A Dinner Conversation

It was one of those peculiar conversations at dinner. I can't sort it out precisely, but these were some of the components:

A newspaper article, last year, about an elderly couple in Calcutta. They were in good health and had enough money, but they knew that these things could change, and they believed that they could not live without each other. So they jumped into the Hooghly River. The wife couldn't swim, and drowned almost immediately; the husband somehow stayed alive, managing to swim across that wide river, full of treacherous currents. And was arrested for complicity in his wife's death. Their children marvelled: they were a very devoted couple, but why would they take such a step when they were still healthy and comfortable?

A story by Somerset Maugham, in which a man decides to live it up in Capri until his money runs out, and then kill himself. It does, but he can't. He ends up living in his former house-keeper's pigsty.

A quotation, without attribution, from my commonplace book: ".. a report in which the London police point out that, though people with material troubles seem to sink like stones in the Thames, the fingers of suicidal lovers are invariably lacerated from trying to cling to the pilings of the bridges."

"L'Inconnue de la Seine": At the turn of the previous century, people in England and France kept her death-mask in their parlors - a beautiful young woman who was fished out of the Seine. Because nothing was known about her, she was assumed, like Ophelia, to have drowned herself for love.

In I. Allan Sealy's Everest Hotel a character dies. A death-mask is made out of wax. The burning wax revives him, and the mask cracks in two. He hangs it on the wall, as a trophy of what he calls The Coming Forth by Night.

I read Everest Hotel while we were staying at the Taj Bengal Hotel in Calcutta. For the first time in my life, I decided to have a facial. The woman who administered it spread a thick layer of something on my face which heated up and began to set, like plaster. I couldn't breathe, and had to cough, and the thing split. I thought, 'What kind of synchronicity is this? The Coming Forth Like an Idiot.'

And so on.

In the morning I searched for L'Inconnue de la Seine, and found her death-mask:

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Most of what was written about her was in French and German, which I can't read; but there was a strange piece here (part of a strange larger site). According to it she did not remain inconnue; and she was not a suicide, but a murder victim. But we can believe whatever we want, can't we?

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