Monday, 29 December 2014

If the one word name worked for Colette it could work for Teffi, the pen name of a Russian émigrée writer who lived in Paris from the 1920s to early 1950s. Teffi sounds less coy than Colette, more androgynous, more Welsh.

I read Russian writers looking for signs. My mother said she didn't like Chekhov's plays because they reminded her of her family. She said it with a half-laugh, half-lament: what passes for home, as good as it gets, full of holes. The only sentence my mother could say in Russian was: 'I'm tired and I want to go home'. I've never been to Russia; as with my mother and Chekhov, maybe signs are as near as I want to get.

The signs are: relentless self-scrutiny; the need to be separate, the need to sit down. My mother wouldn't talk about Chekhov when she was standing up, or about family, unless beset by fury. Sticking together by mutual revulsion, as Teffi says of lesrusses (one word) in 'Que Faire'. Which is fine if everyone is doing it. Well, when I say fine… In Teffi's stories, everyone is doing it.
Should I go home? Anna said loudly. She shook her head and looked around. Next to the door stood an exotic plant. The plant looked stunted but it was in a very large tub, and tucked away behind it was a low armchair.
     "Just what I need."
She sat and drew the thick, plush curtain hanging by the window towards herself.
     "Perfect. Now I can do some thinking." 
In the low armchair behind the stunted plant, inside the plush curtain, Anna thinks.
Going home could be very frightening. The night before her elder sister had come and sat on her bed and said tenderly, "Why make things hard for yourself? You'll only wear yourself out." This sister, who had died four years ago, had never really loved her, and it was very strange suddenly to hear her speaking so affectionately. If she had been alive she would have done nothing but judge.
The work of dreams and nightmares. Good and bad. Another human drama. Any minute.
 It was a real breakthrough – to draw a boundary oneself. But hardly anyone seemed to grasp this. She had heard, not long ago, about a prisoner whose cell was six steps in length. Every time he reached the wall he wanted to smash his head against it, so tormented was he by this limit imposed on his freedom. Six steps – that was all. Then he decided he would take only four steps. He drew a boundary, of his own free will, and he felt free.
The émigrée draws a boundary at four feet and she feels free.

No comments :

Post a Comment