Of colour and literature
Robert Lévesque is a drama critic and literary columnist. He was awarded the Prix Jules-Fournier by the Conseil supérieur de la langue française in 2002. Vies livresques is his 7th publication to appear in the Papiers collés collection. Some of the preceding works are La liberté de blâmer (1997), Récits bariolés (2006), and Déraillements (2011).
In The Drunken Boat, Rimbaud pairs an unusual colour with the word azure: “Now I drift through the poem of the sea; / This gruel of stars mirrors the milky sky,/ Devours [… ] azures…” Which colour does Rimbaud pick?
A – pink azures
B – black azures
C – green azures
In the Refus global manifesto, Paul-Émile Borduas listed 20 fears whose reign had to be abolished. Three of the fears are represented by a colour. What was the chromatic trio of fears that had to be expelled?
A – purple fear, grey fear, black fear
B – blue fear, red fear, white fear
C – green fear, violet fear, black fear
In his play The Misanthrope, Molière played Alceste, who hates mankind but loves a much-courted young widow, Célimène. In the final act, a diminutive marquis reads a love note from Célimène where she lists her suitor’s failings. Describing Alceste, she writes: he’s amusing enough with his “surly humours, but hundreds of times I find him the most bothersome bore in the world.” She speaks of him as “the man with the ribbons.” What colour are Alceste’s ribbons (a colour which, incidentally, will be banned from the stage for years to come out of superstition).
A – yellow
B – green
C – greenish-yellow
In Book I of his Essays, Montaigne ponders “the Custom of Wearing Clothes,” and notes that while Frenchmen wear a variety of colours, he seldom wears anything other than […] and […], like his father before him. What are the two colours that the Montaignes, father and son, limit themselves to?
A – only black and white
B – only grey and black
C – only brown and beige
In A Man Asleep, George Perec describes (using the second person singular) a student who decides to do nothing other than read, daydream, eat, wander through Paris and sleep in his garret on Saint-Honoré street. Every morning, he washes up at a corner sink beside a plastic bowl where three pairs of socks are soaking. Thirteen times, almost obsessively, the narrator will return to the colour of this plastic bowl… So, what is it?
A – turquoise
B – bright red
C – pink
In Dostoevsky’s Demons (sometimes called The Possessed) there’s a chapter called Stavrogin’s Confession (censored in 1870, then reinserted in 1923.) At the end of the chapter, the main character describes the colour of the house in which he raped a young St-Petersburg girl, who then hanged herself while he did nothing to dissuade her. The house was painted […]
A – sky blue
B – dark blue
C – pale grey
In 1927, Valery Larbaud published a book called Yellow, Blue, White. What did these three colours mean to him?
A – They were his favourite colours.
B – They were the colours of the Netherlands’ first flag, the prinsenvlag.
C – They were the colour of the ribbons he used to bind his manuscripts.
In Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, an American family, the Otises, moves into an English country house that, for three centuries, belonged to the aristocratic Canterville line. Even before meeting the resident ghost, the Otises discover a bloodstain on the library floor. It appears the blood is that of Lady Eleonore de Canterville, murdered by her husband in 1575. The Otises’s eldest son removes the stain with Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover, but it reappears within a few days. Wilde minutely describes the successive hues Lady Eleonore’s centuries-old blood takes on. What is the progression of colours?
A – From reddish brown to jet black
B – dull red to emerald green
C – burgundy to maroon
In Peter Handke’s The Left-Handed Woman, the woman’s eight-year-old son writes a composition on how to make life more beautiful. Among other suggestions, he argues that all houses should be painted the same colour. Which one?
A – white
B – orangey
C – red
“My father tried to kill my mother one Sunday in June, in the early afternoon.” Thus begins Shame, a story by Annie Ernaux where she dispassionately recalls a shocking event from her childhood. She was twelve years old and had just returned from Mass. “I took off my Sunday clothes and put on an easy-to-wash dress.” The crisis unfolds at lunch when, in a fit of rage, the father grabs his wife and drags her screaming into the basement. Panic-stricken, the little girl runs to her room. When she finally goes down to the basement, she sees her father holding a scythe to her mother’s face. Later in the story, she’ll say: “I know it was that dress, because for the two summers that I wore it, whenever I put it on, I would think: this is the dress from that day.” How does she describe the dress?
A – my blue and white polka-dot dress
B – my red and green plaid dress
C – my beige jersey dress
In his famous poem, The Prose of the Trans-Siberian, 1913, Swiss-born author Blaise Cendrars rather unexpectedly attributes a colour to French novels sold abroad. The verse reads: “[…] the proud colour of the novels of France.” What is this proud, arrogant colour?
A – White, the proud colour of the novels of France abroad
B – Yellow, the proud colour of the novels of France abroad
C – Old rose, the proud colour of the novels of France abroad
In Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, a copy clerk in a Wall Street law office works behind a screen, lives on ginger cookies and answers all of his employer’s requests for work with the words: “I would prefer not to.” What is the colour of the screen?
A – green
B – black
C – mouse grey
In Against the Grain (À Rebours), we meet the sensual and neurasthenic Jean des Esseintes, an extraordinary character brought to life by novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans in 1884. Des Esseintes meticulously reviews the colours, tints, and hues that will grace his newly-acquired house in Fontenay-aux-Roses. After eliminating a raft of colours, he’ll settle on his favorite that he describes this way: “that irritating and morbid colour with its fictitious splendors, its acid fevers: […]” That shocking, splendid, feverish colour is…
A – salmon
B – orange
C – empire green
In Chapter III of Froth on the Daydream (L’Écume des jours) Colin is going to meet his best friend Chick. They’re supposed to meet at the Molitor swimming pool, which turns into a skating rink in winter. As he exits the subway, wanting to get his bearings, he checks which way the wind is blowing by holding aloft a silk handkerchief , the colour of which, snapped up by the wind, is transferred to “a large irregularly-shaped building,” which then takes the appearance of the Molitor Skating Rink. What is this flying colour that Boris Vian gives to Colin’s handkerchief?
A – yellow
B – fuchsia
C – orange
When he was 19, Marcel Proust answered a questionnaire that would later be known as the Proust Questionnaire – that is, after the publication of In Search of Lost Time. What was his answer to the question: “What is your favorite colour?”
A – The whitish pink of hawthorn blossoms in Aunt Léonie’s garden in Illiers.
B – A patch of yellow wall in Vermeer’s View of Delft.
C – Beauty is not in the colours, but in their harmony.
C: “Devours green azures”
B: blue fear, red fear, white fear
B: “the man with the green ribbons”
A: “only black and white”
C: “a pink plastic bowl”
A: “it was painted sky blue”
C: The colour of the ribbons he used to bind his manuscripts
B: dull red to emerald green
A: my blue and white polka-dot dress
B: “Yellow the proud colour of the novels of France abroad.”
A: yellow. When the Molitor swimming pool opened in 1929, Parisians dubbed its colour tango yellow.
C: “Beauty is not in the colours, but in their harmony.”