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KSRK: Guilty?/Not Guilty? (April)


April is the cruelest month. Or at least, in the case of Quidam’s Diary, it is the longest month. The Longbridge passage on the fifth is titled, “A Possibility” — and considers a man’s insanity over being unable to shake the possibility (and uncertainty) that he may have fathered a child. Possibility and insanity are recurring themes throughout the month, and the image of that long bridge that separates one reality from another points to a broad border zone where possibility has time to pour out and foam over.

“The difference between thin beer and the strong beer or ale the English drink is not that the latter foams, for the thin beer too can foam and foam just as strongly, but its foaming is over in a moment — on the other hand the foam of the heavy beer lasts.” (April 14. Midnight.) It’s a fine image for a beer-loving reader. But is Quidam comparing himself to the heavy beer whose foaming over lasts? Is he lamenting that his betrothed was like light beer whose foaming over was dramatic but gone in a minute? Maybe. He does foam and foam all April long. He worries about his beloved being driven to insanity by his behavior, he becomes impatient when she acts like the teenage girl that she is, he marvels at how a slight wound incurred in a fencing match transforms their relationship and renews her love (or her illusion of being in love): “One could sit and look at her and grow old and still look. There is only one inconvenience, and that is the fact that I am the object of this love.” (April 25. Morning.) Then he comes out with the briefest entry in the diary: “Patience!” (April 25. Midnight.) And a couple of nights later:

I have no inclination to make any entry, and there is nothing whatever to register. In this town the night watchmen show by their cry that they are on their beat. Why all this crying? In England they go along in perfect silence and put a ball in the box, and the inspector sees in the morning that they have been on the beat and have not slept.

I’m reminded of crossing the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway on a Greyhound bus in a heavy November rain. Nothing is very clear and you wonder if you might go over the side at any moment — or if you’ve already gone over the side and just haven’t noticed yet. But then rain stops and the clouds suddenly part and you see blue sky (or at least sky, granted it may be some unearthly color other than blue) when Quidam spills an entry like this (of midnight, April 18) out of the foam:

What then is the good of shrewdness? But I am anything but shrewd. If in a certain sense I am the shrewdest in my circle, in another sense I am perhaps the stupidest of all. Nothing I have heard or read has struck me so pointedly and personally as a saying about Periander. It is said of him that he talked like a wise man and acted like a maniac. That this saying applies so aptly to me is proved by the fact that I accept it with the most passionate sympathy, and yet it has not the slightest influence to change me for the better. This way of appropriating it is quite a la Periander. Within my postulate I am shrewd, but the postulate for my actions is so ideal that it turns all my shrewdness into foolishness. If I could learn to discount my postulate, my shrewdness would make a good showing. If I could be shrewd in this way, I should have been married long ago. To get one’s wish fulfilled and to get thanked for it into the bargain as for an act of charity, and then to arrange matters as if on e were essentially in possession of one’s freedom, that would have been shrewd, and I should have been regarded as an estimable man who does not break his plighted word, a prodigy of a husband who is faithful to his wife and does honor to a girl; for my ideal postulate presumably does not do her honor, and the fact that I would prefer to spend everything and set heaven and earth in commotion rather than sneak into the honorable estate instituted by God and so sneak through life is enough presumably to prove that I have no honor.

My wish, which aims higher than to see her free, my wish, which is the culmination of the divine madness in my soul, must now, I suppose be relinquished. But I will not relinquish it. As soon as I am set at liberty and dare to act it would still be possible that my nature might inflame the wish in her. Suppose this possibility, contingent upon a remote possibility, is infinitely remote, yet I will not let it go and will not renounce it. Only an official certainty that she is free and is another’s — only with this is the wish dead. But until then it shall not visit me piteously as a fleeting fancy now and then, but it shall be held in high honor as the highest passion in my synthesis.

For me, this puts the entire month, and indeed the entire diary, in just about as concise a foaming-over nutshell as it is humanly possible to put it in. And yet the question Quintilian has raised a couple of times remains: What would signify a resolution that would suffice to make his wish come true? The rising tide of the girl’s affection obviously ain’t it. She kneels before him, expresses increasing devotion to him, veritably foams over, but: “The more she devotes herself, the more unhappy I become.” (April 28. Morning.) It’s the problem of the religious postulates again. The more she devotes herself to him the more he experiences the disjunction. (“If it is unseemly for lovers to squabble, there is also a devotion which in a religious sense is a terrible responsibility.” — April 17. Morning.) And then, on the morning of the 30th, April winds down to a final whimper:

Today a year ago. She does not any longer foam over in the expression of her devotion. Perhaps the whole thing was a transition. But I have seen that terrifying tableau, and I shall never forget it.

My melancholy has triumphed after all.

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