight Garden and other YA titles,
check out the latest post on my book blog:
"Young Adult"

For further reading on Flaubert:

1."Madame Bovary or the Book About Nothing" by​ Jean Rousset in
Flaubert: A Collection of Critical Essays by Raymond Giraud

2. investigate this Nabokov connection

And this one: "One of the latticed squares in a small cobwebby casement window at the turn of the staircase was glazed with ruby, and that raw would among the unstained rectangles and its asymmetrical position -- a knight's move from the top -- always strangely disturbed me" (from Lolita, 192).

3. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes:
"And then there are the colours. When he was researching for Madame Bovary, Flaubert spent a whole afternoon examining the countryside through pieces of coloured glass. Would he have seen what we now see? Presumably. But what about this: in 1853, at Trouville, he watched the sun go down over the sea, and declared that it resembled a large disc of redcurrant jam. Vivid enough. But was redcurrant jam the same colour in Normandy in 1853 as it is now?

. . . We look at the sun through smoked glass; we must look at he past through colored glass."
(92, 94)

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