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Arletty, Young Woman from Dauphine
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, translation by Stephanie Keho

First of all, we see Arletty, young woman from Dauphine... region famed for its petite pretty young women, for its fanatics, and above all, for its Huguenots... Now we see her in Paris: earning her living... Galleries Lafayette... And next we see her milling around the circles of the Parisian Protestants. A young student pastor, Jerome, Protestant, falls passionately in love with her. A holy marriage of body and soul! The newlyweds set up house in working class suburbia... in Courbevoie... "To bring back lost souls to God"... Love and Evangelism... the newlyweds... they're a Salvation Army of sorts... but Arletty is out of control, a real bombshell! Thunder! Lightning! The organ plays: Arletty sings, bewitchingly... The bourgeois boys, the working men, the rascals and the riff-raff all want Arletty. And they all try to have her in the Temple of Courbevoie-la-Garenne: a mere tin shack! She is virtuous but the Devil is after her, in spite of herself... that satanic charm!... They go to the dance halls... they dance... they are seen... propositions are made, profane propositions... Jerome, ever zealous, is set alight with the fire of God. He adores his wife, but he is straight-laced... Arletty is also straight-laced... life is hard! Holy shit!... Misery and the Bible!... The Saturday evening paper runs a photograph of Arletty: "The Partner of the Pastor"... "The Alluring Arletty," etcetera. Jerome, who absolutely worships Arletty, is in hell... but not because of the accusations... because, in fact, everyone has remained most genteel... most gallant... it's just that missionary work is exhausting in these conditions. Oh, such misery... such beauty... beauty which, far from leading souls toward God, leads them far far astray... Jerome and Arletty, in perfect harmony, make a decision: the newlyweds will leave this place... this place where the Devil plays too beautiful a tune, where the sinners are too well established, too well rooted, where the Bible is too often mocked and its readers too rough. Jerome and Arletty will return, but for now they are, each of them, too young... and the evil is too cunning, far too sly for them... So they depart to Africa to convert the pagan Paouins... Jerome and Arletty, in the wild. Isolation... more temptation... danger... an enterprise of the truly courageous. Arletty sings for the Paouins... psalms and the like... cannibals... but Arletty is bored... she longs for the dance halls... for Evangelical activity in a place where virtue is under constant threat... for here, all the while, the Devil is present. He will always be present, he will never let Arletty out of his sight. Jerome begins a pacifist movement... he is violently opposed to the tribal wars between the Paouins and their enemy, the Mabillas... their battles have taken place, religiously, every rainy season since the creation of the world... Sometimes the conquering Mabillas would eat the Paouins, or vice versa... such was the sport of Africa. Jerome was becoming more and more unpopular with all his pacifist propaganda... just as he had become unpopular in Courbevoie where he had insisted upon trying to separate and subdue rival gangs who regularly plastered each other, vying for authority on the banks of the Seine.
     The Paouins would dance a little to the harmonica... the Paouins would heckle a lot at the sermons... Then, all of a sudden, from out of the wilderness, appears a boxing impresario-searching for a "genuine nigger," a "natural," to turn into a "genuine champion"... a young buck that can't be found in the cities anymore (sissy negroes). The impresario wants an authentic fighting cannibal... a real killer... he scours the villages of the brush... (but this impresario, is, in fact, the Devil... and he is always after Arletty... and always trying to crush the brave little duo of missionaries). The Devil lures Arletty... he grips her with his rational, reasonable, respectful concerns: "Look! look, you're going to die in this no-man's land... of disease! Of misery! These savages hate you... they want to devour you... a soul like yours! Like that of Jerome's! Pearls before swines! Your talent! Your voice! His diligence, his fervor, his pacifism! No! I will take you to America... there you can convert lost souls... lost, most certainly, but capable at least of understanding you!" So... Arletty convinces her husband to leave Africa with the impresario and his negro... a magnificent gorilla... gigantic, with a lightning punch... destined to become the World Champion. Off they go!
     Now, they appear in the heart of gangster Chicago. Once again, a shabby little church-a tin shed as in Courbevoie-in the suburbs. Arletty sings... her charm attracts lost souls, lost male souls, with many motives... none of them sacred. Of course, Arletty still loves poor little Jerome... who grows more and more Evangelical. He is the perfect spouse. Again he attempts to make peace between two terrifying gangs: the Rangers and the Potomaks. In order to convert them, he makes pals in both gangs... but is suspect on both sides... They delegate to him the task of working with the gun-molls, to see what it is that he knows of their trade, to see if he is a squealer, to see if he's a chicken. He wants to convert the molls... his faith wobbles just a little. He has a beautiful voice... they celebrate him... they tease him. They beg that he sing them something other than hymns... some French hits... "Speak to me of Love"... the manipulative Devil is directing Destiny. With his young buck cannibal now renowned as Chicago's most vicious killer, the Devil commences his corruption of Jerome, who has accepted the responsibility of converting the nightclub girls, the women in the wings... Eventually, in a raid, Jerome is arrested... picked up with an enormous package of cocaine in his pocket. The big bust! Off to the slammer! The Church is shut down! Arletty is rejected by the Church... she must sing to survive, and bring packages to the prison for Jerome. She has to give the eye to the lawyers who are handling the case of her darling little idiot... so that they'll try harder to free him from his shackles. Arletty sings in the nightclubs of the gangsters... the killer cannibal pugilist protects her and the Devil, his manager has a good laugh... delighting in his revenge. And it is here, in one of the nightclubs, that Arletty is noticed by a maharajah on vacation. He hits on her... he has fallen in love... Arletty sacrifices herself one more time... he must present her with an enormous diamond, the uncut gem from his turban... with which she can buy off the lawyers, the judges, and the guards, and free Jerome. "Okay," responds the Maharajah, "But now for my demand, my dearest diamond: I want you in my harem... Good! It's a deal!..." And, in no time, Jerome is free once more. They liberate him, he asks nothing more of anyone... so terrified from being in prison, and threatened with being murdered on the outside! Now, on a plane to India... with the Maharajah... Arletty in the harem... Jerome with the pariahs... Desolate, she sings her sorrow throughout the Maharajah's castle. They are a duo of desolation... she behind high railings... he in rags, down in the street... in the crowds... But he has become, once more, possessed by his missionary mania of old... he wants to separate the Hindus and the Muslims who are killing each other. Ah... he becomes even more despised than he had been in Africa. They rip his rags from him, they knock him down, and flog him 'till he bleeds... and it was like this that Jerome came to sing, beneath barred windows, of his love for Arletty...
     Well, the Devil is still around... now in the guise of a magician... The Maharajah is exhausted... his doctors are not capable of restoring his amorous ardor, his youth, to him... and he worships Arletty, he lusts after her, he is mad with impotence and jealousy. Songs! Songs! He gets a magician to come-the famous Chinaman who calls himself Mongolian. Arletty wants to escape. The Devil wants her to commit a crime, to assassinate the Maharajah. The Devil's success would then be complete! So he suggests some pills for the Maharajah. The Devil speaks to Arletty: "Just one more little pill... that one... cyanide. It's no different to look at than the others, but with it, you can be free"... There is intrigue in the Palace, the son of the Maharajah wants to get rid of his father. The Magical Mongol seems to be mixed up in all this... The Maharajah is suspicious... he will only take the pills if Arletty takes them also... he will only take a special pill that Arletty keeps hidden in her sari, in the hem... These pills have a very strong erotic effect. One more!... Another one!... Ah! They are both hot... but Arletty slips the poisonous pill in with the others. The Maharajah swallows it. He convulses, he groans, he foams, he is dead. Dead from love.
     Brouhaha in the harem!
     The doors open. Arletty escapes... She finds Jerome, the Pacifist Evangelist, knocked out, beaten beyond recognition, swollen, beneath a heap of corpses, in front of the Palace... "Ah, I'm not mistaken. It's him." Her heart guides her. She drags him out from under the corpses... she stands him up. Forward! Courageous Arletty! She carries him... he has two black eyes so he can't see anything anymore... Arletty has also been stealing! It's done. She makes off with two diamonds.
     The voyage back... here they are again in Paris... Ah, Jerome is really strung out... he remains totally dazed, scared stiff... but he loves Arletty, his Arletty... the ever-faithful, dog-like devotion of the Evangelist. Arletty still loves Jerome too, her constant baggage... so the only thing to do is manage somehow again. They no longer have anything. Rebuild the Church? No, for Jerome has lost the spirit, the zeal, the ardor, the passion... he has become like an old man! Arletty remains as courageous as ever, she still has the same spirit! She has mastered innumerable songs and dances, from here, from there... from Africa... the Harem... America... And now, the reappearance of the Manager. Ah, the good Arletty! Now what will it be? The end of the Bible? He has won... He makes allusions to past things ... mere trifles, of course... How was it that she was able to escape from that Othello of the harem... Eh? How? He knows, he... he has a memory... the Devil is never completely satisfied... "Perseverance!" is his damned law... she must give in. Arletty has been part of certain pacts, without her knowledge... There you go! The Manager has set up some highly original nightclubs... in Montrouge for example... it is called "The World Tour!" Isn't that funny? Arletty will be a star... she will sing... and dance... her repertoire... her success...
     As for Jerome, my God, he has to be watched... he has become quite odd... a skirt-chaser! A hooligan! A child! So now, you know this story of prison, of gangsters, of cocaine... Jerome could relapse further... there is always a need for staff in the club... he could help out a little... he needs to be kept constantly under tabs: WAITER!
     Final Scene: In "The World Tour," Arletty sings, dances... everyone dances... it's drunkenness. The Devil is managing the bar... His black Kanaka is now also in love with Arletty... he will never leave her side... he punches out those who are rude... puts them to sleep with a mere flick of his finger... The Devil coaxes... Jerome drinks a little now... all the dregs of the glasses... he has pretty much surrendered to his own degeneration... he prefers not to suffer too much... he drifts around the club... he jokes with the patrons... but even now, just the same, he cannot help preaching this and that. All this is stronger than him... every evening when he is completely drunk, the Devil Manager calls out to him, to provoke him... however wild the party is: "Jerome! Jerome!" So Jerome takes the stage, staggering, slurring, starting yet another sermon: "My brothers, my brothers! This can't go on much longer. We're enjoying ourselves too much!" His sanctity, his seriousness delights the whole room... they are delirious... with laughter. He is the star of the show:
     "My brothers! My brothers!"

(circa 1948)

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