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Tuesday
Sep042012

Frau und Schauspieler

An essay ("Woman and Actor") by this Swiss writer.  You can read the original as part of this collection.

My dear sir, I am writing to you now because yesterday I happened to be in the city theater and saw you as Prince Max in Hofgunst.  Just so you know in advance, I am a woman of thirty, somewhat past that age, in fact, does this interest you?  You are young and handsome, cut a dashing figure, and must have women falling all over each other to get to you.  By the way, please do not count me among those falling women; and yet I must admit that I like you and feel obliged to tell you why.  This letter is already getting a bit long, don't you think?

When I saw you yesterday on the stage, it immediately occurred to me how innocent you were; that is to say, you certainly possess a great deal of child-like qualities.  And on the stage last night you so comported yourself that I thought I should write to you.  I am doing so right now; but will I actually mail this letter?  Forgive me, I'm sure: you should be proud that you engender doubt.  Perhaps I will not mail these words to you, then you would know nothing and have no reason whatsoever to succumb to unseemly laughter.  Do you ever succumb to that?  Understand that I suspect you have a beautiful, fresh, and pure heart, but perhaps you are still too young to know how important that is.  When you answer me, tell me where you spend your free time.  Or tell me in person, come to me tomorrow afternoon at six; I will be expecting you. 

Most people place the entirety of their ambition in the ignoble impossibility of committing a foolishness.  They do not care for the propriety of behavior, although it seems like they do.  They only respect convention when it may be subjected to some kind of danger.  For dangers are educational, and one becomes conventionless without the proper urge to retain these customs and be educated about important things in some lively manner.  Timidity often seems to be our real convention – what lethargic thoughtlessness!  Are you still listening to me, listening to me sincerely?  Or are you one of those regrettably numerous people who think that everything a bit shameful or stressful is necessarily boring?  Spit upon this letter and tear it into pieces if it bores you.  But tell me the truth: it does excite you, it does interest you, it is not boring.                

My God, how handsome you are, my dear sir!  And so young, hardly twenty if that old.  I found you a bit stiff last night and your fine voice a bit precious.  Will you forgive me for speaking this way?  I am ten years older than you, and it does me so much good to be able to talk to a person young enough for me to feel ten years older than he is.  You have something in your manners that makes you seem even younger than one would reasonably guess; this is the aforementioned preciousness.  Please do not rush to divest yourself of such a comportment, I implore you: I like it and, I would add, it would be a shame for this theater piece of natural unnaturalness.  Children are like this.  Am I offending you?  I am so open, am I not?  Yet you do not know how much joy attends the conceit whispering in my ear: he admits it, he loves it.  How the officer's uniform, the tight boots, the coat, the collar, the pants so suited you!  I was simply enthralled.  And what princely manners you displayed, what energy in your movements!  And how you spoke: you were so superfluously heroic that I almost had to feel a bit embarrassed for you, for myself, for everything.  So loudly and importantly did you hold forth in the salon of your castle or your father's castle!  How your big eyes sometimes rolled here and there as if you wanted to eat up a member of the audience, and how close, how very close you were!  One time my arm flinched and, against my will, I wanted to stick out my hand to touch you where you stood.  I see you before me, so big and so loud.             

If you come to my place tomorrow will you also appear upon my stage with such gravity?  You should know that in my room everything is very quiet and simple; I have never received an officer at my place and there has never been a scene.  How will you behave?  But your entire, high-placed, beanstalk-like being appeals to me; for me it is new, fresh, good, noble, and pure.  I would like to get to know it because I feel that within it lies something innocent and unbroken.  Show it to me the way it is; I sensed it in advance and I believe that I love it. 

There is no arrogance in your so seemingly arrogant being.  You are incapable of anything deceitful; you are too young and I am too experienced to be wrong about you.  And now I no longer have any doubts that I will mail you this letter, but let me just say a few more things.  You are coming to see me; this we agree upon.  Wipe your boots off before coming up the stairs and entering the house; I will be standing by the window watching your actions.  How I so look forward to being so dumb and doing all this.  You see how much I'm looking forward to this.  Perhaps you are scurrilous and will punish me for provoking in you an interest in me.  If you are such a person, come and have your fun, punish me, I fully deserve it. 

But you are young, isn't that the opposite of scurrilous?  How clearly I see your eyes before me, and I have to tell you something: I do not think of you as very clever, but as very right, very exact, which can be more than clever.  Am I barking up the wrong tree?  Do you belong to the sophisticated and refined?  If this is so, then in the future I shall sit alone and abandoned in my living room because I do not understand people any more.  I shall stand by the window and open the door for you; you will not need to ring for long.  And then you'll see me, so soon now.  Actually, I wish – no, I do not want to say that much.  Are you still reading?  I should alert you in advance to the fact that I am rather pretty so that you will make somewhat of an effort and wear your finest and best-brushed attire.  What would you like to drink?  You will tell me without any embarrassment; I have wine in the cellar, my maid will go fetch it.  But perhaps it would be best if we first drink a cup of tea, what do you think?  We will be alone: my husband always works at the store at this time, but do not comprehend this as an invitation to be disrespectful; on the contrary, this should make you shy.  This is how I want to see you, shy and beautiful; otherwise I'll chase down the postman tasked with bringing these lines to you, yell at him, call him a robber and a murderer, commit enormities, and end up in jail.  How I long to see you, to have you near me!  I speak thus because I so insist on having a good opinion of you.  And if, after all that's been said, you still come to me, then you will be courageous, and the hour and a half that we spend together will be nice.  And then it would be of no use to tremble as I am doing now, because inviting you to my place will have been no daredevil act on my part.  You are so slender that I would recognize you even if you were standing down on the street before the garden doors.

What are you doing at this very moment?  What do you think, should I stop writing now?  If I stepped before you and imitated you as Prince Max standing there, you would surely laugh. 

I adjure you, bow deeply before me when you look at me and be stiff and behave yourself normally; permit yourself no free movements.  I warn you and I will thank you for having obeyed me like no one in your life has ever thanked you.

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