A La Recherche of a BBC Commission
Some years ago, I met a BBC (Scotland) radio producer, and discussed a Proust project. She wanted to appropriate the fifteen-minute intervals available at live music concerts and use them for short dramatised excerpts from well-known classics, giving the audience a feel of what the work is all about. Proust to start with. We talked about chunks of A La Recherche du Temps Perdu which I thought would eminently fit her needs. Write six of them and come and see me, and I will get you a commission if I like them.
I did what she expected, and when I was ready, I called her office to arrange a meeting. Can I speak to Miss F? I asked. Miss F? But she is no longer at the BBC.
Part One: Bedtime for Marcel, a dramatised version for radio.
Narrator (Marcel Proust)
Father Can be played by one actor
Tante Celine Can be played by one actress
Grandmother Can be played by one actress
MELANCHOLY PIANO MUSIC
My only consolation when I had to go up to my bedroom was that Maman would come kiss me good-night once I was in my bed. But this was so very short-lived since she went downstairs hastily after that, so that the moment I heard her push the double door in the passage and the swish of her blue muslin dress, was a painful moment to me, and I wished that she would postpone her coming for as long as possible. Often after having tucked me in, I have wanted to call her back and shout ‘Maman, just another kiss.. pleeease’, but I knew that father found this rite absurd and wished me weaned from it. Still, these nights were infinitely sweet compared to those when we had guests, when she would sometimes not come up at all.
Guests usually meant Monsieur Swann our neighbour, or some such family friends, although since his disastrous marriage to Odette de Crécy who with her dubious reputation, my parents did not wish to meet, we saw less and less of him.
SOUND OF TABLE BEING LAID, PLATES, GLASSES AND KNIVES AND FORKS CLINKING
The coachman told me that Monsieur Swann had dined with some princess recently, madame Céline.
GRANDE TANTE CELINE
No doubt some princess of the demimonde; don’t you agree Flora?
FATHER COUGHS UNEASILY
GRANDE TANTE FLORA
Have you noticed how he’s aged lately?
I read in the newspaper that Swann is a regular for Sunday lunch at the Duke of_
GRANDE TANTE CELINE
You know I don’t approve of people who move out of their natural orbit.
If I don’t remind you, you girls are going to forget again to thank him for the excellent Asti he sent you.
As if we would!
He was featured in the Figaro again this month… he had lent one of his Corot to that exhibition..
CONVERSATION CONTINUES, FADING AS PIANO MUSIC TAKES OVER.
Oh Le Figaro!
He has excellent taste
He only buys the best
GRANDE TANTE CELINE
No need to mention the Figaro article.
Why not? I would be delighted if-
GRANDE TANTE CELINE
No! If my name was printed in some newspaper, I would feel dirty
Maman was not only the best mother in the whole world, but she was also the sweetest, most beautiful person … and had the loveliest voice…
Darling, I think that it would be nice of you to talk to him about his daughter… no, I’m not suggesting that creature… he only married her because of the girl, that’s what everybody says.
You’ve got some ridiculous ideas, my dear.. never heard anything so absurd.
You know how much he adores his girl, everybody knows that he only married that woman because of Gilberte. Just ask how she is… it must be ..
That was surprising as Maman usually never questioned him. She usually looked at him with tender respect, but never too intently in order not to pierce the mystery of his acknowledged superiority.
Swann’s coming was painful to me, for when he or other guests came, Maman did not come up to tuck me in. I had to eat before the arrival of the guests, and was allowed to sit at table until eight o’clock, when I would be despatched to my room. The precious good-night kiss was despatched in the dining room, and I had to treasure it, stopping it from evaporating until I reached my bed and was able to invoke its memory.
SUDDEN RINGING OF THE BELL AT THE GATE
It was him of course, but it was usual for them to pretend that they had no idea.
GRANDE TANTE CELINE
A visitor? I wonder who that can be.
Grande Tante always spoke in a loud voice at these times; she explained that it was impolite to whisper as this gave the impression that an incoming visitor might feel offended at the suggestion that something was being said which was not meant for them to hear. Grandmother always volunteered to go open the gate.
SOUND OF GRANDMOTHER WALKING TALKING TO THE FLOWERS AND PLANTS … “Aren’t you a lovely rose … that leaf has dried up, I will pluck it …”
I recognise the voice of Monsieur Swann
It is Monsieur Swann … do come in, Monsieur Swann, do come in …
FUSS BEING MADE BY THE LADIES OVER SWANN’S ENTRANCE.
GRANDE TANTE FLORA
Monsieur Swann! Let us ask him if he thinks it will be a nice day tomorrow.
MORE PLEASANT LAUGHTER. STEPS
Ah dear Monsieur Swann… come inside the veranda…
As Maman took Swann away, I dogged her footsteps not wanting
her out of my sight.
Monsieur Swann, tell me about that lovely daughter of yours; I’m sure she has all the graces and artistic taste of her illustrious father…promise you’ll tell me everything when we’re alone.
I was already deeply distressed, thinking about the long hours I would be spending on my own; I was unable to listen to what the guests would be saying., and could not detach my eyes off Maman, in the knowledge that all too soon I would be sent away.
The boy looks tired, I think it’s time for him to go to bed.
(firmly but in hushed tones)
Yes, yes, go to bed, now, no argument.
I half expected him to threaten me with boarding school there and then.. He often said I needed more steel in my backbone.
SOUND OF CHAIR MOVING AND STEPS AS YOUNG MARCEL GOES TOWARDS MAMAN, STIFLING A SOB.
Tut tut! What’s the matter with the boy? I thought we had done with all that. It’s so ridiculous.
SOUND OF LAUGHTER FROM A CORNER
DOOR OPENS AS MARCEL LEAVES
PIANO MUSIC GETS MORE MELANCHOLIC
How I hated those stairs.
REPEATED SOUND OF STAIRS CREAKING AS YOUNG MARCEL SLOWLY GOES UP. THIS IS MIXED WITH HILARITY COMING FROM DOWNSTAIRS. MELANCHOLY MUSIC .
The varnish which had absorbed my previous humiliations and sadness invaded my nostrils. I can still smell those stairs today.
DOOR BEING PUSHED AS MARCEL GETS IN HIS ROOM. HILARITY FADES AND STOPS. MUSIC.
(Whispers to himself).
It’s too much, it’s too much. Must find a way.
FOOTSTEPS AS MARCEL PACES UP AND DOWN THE ROOM. HE OPENS A WINDOW AND SOUND OF LAUGHTER AND CONVERSATION COMES IN AND HE CLOSES IT ANGRILY.
I wonder if … no,perhaps … I know… a letter will do the trick… get Françoise to take it down… yes… yes, that’s it.
HE OPENS A DRAWER, FINDS THINGS AND STARTS WRITING, SCRATCHING IS HEARD ABOVE HIS WORDS AS HE WRITES.
… need to see you about… something very serious… too important to put in writing… yes that’s it.. (calls) Françoise!
DOOR OPENS AS FRANÇOISE COMES IN.
Monsieur Marcel.. you need something?
Yes, that’s it.. Maman.. eh..
(hiding her irritation badly)
Maman, you see… she asked me to look for… a certain object for her… and she would be most upset if… if I didn’t send her word about my search… not my idea at all you see… most upset… if I didn’t send her that note… take this down to her, Françoise…
But monsieur Marcel…
Most upset… she made me promise.
Oomp, yes.. if you say so… (grumbling in hushed tones) his poor parents having to put up with that wimp …
She took the letter reluctantly, and left, but she was back a few minutes later.
THE NEXT FEW LINES ARE NON-SEQUENTIAL AS FRANCOISE FLITS FROM PLACE TO PLACE.
You were Monsieur Swann, that the duke is an excellent raconteur?
Just imagine my joy, Celine dear, when I made the acquaintance of a young Swedish teacher and she gave me a full account of the cooperative movement in her country … quite an eye-opener, we must ask her for dinner …
I had the great good fortune when I was visiting the Vinteuil of meeting …(trails off)
DOOR OPENS AND SHE WALKS IN.
Monsieur Marcel … They’re still at the ice-cream.. it’s not possible for the head waiter to slip the note to her just yet, but he will do it later.
Glory be! The note will be delivered, Maman will have to come .. she’ll be upset of course, but she will understand..
I worried about what Swann would think if he knew about my childish anxiety, about my ridiculous letter, but much later I was to discover that he was prey to similar anxieties himself… the anxiety one feels knowing one’s beloved was having fun away from oneself..
Maman did not come up.
I gave her your missive myself and she said there is no answer.
There is no answer! The four most cruel words in the language! There is no answer.
Monsieur, can I make you some tisane? Would you like me to stay with you?
No, go away.
CREEPS TO THE DOOR, OPENS IT.
HAPPY PIANO MUSIC COMES IN FROM BELOW.
STOLEN BITS OF CONVERSATION
No sugar for me.
That pistachio ice-cream was stupendous
HAPPY MUSIC GIVES WAY TO MELANCHOLIC MUSIC
I knew then that sleep would be impossible now. There was only one thing to do. I was going to wait for everybody to leave… let father despatch me to boarding school if he wishes… he’s always thought I needed toughening up …
LENGTHY PIANO MUSIC TO DENOTE PASSAGE OF TIME.
GATE OPENS CREAKILY, THE DOOR BELL RINGS GAILY, AND GOOD BYES ARE EXCHANGED.
SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS ARE HEARD COMING UP THE STAIRS.
THE PARTY OBVIOUSLY STOPS OUTSIDE THE MIDDLE STAIRS.
Did you really like the langouste? Oh, did Monsieur Swann have a second helping of the pistachio and coffee ice-cream? Found it pretty ordinary myself.
VOICES BECOME LOUDER AS PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS APPROACH.
Did you notice how sad he was?
I think his atrocious wife is leading him a merry dance.
Still I found him less sad than he’s been lately.
He can’t still be in love with that lowly creature.
Grandfather spoke with the wisdom of someone who has never been in love, for whom, a well-born man could only be made unhappy by a worthy woman, a bit like being astonished that something as virulent as the cholera is caused by something as insignificant as the comma bacillus.
Oh you, I didn’t hear you thank him for the Asti.
Of course we did! How can you say that? We couldn’t have said more without specifying how many bottles there were and what they cost!
Yes, you put it very tactfully.
Too subtle for him.. (cackles merrily) he can’t have understood. Well good-night children
STEPS AS THE OLDER MEMBERS OPEN THEIR DOORS.
Well if you want we’ll turn in. (Yawns)
If you wish, but I am not in the least bit sleepy… but hang on there’s a light coming from upstairs… must be poor Françoise waiting for me… I’ll get her to unbutton my blouse… you go get changed..
STEPS AS FATHER WALKS AWAY YAWNING.
STEPS AS MAMAN CLIMBS UP THE STAIRS MIXED WITH CREAKS.
Marcel it’s you! What do you think you’re doing at this hour?
She looked at me… at first surprised, then shocked, then anger took over.
DOOR BELOW IS HEARD OPENING AS FATHER EMERGES AND APPROACHES. HE COUGHS.
Go inside your bedroom before he sees you.
Come kiss me good-night.
STEPS AS FATHER COMES UP.
Quick in your room.
It was too late, he had already seen me.
( To himself)
I’m lost… boarding school for me now.
He… he couldn’t sleep… don’t be too harsh on him… he was waiting for me. (HARSH) Go to bed now! You’re a bad boy.
Why don’t you go tuck him in? You say he’s upset, and you just said you’re not sleepy.
No, my dear, whether I’m sleepy or not is besides the point, we can’t let this child take advantage —
Take advantage indeed! It’s not a question of taking advantage, we’re not heartless, are we? You can see he is upset..
But my dear_
Look there are two beds in his room, right? Just get Françoise to make up the large bed for you, and you can sleep in his room beside him.. be a dear, don’t argue.. (yawns)