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Alice Rivaz and the Subject of Lost Time

From: MLN
Volume 116, Number 5, December 2001 (Comparative Literature Issue)
pp. 1025-1044 | 10.1353/mln.2001.0083

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

MLN 116.5 (2001) 1025-1044

Alice Rivaz was born Alice Golay in Rovray, a village in the canton of Vaud, in 1901, the only child of Ida and Paul Golay. Her parents came from pious Protestant families in the Vaud countryside and near Lake Geneva. Ida Etter left the order of the deaconesses of Saint-Loup to marry Golay, a young school teacher who soon became a pioneer figure of Swiss socialism. In 1910, he left his teaching position to write for the socialist weekly, Le Grutléen, and the family left Clarens for Lausanne. Many of Rivaz's writings reflect the impact of her family background, especially her relationship with her mother, and the conflict between Ida Golay's religious piety and Paul Golay's social and political convictions. Alice Rivaz's works reflect lifelong interests in music, literature, and socialism. She lived with her parents until 1925, when she began her career at the International Bureau of Labor (BIT) in Geneva. Nuages dans la main (1940), her first novel, was followed by four other novels, including Jette ton pain (1987), considered her finest work. She published two volumes of short stories, some literary criticism, and several autobiographical works, including the remarkable Comptez vos jours (1966) and a fictionalized account of her childhood in L'Alphabet du matin (1968). She is considered one of the major twentieth-century writers of Francophone Switzerland. Alice Rivaz died in 1998.

For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Christine: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please.

--Joyce

Mais au moment où, me remettant d'aplomb, je posai mon pied sur un pavé qui était un peu moins élevé que le précédent, tout mon découragement s'évanouit devant la même félicité qu'à diverses époques de ma vie m'avaient donnée la vue d'arbres que j'avais cru reconnaître dans une promenade en voiture autour de Balbec, la vue des clochers de Martinville, la saveur d'une madeleine trempée dans une infusion, tant d'autres sensations dont j'ai parlé et que les dernières oeuvres de Vinteuil m'avaient paru synthétiser [But at the moment when I placed my foot on a cobblestone a little lower than the one before it, all of my discouragement vanished before the same felicity that I had been given at different periods of my life by the view of trees I thought I recognized in an automobile excursion around Balbec, the view of the Martinville steeples, the pleasurable taste of a madeleine dipped in herb tea, so many other sensations that I mentioned and that Vinteuil's last works seemed to me to synthesize].

--Proust

From the beginnings of modernism, art occupies a realm of meaning and faith that previously belonged to religion. In the world of Alice Rivaz's writing, Protestant religion is most prominent, but the passions of a character named Christine turn to Catholicism at key moments. Borrowed from the beginning of Ulysses and the end of In Search of Lost Time, the quotations in the epigraph above suggest what is at stake in reading Rivaz's works. Joyce connects the "genuine Christine" of the Passion to life and love outside the Church: his parody of the Mass signals the symbolic and eucharistic resonances that the writing of Ulysses sets in motion. Closer to Rivaz's temperament, Proust's fiction presents the movement of sensations toward the felicity of art. A form of happiness composed of musical and literary images is anchored in the child's ritual of herb tea in Combray. In Proust's novel, the story of the Petite Madeleine begins the return of the world of lost memories and of Proust's pure Time. Alice Rivaz borrows Proust's notion of the artist's task. Involuntary memory makes it possible for the artist to descend into the depths of the unconscious. The recovery of the past allows her to capture its essence for the work of the future.

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Alice Rivaz's notion of fiction is enigmatic. She sees herself as a novelist, but says that she is incapable of telling lies in...