The Moons of Gall
“Solange de Cleda re-establishes true normal passion: a profane Saint Theresa; Epicurus and Plato burning in a single flame of eternal feminine mystique.”
–Salavador Dalí, Foreword to Hidden Faces (1944)
There is a strong Roman-pagan motif running throughout the narrative Dalí creates in Hidden Faces, encapsulated by Solange de Cleda, who we first meet as a Parisian sophisticate with her own salon:
Just at this moment Madame de Cleda entered the drawing-room wearing a sheaf of aigrettes in her hair. Grandsailles gave a start on seeing her appear and, as if abruptly awakening from his waking dream, instantly realized that she was in fact the only person he was waiting for. He stepped forward with un-habitual eagerness to receive her and kissed her on the forehead.
Madam de Cleda, with her sun-tanned complexion, so sculptural and adorned with diamond necklaces and cascades of satin, so completely personified Parisian actuality that it was as if one of the fountains of the Place de la Concorde had just broken into the room.
Her character metamorphosizes as the complexities of the novel’s plot mature, so that she is transformed into the archetypal earth-mother deity in the tradition of the Goddess Europa riding her bull, Marianne in France, Britannia in the United Kingdom, Columbia in America, and the statue of Germania, with her crown of oak leaves representing heroism, who sits atop the Neiderwalddenkmal in the Rhine Valley, and is often painted with the rays of a rising Sun behind her, symbolic of the dawning of a new era.
Dalí, in his Foreword, acknowledges the central role she plays, unequivocally stating:
Why did I write this novel?
First, because I have time to do everything I want to do, and I wanted to write it.
Second, because contemporary history offers a unique framework for a novel dealing with the development and the conflicts of great human passions, and because the story of the war, and more particularly of the poignant post-war period, had inevitably to be written.
Third, because if I had not written it another would have done it in my place, and would have done it badly.
Fourth, because it is more interesting, instead of “copying history,” to anticipate it and let it try to imitate as best it can what you have invented . . . Because I have lived intimately, day by day, with the protagonists of the pre-war drama in Europe; I have followed them in that of the emigration to America, and it has thus been easy for me to imagine that of their return… Because since the eighteenth century the passional trilogy inaugurated by the divine Marquis de Sade had remained incomplete: Sadism, Masochism . . . It was necessary to invent the third term problem, that of the synthesis and sublimation: Cledalism, derived from the name of the protagonist of my novel, Solange de Cleda. Sadism may be defined as pleasure experienced through pain inflicted on the object; Masochism, as pleasure experienced through pain submitted to by the object. Cledalism is pleasure and pain sublimated in an all-transcending identification with the object.
And midway through the text, Dalí has his male protagonist, Count Herve de Grandsailles, outline exactly what rites constituted such all-transcending identification with the object:
Solange folded her arms across her bosom and pressed her shoulders with her hands, showing her readiness to listen.
“One begins,” Grandsailles went on, “by choosing the couple destined to become lovers, preferably individuals having hostile tendencies. They must not be virgins, but from the moment the two have been chosen they are held to a complete chastity which must not be broken till the end. After several months of carnal abstinence, during which their bodies are nourished with food and drink in the preparation of which all the aphrodisiac sciences of herbs since the time of ancient Egypt have a part, and their imaginations are kindled unceasingly by appropriate tales, mostly borrowed from the dialogues of famous lovers and from the ardent maxims of Odocliree, who unites lovers, then, and only then, occurs the first meeting of the couple to bring them under the spell. For this presentation they must encounter each other naked, adorned only with jewels composed of gems and precious metals selected according to the conjunction of their horoscopes and other favorable influences. During the whole course of this meeting, for which a rigorous ceremonial is prescribed, no word must be spoken nor must there be any physical contact. Any infraction of this constraint would jeopardize the ultimate success of the love-spell. After this preliminary scene their meetings are graduated with a refined art to awaken and stimulate their budding desire. But contrary to what one might expect, instead of progressing in the direction of normal physical temptations their relations only retrogress. Then the course of their romance enters what might be called a new phase of idealization.”
“Sublimation,” Solange suggested.
“After their second meeting, their nakedness is almost completely covered with interlaced leaves, at their fourth encounter they appear clothed in sumptuous garments, and their gestures, still regulated in advance as for a ballet, instead of being crudely immodest as they were in their first state of nakedness, become more pure, expressive of delicate feelings, unction and humility as they move toward the final stages.”
“I can see,” said Solange, “that this kind of exhibitionism in reverse might become a violent stimulus to the senses of those subjected to such ceremonies, to the point of arousing in them a wholly cerebral desire for each other. But does this frightful Tantalus torture of their flesh have anything in common with the sovereign and permanent feeling of love?”
“Yes, assuredly,” answered Grandsailles, “or at least this is what the texts attest, on condition that the couple satisfactorily reach the end of their ordeal.”
“What happens when the spell is at last complete?” Solange asked. “What is the final goal?”
“At the end,” Grandsailles continued, “the two lovers are left alone, face to face, clad in veils which by their richness are suggestive of nuptial robes. Both are bound separately to the branches of a myrtle tree in such a way as not only to prevent contact of their bodies but also to maintain them in the most complete immobility. After a certain time, if the spell is successful the orgasm occurs simultaneously in the two lovers without any other communication between them than by facial expression . . .”
And like her nation, Solange suffers at the cruel hands of men, and most explicitly he who she holds dearest, Grandsailles himself. The Count’s Notary writes:
Madame de Cleda is inwardly wasting away over your lack of clemency and of indulgence toward her. Never have I heard the slightest allusion to her sufferings, but from what we have kept of the peasant’s discerning and wholesome eye we are able to recognize by a slight curling of the upper leaves, invisible to everyone else, when a tree is suffering from dry-rot. Madame de Cleda has the nobility to suffer without a gesture, like the most beautiful and fragile of all the trees newly planted on your land . . .
Grandsailles says, “She will be mine the day I wish it,” even as her life unravels with torments that mirror the fortunes of France during the occupation and the epuration, the so-called “purification” after the war. Firstly, she is cuckolded by the Count when he undertakes a long-term relationship with Lady Chidester-Ames. “I have done all this for you,” she claims during a meeting at a fashionable restaurant, only to be told, “Today I wanted to tell you about my liaison with Lady Chidester-Ames.”
Secondly, she is wrongly suspected by the French Resistance of collaborating with the German occupying forces to divert the Moulin des Sources streams that are being used to industrialize the Libreux. And thirdly, her motivations for purchasing Moulin des Sources with the assistance of Girardin are cruelly misinterpreted by the Count, who sees it has an act of betrayal:
The austere dignity of earlier times had been restored since Solange de Cleda’s purchase of the Moulin. Reputed to be the smartest woman of Paris, she had shut herself off from society and retired here on the unhappy morrow of the Count of Grandsailles’ ball, which she had not attended. Here she had been living in an almost monastic simplicity ever since. On this evening, towards six o’clock, Solange was sitting before the large round dining-room table covered with blackish chocolate colored cloth. She wore a garnet-red dress and was weeping, in her hand she held the Count of Grandsailles’ letter.
This is the first of a series of letters which bring Solange close to collapse, as she assumes an almost Madonna-like pose:
In the plain of Creux de Libreux the persistent November rains were followed, after the mists and snows and sunny days of winter, by the March downpours. Beneath the Germans’ yoke Europe was rediscovering the tradition of its ancient catholic unity through the community of suffering, and in Libreux the Middle Ages were being reborn with their springtime of superstitions. At the Moulin des Sources Madame Solange de Cleda had come down to the refectory for the first time in three months. It was still cool and she kept a foot warmer full of hot coals under her feet and a white wool shawl over her shoulders. Her head, resting on three fingers of her left hand, was bowed over the table with its dark chocolate cloth, while two fingers of her other hand lying on her right knee held the Count of Grandsailles’ letter, folded in two, which she had received that morning.
The final passage of the section titled “Chimera of Chimeras, All is Chimera” ends thus:
When Solange de Cleda reached the clearing of the Moulin she sat down on a rock and waited. About a hundred paces away she caught sight of a shepherd who was whittling a branch to make a stick with. The plain was illuminated and a broken rainbow remained suspended between Upper and Lower Libreux. The clearing was strewn with white stones lighted on one side and casting long black shadows. Each of the spaces that separated one stone from the others appeared to Solange to be infinite, and she felt surrounded by a limitless expanse, so true it is that when hope pacifies souls the things of the earth begin to resemble those of heaven. Everything was separate, clear, imbued with that melancholy serenity that the planets would possess if it were given to man to see them closer as solid bodies. Each one lighted on one side and projecting a long black shadow on the immense metaphysical mineral of the firmament.
The shepherd had just stood up and, cutting a low branch from the oak-tree tied it with a bundle of fiber in the form of a cross close to one end of his stick. Then he climbed a small hummock covered with wild mulberry and turning in Solange’s direction raised his rustic cross above his head. Solange had risen in turn, and the two figures could be seen crossing the clearing and going to meet each other.
Needless to say, the die is cast. Solange expresses the forlorn hope that “the peasants of the Libreux will not forget the help they have received from me during these winters,” and that “Catholic France will once more achieve the pacification of the blood,” while her servant Genie warns, “I am afraid not, Madame. Evil winds are already raising the dust of the plains, and as for hearts – the Germans have worn them thin! . . . Times have changed, Madame . . .”
And times were indeed changing, resulting in the suicide of talents like Pierre Drieu de La Rochelle, the kangaroo court that sentenced Robert Brasillach to death by firing squad, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline being pursued from Castle to Castle. Grandsailles, anticipating his return from exile, personifies the accommodation the “Old France” would make with the Left – the faux patriotism of de Gaulle and his Machiavellian mentality that betrayed the Pied Noirs at Evian – when he declares:
We don’t know what awaits us in France. We must know how to be both aggressive and compliant, our role is to dare and to calculate, not to shut ourselves up in a fixed plan but bend to circumstances, let ourselves be guided by them – to profit by small occasions as well as by great events: limit ourselves to the possible, but stretch the possible to the limit. We must be pitiless – suppress the loose-tongued and the corrupt who already threaten France with anarchy and complete ruin. Sacrifice all that may still remain of memories and past sentimentalities. I am building myself a soul of marble, a soul that is unassailable, a heart immune to common weaknesses.
And the book’s heroine, like her nation, having been worn down by the trials she has undergone, finally succumbs:
On the very evening when Solange answered the Count of Grandsailles with the laconic confession of her faults she had taken to her bed, prey to the same cerebral fever that had already once kept her ill for several months. But the doctor immediately noted that her condition was much more acute, for Solange was at the same time seized with convulsions which racked her body and only yielded after euphoric climaxes to states of utter supineness that for several hours she might be thought to be really dead . . . Thus she began to die. But death was difficult for a body prepared only for the consummation of a long-sought happiness. Her will did not command unquestioning obedience and her body at last revolted. The chaste, ethereal smile that had but recently mirrored the serenity of her soul now became the horrible frozen smile of her morbid ecstasies from which the tanner-shepherd alone had been able to deliver her. Now the Count’s vindictive violence had entered the most delicate parts of her flesh like an iron rod, constantly prodding her old wounds, giving no rest. Time after time, inexorably, she was forcibly subjected to pleasure in an interminable torture of mortal voluptuousness. “It is the Count of Grandsailles who has come to visit me again,” she would cry in her delirium. “Already I hear the hooves of his black horse beating upon my heart . . .”
Then, in her last moment:
At half-past five in the afternoon the tanner came to give Solange extreme unction. But it was a painful scene to witness, for the demons would not abandon her body, and Solange cursed the rustic cross that the tanner held with his trembling fist close to her face. “How many days have I been dead?” she asked. “Five – I know – five. They will have to bury me. I make the air bad, my flesh is spoiling . . . until today I could still be visited, but now everybody is beginning to be afraid of me. Why is my coffin all filled with bones, and whose bones are they? . . . Then she held out her hand that was as delicate as a fairy’s, “Let everyone leave here! I want to be alone! He is coming, he is going to come one last time to visit me in my coffin before they nail me down . . . Je suis la dame!”
And in the end, the consequences of his selfish, misguided actions bear down on the Count’s conscience. His love, who had, as per her wish, been laid to rest on the dining-room table between four wax candles prior to her internment haunted his tortured soul. The final scene, played out – as indeed were Dalí’s own last moments decades later – to the strains of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, symbolizing all that had been lost and could never be regained in this fictional vesion of Salvador himself:
He went up into his room and headed straight for the balcony door which he opened, stepped outside and sat down on a little stone bench adorned with chimeras. His heart contracted at the sight of the deep black forest of young cork-oaks that had grown during his absence, and he could not avert his eyes from the realization of this old dream.
In the center of the forest he could see the oak which the elder Martin brother had marked last Sunday. It was the living symbol of Solange, martyrized by the war, flayed alive by peace, dead and buried behind those trees. Solange de France, breasts of live rock, lips of jasmine! For how many years Grandsailles had lived in a state of hallucination, waiting for this moment when he would again see his beloved plain of Creux de Libreux, the illuminated plain! Already he could feel it, without seeing it – just a little higher, above the tree to which his gaze had remained obstinately riveted. Obscure sounds of carts, to the left, in the direction of the Moulin, attested the whole earthy and sacred reality of this soil . . . But instead of looking up, the Count of Grandsailles bowed his head and hid his face in his hands.