Mistress Leona

Ulrich has a mistress, a chanteuse. She is no Rachel when from the lord.

He had been struck by the moist darkness of her eyes, the dolefully passionate expression on her handsome, regular, long face, and the songs full of feeling that she sang instead of risqué ones. All these old-fashioned little songs were about love, sorrow, abandonment, faithfulness, forest murmurs, and shining trout. She stood tall and lonely to the marrow on the tiny stage and patiently sang at the public with a housewife’s voice, and even if something suggestive did slip in now and then, the effect was all the more ghostlike because she spelled out all the feelings of the heart, the tragic as well as the teasing, with the same wooden gestures. (I,17)

 Like Proust’s Rachel, she has more than one source of income.

It could not be maintained that she took no interest in sex, but it could be said that she was, in this respect as in every other, downright lazy and hated to work. In her ample body every stimulus took an astonishingly long time to reach the brain, and it happened that her eyes began to glaze over for no apparent reason in midafternoon, although the night before they had been fixed on a point on the ceiling as though she were observing a fly.

Of course, if the art of trading for money not the entire person, as usual, but only the body must be called prostitution, then Leona occasionally engaged in prostitution. But if you have lived for nine years, as she had from the age of sixteen, on the miserable pay of the lowest dives, with your head full of the prices of costumes and underwear, the deductions, greediness, and caprices of the owners, the commissions on the food and drink of the patrons warming up to their fun, and the price of a room in the nearby hotel, day after day, including the fights and the business calculations, then everything the layman enjoys as a night on the town adds up to a profession  full of its own logic, objectivity, and class codes. Prostitution especially is a matter in which  it makes all the difference whether you see it from above or from below. (I,18)

 Ulrich prefers to entertain Leona at home, where she knows what is expected of her.

She was a beauty, she was a singer, she had no reason to hide, as several dozen men she aroused every evening would have testified. Yet this man, although he wanted to be alone with her, would not even give her the satisfaction of moaning, “Leona, you devil, your ass is driving me crazy!” and licking his moustache with desire when he so much as looked at her, as she was accustomed to expect from her gallants. (I,19-20)

But Leona knew that such elegant entertainment entitled the host to something more than a guest who was merely there to be gaped at, even when he asked for nothing more; so she rose to her feet as soon as she was able and serenely broke into full-throated song. Her friend regarded such an evening as a ripped-out page, alive with all sorts of suggestions and ideas but mummified, like everything torn from its context, full of the tyranny of that eternally fixed stance that accounts for the uncanny fascination of tableaux vivants, as though life had suddenly been given a sleeping pill and was now standing there stiff, full of inner meaning, sharply outlined, and yet, in sum, making absolutely no sense at all. (I,20)


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