Chapter 10: Pain and Travail in Nature
Pain and Travail in Nature
“We have learnt the general rule that every instinctive action is unlocked by one, and only one, key. We have seen how in the termite the stimulus or key to sex is flight, and in the kudu, scent; and how the entire aquatic life of the otter is initiated by the sight and touch of water. In exactly the same way, we find the birth pain is the key which unlocks the door to mother love, in all animals from the termite queen to the whale. Where pain is negligible, mother love and care are feeble. Where pain is absent, there is absolutely no mother love.”Eugene Marais, The Soul of the White Ant
|Château de Médan by Cezanne|
Having fled to the Château de Médan, his great home once so famously depicted by its former inhabitant, the artist, Cezanne, Maeterlinck awaited Renee’s arrival from Nice. He sat at his desk, staring at his great wall of books, confounded by sensations of this new breed of pain that he had not known before and was unable to process. The books, the wall and the room where he sat in silence were of no help. The pain, so sharp and so fresh, had stunned him. There were no tears to stir him from his shock. Nor did words offer relief. The stillborn child he had fathered remained in his mind as an abstract; an immobile thing he had not been able to witness possessing anything resembling a spark of life. For Maeterlinck, it had always been a dead thing and for this reason he had been unable to recognize it as his own. It had been extracted from Renee like one of the books from his shelf, as lifeless as an index or a table of contents, with no soul, no past nor present nor future, except for its inception, the idea of it. There had been no indication that a problem had arisen with the child or with his young wife who had been so ready to become a mother. The thing they had awaited had had a change of heart, rejected them and along with that, the life they had offered.
|Maeterlinck w/Renee Dahon Maeterlinck/Villa Orlamonde|
The grey remains wrapped in a soft blue blanket had been handed to him by a faceless nurse wearing a hospital mask. The blue blanket had not been chosen to reflect any preconceived idea of gender on the part of the parents but was more an homage to Maurice’s book, The Blue Bird, a story about innocence, childhood and searching for happiness; all the things that Maurice and Renee had hoped the baby would bring with it as a consolation prize. To Maeterlinck, the baby was sexless and he couldn’t help but imagine that it had been festering within Renee’s womb for an undue amount of time. The thought of the residue it left within her, soured his stomach. Repulsed by his own distaste, refusing the dead child, he handed the bundle back to the nurse without once gazing into its tiny face. He would never recall its form or features. He coldly addressed the nurse.
“Please inform Madame Maeterlinck that I have departed. Send her my deepest regrets because I am unable to stay. When she is ready and the ordeal has past, she will find me at our home in Medan. I will await her arrival.”
The nurse accustomed to grief in its many forms carried the baby away saying nothing in response, offering only a nod of her head.
It was about then that I found myself back in the presence of Maeterlinck, returning to be with him during this tragic time in his life. At first I didn’t know what had prompted my arrival at Château de Médan. I had no idea why I had arrived. I had the option of whether to make myself known or assume the “fly on the wallpaper” form. It seemed better to choose the ladder for the additional shock of my presence would very likely be a detrimental burden on Maurice’s already taxed psyche. Considering his nervous depressive tendencies, I decided it would be best to not make my presence know just yet.
If one is to believe in the work Georgette was doing with Gurdjieff about that same time, these so-called shocks that Gurdjieff spoke of in his talks were the third ingredient to any phenomenon that takes place. In the Gurdjieffian sense, if my understanding is correct, the series of events pertaining to Maeterlinck might be as follows:
First there is Renee the active and/or positive force. Let’s just assume that Maurice is the passive and/or negative force. These two forces combined are not enough to create a phenomenon because they neutralize each other. A third force is needed and that third force comes in the form of new knowledge. The birthing of a dead child is sizable force, which mathematically can create a phenomenon of exponential significance, which in this case might result in my arrival; my Golaud consciousness returning to Maeterlinck, to the place where I was needed. Gurdjieff’s ideas, in this case, support the reason for my arrival. There are, of course, other parallel theories that might explain why I am here during this time, but I will stick to Gurdjieff’s theory. Any explanation for this kind of phenomena is pure speculation but for my purposes, it just feels tidier to attribute my landing in Médan this way.
As much as I would have enjoyed this sort of discourse with Maeterlinck, I remained silent and unseen, heeled at his side and much like Maeterlinck, who sat in dead silence next to me, I awaited my own words to materialize. It should be noted that a dog never really leaves his Master but I should add that it’s quite difficult to be in all places at all times. Between splitting my time with Georgette, with Maurice, checking in on the other animals that in my care, the servants that spoiled me with scraps of food and ear scratches and also a few of the visitors I’ve become attached to, I have more than enough to keep myself occupied. It’s not only the living that requires attention, either.
Considering Maurice’s hasty departure to Médan, I felt it was best to shadow him first and observe his condition before allowing any interlopers to join me. The atmosphere was not inviting. The atmosphere was dark. I had witnessed many of Maeterlinck’s bouts with depression. I had never seen him in such a miserable state. Generally his depression was brought on by something born of his imagination; his active mind was so able to instigate trauma. This had been an on-going cycle with him. This time, however, the pain Maeterlinck was experiencing was from a very real source. Perhaps his unfamiliarity with true tragedy hampered his ability to experience the pain that lurked within him. It remained trapped and stuck, unable to be expressed.
“Golaud, my friend, where are you when I need you?” Maeterlinck sighed.
My heart surged at the sound of my name being spoken. I was about to change my mind about appearing to Maeterlinck when Renee entered the room. And as she did, the spirit of Oscar Wilde arrived simultaneously. He was in a flustered state much like an actor who had missed his cue. He overcompensated dramatically for his bad timing. I had hoped to observe Renee and Maeterlinck on my own but immediately, Oscar’s chatter began.
|Renee and Maurice at Château de Médan|
“Look, dear Golaud, it’s the new Madame Maeterlinck. She’s so much younger than he. It a bit revolting, do you not think?” Oscar appeared to me like an antsy cat struggling to get out of a bag might, bursting from the ether. And like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat, he materialized only when it suited him with no concern of the situation he was entering.
“Oscar, I hadn’t given you the sign yet. Why are you here now? And, excuse me, but who are you to criticize the pairing of others? What was it again that led you to your exile in Paris?” Oscar made himself comfortable in Maurice’s armchair, thankfully invisible to sight, crossing his legs, casually. His perfumy scent loomed throughout the room conspicuously, smelling it up like a brothel. His floral emissions were unfortunately tangible to the living, causing Maeterlinck to sneeze. Oscar’s flaccid Cheshire smile transformed into a devilish grin. I sensed an inappropriate diatribe brewing.
“Oh, yes, the love that we dare not speak its name, and all of that buggery? There is nothing as paradoxical as throwing the book at a writer. But that’s all water under the bridge now, Golaud. Can you not give a dog a bone, no disrespect intended, of course, or you are truly the leader of your pack, in that regard. But you see, all I have now are my wanderings from this place to the next, watching the living muck about and make great messes of the lives given to them with no regard to the quality of entertainment they provide. I do get very bored and I desire a stimulating project from time-to-time. Sometimes I look over Maurice’s shoulder and try to lend him a hand with his writing but since he is of hearty Belgian stock and quite obstinate in the refusal of inspiration from the likes of me, there is nothing I can do to persuade him to use the brilliance I offer. It seems he only likes to steal from the living. Ho hum. He is missing a marvelous opportunity, however. There is a fine tradition of passing inspiration on to the living from dead artists. I owe a debt of gratitude to Dickens, I am told. Thankfully others have accepted my gratuity with grace. Maurice has always rejected what he called my superficial personality. I have no inkling what he could have meant by that.”
It was apparent that Oscar knew precisely what Maeterlinck meant. Yet he chose to play the part of the unaware, hoping that I would refute his words. I did not. As Oscar vied for some kind of post mortem approval, I watched as Renee quietly pick up the tray that contained Maurice’s uneaten breakfast and tea.
“You don’t have to do that, Renee. Did you just arrive? Is it over now?” Maeterlinck asked.
“Yes, Maurice, it is all over and the arrangements have been taken care of.” Renee went to open the study door. “I’ll have the maid come in and clear the rest.”
|The very dapper Oscar Wilde|
“You know, Golaud, it makes perfect sense that Maurice would reject any help from me. His dramas are always so static, full of stodgy symbolism and silence, always waiting for God to push the story forward. His characters are but puppets waiting for fate to intervene! Heaven forbid it if someone had a thing to say in the meantime. In fact, the furniture in the room is more likely to say more than any of his characters, just sitting there like logs in his dreary silence. I wonder, perhaps, if Jane Austen had possessed his writing, making his characters incapable of saying the very things that would end their trouble in five minutes time. How wonderful for the actors though, for they did so hate the time it took to remember their lines.” Oscar giggled, more amused by his own depiction of a Maeterlinck play rather than assessing the real cause for the uneasiness in the room. Unmoved by their taciturnity, Oscar continued his insensitive depiction.
“But hush! It seems as if we were in the middle of a little Maeterlinck drama right now, where no one is saying the very thing that should be said. With a few correct words, the tension could be relieved and some of the crisis would be resolved. Even a few of the wrong words might move this drama forward in some direction. But perhaps I am imposing my own tastes and fail to see the value of this Maeterlinkian masterpiece before us.”
Having Oscar Wilde present as a spectator in a domestic drama is probably the worst thing that could ever happen. He gets so easily bored and because of that, he creates diversions for himself when the action isn’t moving at a rate that suits him. Today was no exception. I only wish that it had been, let’s say, Henrik Ibsen that had chosen to tag along. His style of drama was a much more compatible to Maeterlinck’s scenario. It was the slow pacing that perhaps led to Oscar’s scheme that he would commence; for he was unable to tolerate the prolonged silence.
“Let’s do this, Golaud. Let us create a little drama, right here, right now. You’ll be Maeterlinck and I will be the young and beautiful Madame Renee, the will o’ the wisp that has just lost her child and has suffered the unimaginable pain of loss along with the emotional abandonment of her husband. Perhaps our enactment will somehow seep into the consciousness of our characters, bringing them into a full realization of the drama that is taking place before us. I can borrow a bit from Maeterlinck and we can enact them with Marionettes. Or let us do it in the style of one those delightful new radio dramas. The sound effects alone would drive Maeterlinck madness!”
“But Oscar, this is very inappropriate,” I chided. “You may not have the appreciation for my Master, to the extent that I do. But still, I cannot bring myself to mock his misfortune. It is cruel.”
“Oh, nonsense! Golaud, you take this much too seriously! I’m trying to help! My only intention is to exorcise the demon from Maeterlinck’s psyche. And also, I am itching to write this drama. Please do not deny me my creative outlet. My life has been so dead lately. I promise I will respect all of the parties involved. I only wish to help where I may. Pushing the action forward is precisely what this scene needs.”
I knew there was no arguing with Oscar. Whatever Oscar wants, he gets, even if it gets him into trouble. Since Maeterlinck could not see what we were doing under his nose, I agreed to go along against my better judgment.
From his dusty velour jacket pocket, Oscar produced a quill, along with aged parchment paper which he proceeded to scribble on furiously, laughing at his own genius, scoffing at Dickens and Shakespeare and all of the others who he said he no longer use for in this incarnation; he was flying solo. In a matter of moments the drama was completed. It was so quick it was almost as if he had written it before arriving. While Maeterlinck, the very image of a middle-aged Hamlet who had chosen to be rather versus to not sat brooding alone at his desk, a few feet before him and unbeknownst to him, we performed our little play in his honor. I read the part of Maeterlinck while Oscar performed the role of Renee in a shrill falsetto.
|First production of The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895|
The Importance of Being Maeterlinck
(A Trivial Comedy for Serious People)
From the genius mind of the former Oscar Wilde, written from beyond his cold, dark grave
Scene: (to be read very dramatically by Oscar) Within dungeon of a dark, dank castle surrounded by a moat. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The audience can hear the sound of the tapping of a typewriter. One might even say that the sound was similar to the noisy cacophony termites make chewing cellulose. As Maeterlinck pounds at the page, fingers flying, he builds his giant mounds of words oblivious to any destruction, vigorously and almost automatically thrashing the paper, shredding his thoughts, obeying the signal. Suddenly the tapping ceases! Maeterlinck looks up from his page, hungry for something more than the mere sustenance of his own words.
Maurice: (to be read by Golaud) Might you have brought the cucumber sandwiches I so admired from Lady Bracnell, dearest?
Renee: (Oscar ) But Maurice, you have barely touched the food on your tray from this morning and it has not yet been a week since I gave birth to your dead child. Why speak so suddenly of cucumber sandwiches when the issues of life and death loom over us like a bleak, grey cloud.
Oscar lowered the pitch of his voice from the falsetto he had been using in the role of Renee, interrupting the drama for some exposition. I had no need of any further explanation but there was little I could do to stop him. I admit, my heart was not into my assigned role and my performance was lackluster. I prepared myself for notes.
“I believe I could come up with a much better metaphor than bleak, grey cloud but in my haste I was forced to use a cliché turn phrase but somehow given the contextuality of the pair, yes, contextuality, it’s like Poe’s verisimilitude, a word I’ve decide on this very spot to use, a rather cliché term may just be the appropriate phrase in this circumstance.”
“May I continue?” I asked blandly.
“Yes, by all means.”
I didn’t know why Oscar had come along on this particular visit. This entire drama of his was off putting to say the very least; his presence completely out of my hands, or paws, in this case. But since I am a curious animal, I decided to continue on with drama, if only to see where he was going with this.
Maeterlinck: But are not cucumbers the very thing to be spoken of on this occasion? As we suffer the death of the only hope of any progenitor I am to have in this life, is it not reasonable that cucumbers come to mind? The “fallacy” of such a sandwich is that it is customary to have this treat only in good company, a vegetable of fruitlike variety that inspires things of a more private nature, of things not discussed in polite society, of the love that does not speak its name.
Renee: But oh, how you annoy me with this obsession with sandwiches and the vegetables that are dug from the garden, tended so lovingly by own delightful Auntie Georgette! It has been ages since Georgette has been able to unearth the cucumbers in the garden and what is left now are potatoes, laden with worms and overgrown with roots, making them a most distasteful addition to tea. A potato sandwich would provide an overabundance of starch, do you not agree? The fried varieties have their charms of course, and they are, I understand, Belgian in origin. But do forgive me for saying this… because of the traumas of having given birth (and please don’t forget the aftermath of the death of our baby) you must understand that I can for no longer indulge in such delicacies. You see, the oils wreak an atrocious havoc to my spleen.
“Oscar, really. You have no tact.”
“Golaud, it’s your line. The play must go on!”
And so I continued…
Maeterlinck: How I miss the days with Auntie Georgette when the garden’s yield was so much more plentiful. Where does keep herself these days? Is she in good health? I do hope that she keeps herself in good company and far from the denizens she normally gravitates toward.
Renee: Have you not heard? Auntie Georgette has fallen under the spell of a Maharishi from the east, a snake charmer who has mesmerized her from out her basket with his flute. He has carried her away to parts unknown and in doing so, has left me to tend the weeds that have overgrown in the garden. I have said this many time and I am sure certain that you are aware that I am not of the disposition to fertilize and nurture the garden patch, which has been stripped of all minerals and nutrients, and has been infested with pests of all varieties. Needless to say, it is a habitat run amok!! Its alarming conditions are far beyond any assistance I could offer. And so now I can only use this small patch of Earth as a quiet spot to lay our dear, departed boy, the child whose face you refused to look upon. I can tell you this, though, Maurice: He had your brow, your lip and your hand. He would have favored you had he lived.
“That is about enough. Have you lost all sense of subtlety, Oscar? The play isn’t even that good! What the blazes are you thinking?”
“I was hoping that you would see the absolute genius weaving of themes and the rich symbolism at play here. Yes, it is true that I hide behind my wit and enjoyment of word play. However, it is only to make my ideas more accessible to a wider audience.”
“And what wider audience are you speaking about here?”
“Well, yes…it is only us for Madame Renee and Maeterlinck cannot enjoy our performance as such. But are we not worthy of amusing ourselves at least?”
I had to somewhat agree with Oscar. I had grown tired of waiting for Maeterlinck to say what was on his mind and I was becoming weary of his profound silences. So I carried on with the scene as instructed by Oscar.
Maeterlinck: I was thinking a little time away would be a good idea. A change of air and of scenery might help to put this terrible ordeal behind us.
Renee: Quite so. But where shall we go? Is it possible to escape tragedy by simply packing our bags? A very great and dead Irish writer once said that you have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
Maeterlinck: The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. And being bound to this world, and of course, excluding Australia, I would say we have many options available. We can easily disappear if we choose. I once heard a brilliant man say, and how did he say it? Oh, yes, that genius of a man once said that ‘It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.’ But perhaps the next world is not a good choice.
Renee: What a very clever thing to say, though. It is true about San Francisco. And Australia is not a very promising destination, either. But if you must know, and I hesitate to admit this but I have often dreamt of going on safari in Africa.
Maeterlinck: I quite agree. Capitol idea! There is nothing like the fresh smell of gunpowder and the ensuing draining of blood and the ripping of hides to help one overcome the tragedy of a loss of life. You know, Renee, now that I think about it…and now I, too, must hesitate before saying this… for I do not wish to inflict any more suffering upon you. However, I admit that we were quite cheated to have missed the event altogether. It. The death of our child happened when no one was looking. It happened in the darkness of your womb. Our eyes never met. We were robbed of the chance to watch its life slip away. And so, yes, I agree, a trip to Africa will certainly do the trick for what ails us. Anything but Australia!
I didn’t think our little play was of much help and the insensitivity of the last lines delivered to “Renee” made me regret ever trusting Oscar. Everything was such a grand joke and now in the afterlife, he seems to have gotten worse. It was time to put an end to this.
|Wilde and Whistler|
However, the very moment I was about to completely lose faith in our little experiment, Maeterlinck stopped typing and sat still for a moment with his hands in his lap. He held such a forlorn expression on his face that I thought that he might weep. Digging into his waistcoat he produced a handkerchief and wiped his brow and behind his neck and then returned it to its place. Pushing his chair away, he stood at his desk. Oscar stepped back, away from the desk, like a stage director observing his actors. With a finger to lips he urged me to remain silent.
“Wait. Watch now, Golaud. Maeterlinck is about to act. Let’s see what he does.” Oscar whispered, crossing behind Maeterlinck hovering over Maeterlinck, examining his behavior.
Maeterlinck walked from behind to desk seemingly in the direction of the door. Oscar and I both nipped at his heels in anticipation of any potential phenomena, Oscar’s long gangly looking legs contrasting my own, a ridiculous sight if anyone could see us. Maeterlinck paused at the door, slowly looked back at his desk, reconsidered and then turned back around, adjusting his jacket, tugging it straight. And then he opened the door. From the threshold of the doorway he called to Renee, raising his hands to his mouth for amplification of his rather weak, thin voice; never stepping through the doorway,
“Darling. I think a trip to Africa might do us some good. Do you not agree?”
He was answered with a merciless silence that was laden with negotiation, as only an experienced wife would know how to administer. Maeterlinck stood rigid, frightened by the quiet but also terrified of a response.
|Maeterlinck w Renee in Cairo|
Just when it seemed as if Maurice would step through the doorway to find Renee, instead he turned around and walked back toward his desk. He was resigned to the silence he so favored in his dramas, accustomed to the mounting tension while he religiously resisted the breaking the pulsating buzz of ether enveloping him. As he crossed the room, a little voice from outside the door, finally erupted the air,
“Yes, I quite agree. I’ve always wanted to see Tunisia.”
Oscar hopped to his feet with a mock theatricality, performing a low bow with a hand to his heart with an outward arm flourish to the left.
“La commedia è finite! My work here is done!”
I don’t know if our little ghostly performance had any effect on Maurice and Renee or the course of things to come. Had our ghostly tampering contributed to the plagiarism that was to take place at Chateau Medan later that year? Had our theatrical nudge pushed his plagiaristic tendency over the edge of no return? It’s difficult to say. But shortly afterwards, Maeterlinck would be on the same continent as Eugene Marais, touring Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia with Renee for two months. When he returned home he would write The Life of the White Ant.
It is probably no coincidence that about the same time of the Maeterlincks’ travels to Africa, an
journal, Die Huisgenoot, published a
series of articles written by Marais that would later evolve into The
Soul of the White Ant. As Marais wrote these articles he injected 10 grams
of morphine into his veins daily, keeping just the right amount in his blood
stream so that he could function; alternating his drug-fueled hallucinations with
deciphering the secrets contained within the termitary. His notes following the
tracks of the termites were as copious as Egyptian hieroglyphics he decoded for
he was always seeking answers on dark walls so that he might one day be free from
the bondage of addiction. Three years prior King Tutankhamen’s tomb had been
discovered by Howard Carter, and that excavation ignited a frenzy of interest
in the ancient and arcane. Mysteries were being unlocked. And while all of this
happened, Marais hastened to find a key.
Coming soon! Chapter 11: Uninherited Instincts
Coming soon! Chapter 11: Uninherited Instincts
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