Thursday, June 4, 2009

Proust's five-franc piece

A story from Marcel Proust, as recounted by his housekeeper Céleste Albaret. Marcel is off with his brother Robert to visit a relative, Mme. Nathan:

"Mother dressed us up all neat and clean, and before we went, said, 'Here's a five-franc piece each. When you get there and Marie, the maid, opens the door, make sure you first of all wish her a Happy New Year, and then give her the five-franc pieces.' On the way there, in place de la Madeleine, I saw a shoeblack swinging his arms and stamping his feet to keep warm. I went up to him, asked him to shine my shoes, though they were already as bright as new pennies, and gave him my five francs. When I got home, Mother said, 'I hope you were good and didn't forget to give Marie the five francs?' I told her about the shoeblack. 'What did you do that for?' she cried in despair. So I explained: 'I saw him waiting in the cold for a customer, so I let him shine my shoes.' And she kissed me."

Céleste Albaret, Monsieur Proust, translated by Barbara Bray (New York: New York Review Books, 2003), 138.
Related reading
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

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