Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Forest of Fontainebleau

Here's a movie quote you'll remember...
"Well, all right, why is life worth living? That's a very good question. Well, there are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. Uh, like what? Okay. Um, for me... oh, I would say... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... and Willie Mays, and... the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony, and... Louis Armstrong's recording of 'Potatohead Blues'... Swedish movies, naturally... 'Sentimental Education' by Flaubert... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra... those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne... the crabs at Sam Wo's... Tracy's face..."

Among many reasons why Woody Allen might consider L'Éducation sentimentale one of the things that make life worthwhile are Flaubert's beautiful, precise descriptions of people, things and places. Douglas Parmée has listed some of the landscapes Flaubert includes: Nogent (dull and domesticated), Auteuil (pretty but with a touch of autumn melancholy) and various views of The Seine, which 'flows through throughout the novel, sometimes beautiful but indifferent, sometimes charmingly delicate.' However, the most striking example in the book is the extended sequence describing a brief time of happiness for Frédéric and Rosanette in the Forest of Fontainebleau. According to Parmée it 'has all the immediacy of notes taken on the spot: solemnity and exhilaration, painterly chiaroscuro with cinematic long shots and close-ups, lurking danger (monstrous rocks, smells of decay, leafless branches in midsummer), the delicacy of gossamer and butterflies, glittering water and greenery of every shade, sun and sudden showers, hills and valleys, low bushes and towering trees...' This extract from the French text describes the effect of light on the forest trees:
'La lumière, à de certaines places éclairant la lisière du bois, laissait les fonds dans l'ombre ; ou bien, atténuée sur les premiers plans par une sorte de crépuscule, elle étalait dans les lointains des vapeurs violettes, une clarté blanche. Au milieu du jour, le soleil, tombant d'aplomb sur les larges verdures, les éclaboussait, suspendait des gouttes argentines à la pointe des branches, rayait le gazon de traînées d'émeraudes, jetait des taches d'or sur les couches de feuilles mortes ; en se renversant la tête, on apercevait le ciel, entre les cimes des arbres. Quelques-uns, d'une altitude démesurée, avaient des airs de patriarches et d'empereurs, ou, se touchant par le bout, formaient avec leurs longs fûts comme des arcs de triomphe ; d'autres, poussés dès le bas obliquement, semblaient des colonnes près de tomber.

Cette foule de grosses lignes verticales s'entrouvrait. Alors, d'énormes flots verts se déroulaient en bosselages inégaux jusqu'à la surface des vallées où s'avançait la croupe d'autres collines dominant des plaines blondes, qui finissaient par se perdre dans une pâleur indécise.'

And here's a depiction of the forest trees by one of Woody Allen's favourite artists...

Paul Cézanne, The Forest of Fountainebleau, 1879-82

Source: Wikimedia Commons


Anonymous said...

Hi Plinius,
L'Éducation sentimentale is one of my favourite books. I am actually re-reading it. I am reading it in French, as it enables me to maintain my knowledge of the language. Are you a fan of the book?

Plinius said...

I'd say admirer rather than fan, but it's certainly a book I'd be happy to re-read and recommend to people.

Anonymous said...

Hi Plinius
I am a gustave flaubert's fan and i adored "madame bovary" so much, that i spent a whole year searchin' 4 l'education sentimentale just so i can have the same "senation d'extase" that i found in that book , back . See the thing is that i am a addict teen to romentic and tragic stories that's why i just loved the pithetic life of that poor Emma who only dreamet of living a love story and faced "un terrible echec conjugale" and very sad endings 4 her love affaires that made her commet 2 suicidal acts . any way it was and still the best novel that i ever read so i m hopin that l'education ll be as good as mme bovary (because i still cant juge the book yet now that i only read 2 chapters) i recommend to read it because (trust me) it wont be a wast of time.
PS: i am a frensh teenager so pls dont mind my english.