The Diary of a Maid

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The Diary of a Maid
The Diary of a Maid

Declared on its release as a " scandalous read", " The Diary of a Maid" still enjoys unabated readership to this day. The action takes us to Normandy, in a "secluded country corner". At three o'clock in the afternoon, on a mild rainy and gray September day, Celestine took his new place of work. The twelfth in two years. Through the audacious and self-exposing narrative of the seductive maid, the writer unmasks bourgeois decency in a merciless satire of provincial and Parisian mores, with anti-Semitism and nationalism rising after the Dreyfus affair.

After many years of oblivion, Octav Mirbaut has been rediscovered by the leading literary and artistic avant-garde of the 20th century. A famous French journalist, art critic, pamphleteer, novelist and dramatist, a contemporary of Zola, Maupassant and Daudet, he is the author of novels such as Abbe Jules, Calvary, The Garden of Torment and The Diary of a Maid. Originally belonging to the school of naturalists, Mirbeau is today hailed as a forerunner of modernism, breaking the novelistic codes of naturalism and assigning a key place to subjectivity in a first-person narrative that breaks with conventions such as truthfulness, decency and "realism".

Diary of a Maid has had a series of screen adaptations - from the first screen adaptation by Jean Renoir, through Luis Buñuel's magnificent film of the same name, with Jeanne Moreau and Michel Piccoli, to the latest screen version of Benoît Jacco, with Léa Seydoux and Vincent Landon, which is part of the program of "Cinelibre" 2017.



Today, September 14, at three o'clock in the afternoon, on a mild rainy and gray day, I took my new place. The twelfth in two years. Without counting, of course, the places where I served in the previous years. I couldn't list them. What homes I have seen, and what people, what filthy souls… And this goes on… I drifted here and there in an incredible daze, caressing myself between the homes where I served and the employment offices and thence back to other homes, from the Bois de Boulogne to the Place de la Bastille, from the Observatory to Montmartre, from Ternes to the Tapestry, everywhere and I still couldn't hold back, it's so hard to please the masters today… Don't just believe it.

We arranged the job through the ads in the "Figaro" newspaper, without seeing the lady. We settled for letters, an uncertain method that often brought surprises to both parties. The lady, it's true, writes her letters well, but they reveal a picky and petty character… Wow! She wants explanations, explanations, why this, why that… I don't know if the lady is tight, but as I can see, she hasn't untied her paper bag. She bought it quite cheaply. I am not rich, but I am more demanding. I write on perfumed pink or light blue paper that I got from my former mistresses. I even have sheets of coats of arms of countesses. That must have blown her away.

And here I am in Normandy, in Menil Roi. The estate of the lady, not far from the town, is called Priory. That's pretty much all I know about where I'll be living in the future…

Now I have some apprehensions, and somewhat regret that, on account of a thought, I buried myself in this secluded country corner. I've noticed things that scare me a bit, and I wonder what else is going to happen to me… Nothing good, no doubt, trouble as always. We only earn trouble… How many of us manage to settle our lives, i.e. marry a proper boy or touch a dork? Everyone else is wallowing in adversity, swept away by the raging whirlwind of poverty… But in the end, I had no choice: better this than nothing.

I am not hired for the first time in the province. Four years ago, I was stuck in one place. Oh, not for long, and under truly exceptional circumstances. I remember this ordeal like it was yesterday. Although the details are a little obscene, horrible even, I would like to tell it… Moreover, I kindly warn those who will read my diary that I am writing it with the firm intention of keeping nothing silent neither for myself nor for others. On the contrary, I intend to put into it all my sincerity and, if necessary, all the roughness of life. It's not my fault that souls, when you undress them and expose them, smell so strongly of rot.


In one of the employment offices I was stopped by a fat governess or perhaps a maid of a certain M. Rabur of Touraine. After clarifying the conditions, we agreed to take the train on a certain date at a certain time to a certain station. So I did.

I had just handed my ticket to the conductor and headed for the exit, and found myself in front of a red-faced and sullen coachman who called out to me:

– Are you Mr. Rabur's new maid?

– I am.

– Do you have a suitcase?

– I have.

– Give yourself the baggage ticket and wait for me here…

He got on the platform. The employees immediately ran. They called him, with friendly politeness, "Mr. Louie." Louie found my suitcase among the piled bundles and had it carried to a two-wheeler that had stopped at the barrier.

– Huh? Are you getting on?

I sat next to him on the goat and we drove off.

The coachman watched me askance. I studied it too. I knew at once that I was dealing with a peasant, a poor peasant, an ill-bred footman who had never seen a refined home in his life. It made me uncomfortable. I love the refined service. Nothing drives me crazy like light leather pants clinging to quivering thighs. And how careless that Louis was, without gloves, in his baggy suit of cheap gray-blue woolen cloth, and his flat patent cap, edged with a double shiny brim. But that's right! They're way behind that end! And above all sullen, rude, without actually being a bad person. I know them. At first they pretend to be interesting with the new ones, then everything goes away. Often it even goes better than you want it to.

We didn't say a word for a long time. He tightened the reins and deftly threw the whip… How can you not find it funny! I decently pretended to look at the surroundings, in fact nothing special: fields, trees, a house, like everywhere. He slowed the horse down to take an incline and suddenly asked me with a mocking smile:

– Do you at least wear enough shoes?

– Of course – I answered, surprised by this question in our leggings, in our sleeve and even more by the strange tone in which it was asked. - Why are you asking me? Isn't that a bit dumb of you to ask me, eh, uncle?

He nudged me slightly with his elbow, gave me a look in which a sharp sneer mixed inexplicably to me and, my God, obscene mirth, and said with a laugh:

– Come on!… Don’t be a fool… Prankster!… Big Prankster!

Then he clicked his tongue and the horse took up his fast pace.

I was puzzled. What did that mean? Maybe nothing… I decided that the guy is stupid, doesn't know how to talk to women, and that's all he thought of as the beginning of a conversation, which, however, I thought was appropriate to interrupt.

Mr Rabur's mansion was nice and spacious. A neat house painted green, surrounded by vast, flower-strewn meadows and a resinous pine grove. I love the village…but, strangely, it makes me sad and sleepy. I was quite giddy when I entered the vestibule and saw the governess, the same one who hired me in the bureau in Paris after a series of indiscreet questions about my habits and tastes: even then I should have guessed what awaited me. But it is so: whatever we do not see and do not endure in this life, we still do not learn a lesson. I didn't like the governess even in the office, and here she instantly disgusted me with her nasty old pimp look. She was a fat woman, fat and short, short and bloated with yellowish fat, with long, parting gray hair, with huge heaving breasts and moist, soft, transparent-firly hands. Her eyes radiated malice, a cold, deliberate and vicious malice. One blushed under her calm, cruel gaze that probed into flesh and soul.

She ushered me into a small salon and immediately left under the pretense of going to warn the gentleman because the gentleman wanted to see me before starting work.

– Because the gentleman has not seen you – she added. – I hired you, true, but you still have to please Mr.…

I looked around the room. Here they maintained exceptional order and cleanliness. Polished to the limit, oiled, polished, the copper vessels, the furniture, the parquet and the doors shone like a mirror. And without extravagance, without heavy fabrics and various embroideries, as in some Parisian dwellings - on the contrary, strict luxury, an environment of decent we alth, of a dignified, decent and peaceful provincial life. Boy, what boredom awaited me here!…

The gentleman entered. Hey, strange man, how you cheered me up! Picture a little old man, poised, freshly shaved and all pink, like a baby. Erect, alive, seductive, my God, it hopped like a grasshopper through the meadows. He greeted me and said with infinite politeness:

– What is your name my child?

– Celestine sir.

“Celestine…” he repeated. – Celestine? A nice name, I can't help it… but very long, my child, very long… I'll call you Marie, if you agree… And sweet and short… Also, I call all my maids Marie. It's a habit I don't want to give up… I'd rather give up the face itself…

They all have the strange obsession of never calling you by your first name… I wasn't particularly surprised by that, they've already called me by the names of almost all the saints on the calendar… He insisted:

– So you don't mind if I call you Marie?… Got it?

– But yes sir…

– Pretty girl… nice character… Good! OK!

He told me all this jokingly, with great respect, and without looking up at me, without digging with a revealing look at my blouse and skirts, as most men do. He didn't seem to notice me. From the moment he entered the salon, he was staring intently and persistently at my shoes.

– Do you have any others? – he asked me after a short silence, during which I thought his eyes shone strangely.

– Any other names sir?

– No my child, other shoes…

And he licks his lips like a cat with his sharp tongue.

I didn't answer right away. The word "shoes," which brought to mind the coachman's cheekily mocking expression, made me wince. So that made some sense after all?…

After an even more insistent inquiry, I forced myself to answer, but my voice was hoarse and embarrassed, as if I were confessing a love sin:

– Yes sir, I have others…

– And lacquered?

– Yes sir.

– Very… very shiny?

– Yes sir. – Nice… Nice… How about yellow leather?

– I have not, sir.

– You must have… I will give you.

– Thank you sir!

– Nice, nice…shut up!

I was overcome with fear - blurred flames shone in his eyes, a scarlet veil covered them, as in a love spasm… Drops of sweat ran down his forehead… I expected him to faint and for a while I didn't even call for help, but the crisis subsided and after a moment or two, though foam still dripped from the corner of his lips, he said in a calm voice:

– It’s nothing… it’s over… Understand me, my child… I’m a bit of a freak… At my age it’s allowed, isn’t it?… For example, I don’t think it’s proper for a woman to shine her own shoes, let alone mine… I respect women very much, Marie, and I can't stand such a thing… So I will shine your shoes, your slippers, your dear slippers… I will keep them… Listen to me carefully… Every night before you go to bed, you will bring your shoes into my bedroom, put them on the little bedside table, and every morning when you come to open the windows, you will take them back.

And noticing my great astonishment, he added:

– Come on… I don’t want you to do anything, after all, it’s something quite natural… And if you behave nicely… He nimbly pulled out two napoleons from his pocket and handed them to me. - If you are kind and obedient, I will often give you small gifts. The governess will pay you her salary separately every month. And I, Marie, will give you small gifts, but let's keep it between us. And what do I want from you in return?… Come on, it's not that unusual. Is it that unusual, oh my god?

The gentleman was brushing himself again. He talked and talked, his eyelids flapping like petals in a storm.

– Why don't you say anything, Marie?… Say something… Why don't you walk?… Walk a little, to see how they move, how they live… your shoes…

He knelt down, kissed my shoes, felt them with his feverishly flattering fingers, untied them. And while he kissed them, squeezed them, caressed them, spoke in a pleading voice like a crying child:

– Oh, Marie… Marie… your shoes… give them to me, now… now… now… I want them now… give them to me…

I was running out of steam… I was numb with amazement. I didn't know if all this was happening in a dream or in reality… From the eyes of the gentleman, only the white, sprinkled with red veins, could be seen. And his whole mouth was swimming in some frothy drool…

Finally he took my shoes to his bedroom and shut himself up with them for two hours.

– The gentleman liked you very much – the governess told me as she showed me around the house. – Try to keep it up… The place is good…

After four days, when at the usual morning hour I went to open the windows in the bedroom, I almost fainted from terror… The gentleman was dead… From his half-naked body sprawled in the middle of the bed, a deathly numbness emanated. He hadn't struggled at all. There was no disorder in his sheets, not the slightest trace of struggle, of convulsion and agony, of arms stretched out to strangle Death…. I would have thought he was asleep, if his face had not been purple, a terrible purple, an eerie lawn like an eggplant. And I saw something frightful, which shocked me more than this face… The gentleman was clutching one of my shoes in his teeth, so firmly was he clutching it in his teeth that after a nightmarish and fruitless effort I was forced to cut the skin with a razor to get it out of them.

I am not a saint, I have had many men and I know from experience what madness and filth they are capable of… But this of the gentleman?… Ah, no! How can such types exist anyway? Where do they dig up all these naysayers, since it's so simple, so nice to love each other normally, like people…

I hope that nothing like that will happen to me here… Here, of course, it is completely different… But whether for good… or for bad… I know…

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