BHD being toast?

BHD being toast?

I keep on coming back to Alphonse Daudet’s deceptively simple short story, Monsieur Seguin’s Goat. Even with my forty year old (oh, go on then, fifty year old) school boy French – which just squeezed an O level out of the system – I can read it in the original as well as in translation.

Stories are like sex. When they do something to you that you like, you want it done again. Favourite stories, as I’ve noted elsewhere, are the ones we don’t forget. We read and re-read with a growing, rather than a diminishing enjoyment (you’ll notice I’m not prolonging – if that’s the right word – my earlier comparison). Those of us who are writing, as well as reading, might take an interest in why that is, and how it works.

In the case of M. Seguin, it is not simply the simplicity. The story outline is simple. The author, posing as himself, tells us of a letter he has written to the young ‘lyric poet,’ Gringoire, in Paris, who has just turned down a respectable journalistic job, in favour of remaining a freelance, lyric poet.

The letter writer tells him the story of M. Seguin and his goats – there is more than one in fact – as a warning against the hardships and dangers of being a freelance, in comparison to being a hack. The last line carries the sharpest warning, a repetition of what we already know happens to the goats, when they choose the freedom of the mountains over the safety of M. Seguin’s tiny, but safe, paddock!

‘E piei lou matin, lou loup la mangé’ ‘Then in the morning, the wolf ate her.’

The strange French is Daudet’s rendering of the Provençal dialect from which he drew the story, and just before he delivers that final sentence, Daudet warns his correspondent to ‘listen well!’

Yet, and here that simplicity which I so enjoy carries a subtle complexity that makes me stop and wonder, to what extent I am finding something that Daudet had put in, and to what extent I am chasing the shadows of my own romanticism, for Daudet seems to have more than a simple sympathy for poor Blanquette, the eponymous goat; also, for Renaude, the much larger goat that preceded her to the same fate.

For as Daudet tells his young poet, Gringoire, so M. Seguin tells his young goat, Blanquette, a story to deter her from folly.  But the story of Renaude is not simply one of escape from the paddock, and being eaten in the mountains. It contains also the fact that Renaude, ‘Elle s’est battu avec le loup toute la nuit’ – ‘she fought the wolf all night long’

And to do this becomes little Blanquette’s ambition when the hour of her destiny falls.

Blanquette, Daudet tells us, does not fight with the wolf because she hopes to live, but because she aspires to equal the example of Renaude. He is not mocking the little goat, I think, when he tells us this, but revealing an admiration for her courage and tenacity. Perhaps too, even unknowingly, for explicitly he intends to mock and disparage Gringoire, Daudet is revealing his admiration for the one who refuses the well paid and secure job of the hack writer, for the worn clothes and the face,’ pale with hunger,’ of the lyric poet.

It is this concealed encouragement, I think, to all writers, and not just Gringoire, that lies at the heart of my enjoyment of the story, and brings me back to reading it with as much enthusiasm, time after time…