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Authors: Anita Brookner

Providence

BOOK: Providence
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PRAISE FOR
ANITA BROOKNER

“Anita Brookner has staked out a distinctive territory … and made it clear that she is one of the finest novelists of her generation.”


The New York Times

“The meaty topics that Brookner assays — wifehood, motherhood, and lust — are a pleasure to follow.”


The New Yorker

“Brookner’s vision of human behavior is scrupulously honest, without ever being cruel.”

— Hilma Wolitzer,
Chicago Tribune

“[Brookner’s] strength has been her honest, sympathetic portrayal of a person’s secret thoughts, fears and desires — usually passionately at odds with one’s outward demeanor.”


Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Anita Brookner works a spell on the reader; being under it is both an education and a delight.”


Washington Post Book World

“Brookner’s portraits of inner life are unsurpassable — always penetrating and astoundingly on the mark.”


Cosmopolitan

Copyright
© 1982
by Anita Brookner

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape Ltd., London, in 1982. First published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1982.

Libary of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Brookner, Anita.
Providence / Anita Brookner.
p. cm. — (Vintage contemporaries)
eISBN: 978-0-307-82621-3
I. Man-woman relationships — England — Fiction.
2. Women college teachers — England — Fiction. I. Title.
[PR605 2.R5816P75 1994]
823’.914 — dc20 93-6326

v3.1

ANITA BROOKNER’S
PROVIDENCE

Anita Brookner has been hailed by
The New York Times
as “one of the finest novelists of her generation.” She is the author of thirteen novels, including
A Closed Eye, Brief Lives, Providence
, and
Hotel du Lac
, for which she won the Booker Prize for fiction. An international authority on eighteenth-century painting, she became in 1968 the first female Slade Professor at Cambridge University.

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

A Start in Life

Look at Me

Hotel du Lac

Family and Friends

A Misalliance A Friend From England

Latecomers

Lewis Percy

Brief Lives

A Closed Eye

Fraud

Dolly

Contents
ONE

Kitty Maule was difficult to place. She had a family, that was known, and she disappeared every weekend, so it was assumed that she lived in the country, although her careful appearance belonged to the town. When asked about her background Kitty usually simplified, for her family history was perhaps a little colourful. She found it too tiring to recount, for so much additional explanation was needed, footnotes on alien professions, habits, customs that most people could not be expected to understand and which were to her as native as the colour of her own hair. She usually said, ‘My father was in the army. He died before I was born.’ This was the exact truth, but it was not all the truth, for the father to whom she delegated the prominent role in her family history had never even registered in her consciousness as absent. Quite simply, he had never been there. Her mother was there, and her grandmother and grandfather; they would continue, long after their own deaths, as parents, racial memories, a certain kind of expertise, a certain milieu, untouched by their almost accidental mingling with the conventional life of an English wartime marriage. Yet Kitty felt herself to be English; hence her explanation, ‘My father was in the army’. And indeed no one had ever faulted her on grounds of Englishness. Yet she felt a part of her to be
shrewd and watchful, mistrusting others, paying less attention to their words than to the words they were not voicing. She thought these characteristics were a sign of some moral defect, and always hastened back to her life’s work of establishing the true and the good and perhaps the beautiful, of believing the best of everyone, of enjoying what life offered, not lamenting what it withheld. This, in fact, was how her father had been.

Her mother, Marie-Thérèse, remained the little French girl whom her parents destined for a good marriage, even though that marriage had come and gone some time ago. Marie-Thérèse was the eternal
pensionnaire
, homeloving, conventual, quiet, and obedient to those strange parents of hers, Kitty’s grandparents, who so consistently undid the myth of Kitty’s Englishness, in which she believed so fervently and which no one who knew her sought to disbelieve. She had two homes: one, a small flat in Chelsea, where she kept her father’s photograph, taken on his last leave; the other, her grandparents’ house in the suburbs, where, once inside the front door, one encountered the smells, the furnishings, the continual discussion that might take place in an apartment house in Paris or perhaps further east. An air of dimness, of stuffy comfort, an emanation of ceremonious meals, long past, an airlessness, hours spent on the routine matters of rising and eating and drinking coffee; an insistence on food, the centrality of food; great sadness, organizing the simple empty days, but never despair, never the complaint known to English doctors as depression. But sadness, much sadness. When Kitty went back to her other home, the rational little flat in Chelsea, it seemed to her quite empty of everything, of smell, taste, atmosphere, sound, food. She would look out of the window for signs of life, not realizing that she never did this in her other home, in the suburbs, where her grandparents lived. Occasionally a shout would
come from the pub on the corner, but it seemed to her that even there very little was going on. And on these Sunday evenings she would survey the empty street, vaguely disquieted, longing to be one thing or the other, for she felt that she was not what she seemed. She looked enquiringly at the photograph of her father, whom she thought of as ‘Father’. Her grandfather she called Papa and her grandmother Maman Louise. They called her Thérèse, the name she resumed when she went back to them. Away from them, she was Kitty. And most of the time she felt like Kitty. Not all the time, but most of it.

Her father, John Maule, had died, but her grandparents, her mother’s parents, had monstrously survived him and had taken the widow and her child back into their care. And here the strangeness began, for they were not like other people, and destined perhaps to designate the island of remoteness in Kitty’s character which gave her so much trouble. Her grandfather, Vadim, a Russian whose family had drifted to France in the early years of the century, had originally been part of an acrobatic act which, after some years of touring the provinces, and worse, village fairs, market days in outlying regions, reached the high point of its fortunes with an engagement at the Olympia Music Hall in Paris. One evening, after the performance, while eating his supper in a small brasserie with his two brothers, who were the rest of the act, Vadim met and fell in love with a bold-looking yellow-haired girl who was evidently enjoying a night out with her friends. They had been to the Olympia and had recognized the brothers; they showed no trace of shyness and, with red chapped hands, raised their glasses in only slightly mocking tribute. Soon they were all sitting together, toasting each other properly in a
fine
. The girls were seamstresses from the rue Saint-Denis, and Louise, the one with the yellow hair,
had ambitions for the future. There were fortunes to be made in the dressmaking business, she said, and she planned to go to London, where a sister of her father’s lived, and to set up on her own there. As the goodnight shouts died away in the frosty street, Vadim knew that he would desert the act and go with her. Why not? It was an easy decision to make.

They married, went to London, and found a couple of rooms in Percy Street. Life was not easy, but Louise was clever and determined. She began as an outworker, but was soon making dresses for private clients, which Vadim would deliver, springing through the London streets on his acrobat’s legs. Soon there was a little girl, Marie-Thérèse, whom Vadim wheeled about in her pram and whose cheeks were caressed by the various traders and shopkeepers in the district. A warm roll or a piece of fruit would be slipped into her small hand; she would eat it carefully at home, listening to the sounds of her mother’s sewing machine, dreamy, and idle, and capable of sitting for hours without moving, quite unlike either of her parents. Louise worked day and night, her bold clever eyes now shadowed with fatigue. ‘Come, Marie-Thérèse,’ Vadim would say, ‘let us think of a good hot dinner for your Maman.’ And Louise would take ten minutes off and eat the dinner that the little girl had pretended to help to cook. ‘Thank you, my pigeon,’ she would say, inclining her face for a kiss. Then she would go back to her machine and work far into the night.

For Louise and Vadim, the high point of their lives was not the birth of their daughter but their triumphant installation in the salon in Grosvenor Street. Louise now had as many clients as she could handle, and Marie-Thérèse was more used to the company of the girls in the workroom than to that of her own mother. Yet both parents were intensely proud of her. She was so quiet, so
gentle, so graceful; how, they wondered, in their hardworking lives, had they managed to produce something so exquisitely and apparently useless? They dressed her in black, with a little white collar (very chic: Louise had made the dress with her own hands) and trained her to be a receptionist in the salon. They had sent her to a French school, and her manners were charming and formal. Louise’s clients became very fond of her.

One day, Captain John Maule, newly commissioned, accompanied his sister Barbara to a fitting for her wedding dress. He sat awkwardly on a small gilt chair and admired the thin neck and wrists of Marie-Thérèse, although he was secretly appalled by her mother. Louise seemed to him large, hoarse, and coarse; he had never seen such obviously dyed yellow hair and he watched in spite of himself as the ash fell from her cigarette holder on to the bosom of her dress. She was clever, she was knowing, she was tired; Barbara Maule flushed with annoyance as Louise pinched the fold round her waist, pulled down the neckline of her wedding dress, grimaced, then pulled it up again. Yet she bore it uncomplainingly, for she was not an attractive girl and she knew that Louise would make her look her best.

When Marie-Thérèse was given leave by her mother to go out to tea – for Louise was trying to sever any connection between her daughter and the workroom – John Maule followed her. He came again and again with his sister to the salon, and eventually presented Marie-Thérèse with an engagement ring. They were married on his embarkation leave. Louise made her daughter’s wedding dress, sitting up all night to finish it. It was of the palest pink china silk: an audacious choice destined to set off her daughter’s delicate white skin. Instead of a veil, there was a little pill-box hat. It was the most beautiful wedding dress Louise had ever made.

BOOK: Providence
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