Oh come on. I can assure you Steve won't think I'm slighting his
intelligence. In fact, I was counting on it.
But if you want reasons:
The connections are arbitrary. There are woods all over 2 millennia of
Western poetry. Pity is not bitterness. The old waiter is not granted any
dignity by the narrator. The narrator is not, like Dante, on a quest. Neither
is the waiter. The waiter is not afraid of the woods; he is afraid of the dog.
The "mid-way" of life is not like the "mid-way" of some child's sexual
fantasy interrupted by a big dog. None of it is LIKE Dante. These parallel
words could be found in almost anyplace one wanted to look, if one forced
None of it works in the poem as a whole; it is a separate bit picked out of
the whole. The poem is about childhood sexual experience and the
narrator's horror at it and his own memories. It is not about a journey to
Hell or anywhere else. The narrator is disgusted and tells the old waiter to
take a bath. He gives him a small coin to do so. He treats him in
humiliating ways. The waiter is not going anywhere and is old and futile.
The poem ends in the Phlebas episode, which does not fit into any of this
unless you want to claim it is a kind of Dantesque punishment or you want
to stick on a divine salvation of purification by water. There is no reason to
do either, and if you do, it does not parallel the opening of the Inferno
The figure of the disgusting old man and/or the moment of sensual failure in
a garden or field or woods appears throughout early Eliot, and not in ways
like the opening of the Commedia. It is paralleled in the Hyacinth girl
episode, in "The Death of St. Narcissus," in a weird possible way in
"Hysteria." It is pretty clearly about something else because it keeps
focusing on something else.
In other words, there is simply no reason to make this connection, and not
everything is about Dante. It is strained, arbitrary, and dependent on
disconnecting one section of the poem from the rest, and it explains
Date sent: Sun, 18 Mar 2001 19:03:07 +0100
Send reply to: [log in to unmask]
From: "Arwin van Arum" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: RE: Dans le Restaurant and the Commedia
Ok Nancy, way to go - that's a real contribution to Steve's comments.
Let's not use any arguments and just vote yes or no, and if the majority
of votes is no, then Steve will drop the idea and get on with his life, if
yes then he will spend another week on sorting things out.
Enough kidding about, you don't really expect to get away with just a
"No.", do you? Isn't that a slight bit of an affront to Steve's
intelligence? It's not quite the same as asking whether or not something
is spelled correctly, but even there you wouldn't get away with answering
a question like "is s-p-e-l the correct spelling for spell?" with a brutal
Have some heart and share your insights with us, will you? ;-)
> -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
> Van: [log in to unmask]
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]]Namens Nancy Gish
> Verzonden: zondag 18 maart 2001 18:08
> Aan: [log in to unmask]
> Onderwerp: Re: Dans le Restaurant and the Commedia
> Dear Steve,
> Date sent: Sun, 18 Mar 2001 03:12:26 EST
> Send reply to: [log in to unmask]
> From: [log in to unmask]
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Dans le Restaurant and the Commedia
> I'm reading an interesting article on "Dans le Restaurant" that
> contains a
> passage in French and Italian that I hope the list can help me evaluate.
> The passage in the article that I'm referring to is concerned with
> lines in Dans after the waiter has told the diner about his sexual
> experience with a little girl when the waiter was also a child. The
> diner responds with (translation) "But then, old lecher, at that age..."
> to which the waiter says,
> 'Monsieur, le fait est dur.
> Il est venu nous peloter, un gros chien;
> Moi j'avais peur, je l'ai quittee a mi-chemin.
> C'est dommage.'
> 'Sir, it's a hard truth.
> He came and petted us, a big dog;
> I was afraid, I left her half-way there.
> It's a pity.'
> [Translation by Raphael J. Ingelbien to the TSE list in a post from May
> 1997. In the post, Raphael added the comment, " 'le fait est dur' sounds
> artificial in French. Literally, it means 'it's a hard fact'. "]
> The article claims that the waiters' speech is an allusion to the
> lines of the Commedia. Since I don't know French or Italian, I'm having
> trouble determining if the language nuances support this claim, which is
> where I'm hoping the list will come in.
> The opening seven lines of the Commedia are:
> Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,
> mi ritrovia per una selva oscura,
> che la diritta via era smarrita.
> Ahi, quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura
> esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
> che nel pensier rinova la paura!
> Tant' e amara che poco e piu morte;
> which Singleton translates as:
> "Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for
> the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell what that wood
> was, wild, rugged, harsh; the very thought of it renews the fear! It is
> so bitter that death is hardly more so."
> In the article, the evidence of the allusion is given as this:
> Dans: Monsieur, le fait est dur.
> [it's a hard fact]
> Commedia: Ahi, quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura
> [Ah, how hard it is to tell what that wood was]
> Dans: Moi j'avais peur
> [I was afraid]
> Commedia: rinova la paura!
> [the very thought of it renews the fear!]
> Dans: je l'ai quittee a mi-chemin.
> [I left her half-way there.]
> Commedia: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,
> [Midway in the journey of our life,]
> Dans: C'est dommage.
> [It's a pity]
> Commedia: Tant' e amara
> [It is so bitter]
> The article continues, "Eliot intends no travesty of Dante here. Dante's
> words don't mock this poor Sweeneyesque waiter, but tell us who he is --
> one of the damned and dead -- with the dignity, if not the eloquence, of
> real damnation, however unconscious. Seedy, shabby, tiresome, but his
> pain is real."
> OK, List -- Is this a credible thesis?
> -- Steve --