A New Place

Volume 2 opens with Ulrich receiving a telegram:

This is to inform you that I am deceased. Your father. (II,730)

Evidently composed while still able to cause the most distress, the note has nevertheless brought Ulrich to his father’s home town to pay his last respects. He will meet his sister here for the first time in many years. But as if to signal a new beginning, Ulrich must clear his mind after arriving at the train station, much in the way one clears a clogged drain.

“Believe me, income has dropped by twenty percent and prices have gone up twenty percent, that’s a total of forty percent!’  “Believe me, a six-day bike race promotes international goodwill like nothing else!”  These voices were still coming out of his ear: train voices. then he distinctly heard someone saying: “Still, for  me, there’s nothing to beat opera!” “Is that your hobby?” “It’s my passion.”

He tilted his head as though to shake water out of his ear. Driblets of the general conversation around him that had seeped into him during the trip were oozing out again. Ulrich had waited for the joyfulness and bustle of arrival–which had poured into the quiet  square from the station exit as from the mouth of a drain pipe–to subside as a trickle; now he was standing in the vacuum of silence left behind by such noise. (II,729)

Ulrich senses possibilities in this newly emptied space.

This town had a past, and it even had a face, but the eyes did not go with the mouth, or the chin with the hair; over everything lay the traces of a hectic life that is inwardly empty. This could possibly, under special personal circumstances, foster great originality.

To sum it up in a phrase perhaps equally arguable, Ulrich had the sense of something “spiritually insubstantial” in which one lost oneself so entirely as to awaken unbridled imaginings. (II,730)

Perhaps these unbridled imaginings have evoked the image of himself as a jester, as he dressed to meet his sister.

As he started to change it occurred to him to put on a pajama-like lounging suit he came across while unpacking. “She might at least have come down to say hello when I got here,” he thought, and there was a hint of rebuke in his casual choice of dress, even as he continued to feel that his sister’s reason for acting as she did was  likely to be a congenial one, so that he was also complimenting her by his unforced expression of ease.

The loose lounging suit of soft wool he put on was patterned in black and gray squares, almost a Pierrot costume, gathered at the waist, wrists, and ankles; he liked its comfort, which felt pleasant after that sleepless night and the long train journey, as he came down the stairs. But when he entered the room where his sister was waiting, he was amazed at his costume, for by some mysterious directive of chance he found his appearance echoed in that of a tall, blonde Pierrot in a pattern of delicate gray and rust stripes and lozenges, who at first glance looked quite like himself.

“I had no idea we were twins!” Agathe said, her face lighting up with a smile. (II,734)


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