Tintin in the New World, a long out of print underground classic, will soon be reissued with an introduction by the novelist Paul La Farge.


[Tintin and Clavdia are seated beside each other on a veranda facing the mountains and the darkening jungle. Clavdia clears her throat and begins to speak to the young man, whose flushed face is averted from her.]

“Well, Monsieur Tintin, from all that I have read, you are among the most active of well, men, yet here you lounge about and seem of no apparent purpose.”

“Yes, I do see your point,” Tintin said laughingly. “But I’ve more than made up for my lack of motion with the terrible activity of my newly acquired mental life. I can scarcely sleep at night for all the ideas spinning in my weak head. How do you manage, Madame Clavdia?”

“To keep my head from spinning or how to keep an entire idea in my head? I’m not sure which you mean, but neither question is quite flattering. No, no, don’t protest. I do fathom what you are saying. I was merely hunting for compliments — small game, to be sure — but yes, I have found a way, when the channel is too rough, as your companion the captain might say, to add some ballast to myself and make the passage smoother. Your face, Monsieur Tintin, has such a pretty glow, radiant of health, I assume.

“What were we saying?” Madame Chauchat asked. “Who cares! Radiance, youth, the robust form! How wonderful. How unlike the ideal of another time, when character and charm and the quality of mind counted for nearly all. Personality, that was the thing! personality is so wonderful. When I was a child, no more than the age you have now, my mother, her whole circle, in fact, spoke vividly of personality as we do today of celebrity. My mother would note of someone that he or she had personality or that some other one lacked personality, and that would be all there was to say. My father did not have personality, my mother declared, and search as she might, she found that I did not have it either. I tried to develop some, for it mortified me to think I would go through life without it and to realize that whatever exceptional thing I might do my mother would not value it much or love me more than the halfway love she gave me because, you see, I lacked personality, and lacking it, I lacked the cause for love in others, for real love, I mean. Affection, respect, tenderness, concern, none of these did my mother deny me, and even until she grew old and her eyes almost too feeble to cross a stitch, she continued to knit sweaters for me and send them, in brown-paper parcels tied with leftover old string, to wherever I happened to be, even, as was once the case, in the tropics — well, Belem is tropics enough for me, unless you consider the sun steaming the river by seven in the morning not tropics enough. It’s uncanny how you devour words, Monsieur Tintin; you seem famished for them. Is there nothing I have said you find dull? Oh, please don’t do that with your eyes; you make them so round I think they shall pop out and roll away. Yes, that is better, thank you. I like normal things and disdain oddities especially of the physical sort.”

“You must find me very queer then, Madame Clavdia. I’m sorry if I disconcert you,” Tintin said, his voice low, his eyes downcast.

“You must find me very queer then, Madame Clavdia. I’m sorry if I disconcert you,” Tintin said, his voice low, his eyes downcast.

“Somehow,” Clavdia responded after a long pause, “I feel that I remember having answered you once before, long ago, in the same way I shall answer you now: forgive me, dear, sweet, young man for my thoughtless words. But I exclude you from my idea of the odd and have never considered you in such a category from the moment my eyes contracted yours.”

“Compacted mine? When was that?”

“That time, ‘long ago and far away—’”

“When dreams were dreams of yesterday?”

“Yes, exactly. For today persons will believe anything, but rarely will they concede that love begins, is waiting for the love object long before the object is metif it ever is to be met. That may or may not be the present case here, yet I do know that you do not depress me. For when I find myself in the company of ordinary, honest, good folk, I am not simply, as would be expected, bored. You must understand, Monsieur Tintin, as you will should our acquaintance ever ripen, that the company of ordinary people frightens and depresses me, the abyss, in short. To be with any less than the exceptional is a form of extinction. I feel plains in my chest, I grow dizzy with anxiety, with the thought that perhaps I will be condemned to the company of such as these for the rest of my life ‘these,’ meaning, as you may gather, these human failures. Failure is worse than death, for death is final, but even in death there are traces that you have once lived. Failure, however, is extinction in the present, the never having lived, never having existed.”

“I’m astounded, Madame Clavdia, and sad at the thought that anything can move you to unhappiness, you who require, indeed deserve, the buoyant and the famous!”

Let us once and for all admit than fame has its immense attractions. Only the superficial or those fearful of being thought snobs would deny that.

“How famous of you to notice exactly that! Yes. Let us once and for all admit than fame has its immense attractions. Only the superficial or those fearful of being thought snobs would deny that. The advantage of being famous is that you need not introduce or explain yourself to each stranger at a dinner party, for instance. When you are renowned, your mere presence is sufficient enough explanation for who and where you are if you understand what I mean. But these are not thoughts that should, or indeed are intended to, occupy your mind, you being too young to be concerned with the foibles and insecurities of adults — especially of women past their magnetic moment — and famous enough never to feel the pains of anonymity. Ah!” Madame Chauchat continued, in a tone that signaled some profound disquiet, “there are rooms in one’s life where one has spent stretches of misery so profound as to alter forever what pleasures daily life affords even the most fortunate, such as myself.”

“It’s strange, Madame Clavdia, how I have had no idea of what you mean or what you are saying, yet I also know very well what you are saying, know it from some distant and forgotten time in my life, but where could I have been and what was I doing then to give me so sharply this feeling of misery that you describe? Being small, holding the hand of some great grown-up while ambling along in their train on a Sunday afternoon when young and old strolled along in their Sunday clothes, then stopping off at some crowded café to take an ice or a pastry, and the waiting and waiting for the grown-up to decide to leave and take you home once again, where you are alone, stiffly dressed for Sunday and sitting or standing in some grownup’s way—how they dislike you when they love you.”

“I think you’ve got it. It was the boredom that I hated most.”

“Yes, there is also that, but I’m speaking of the injustice of being a small one, of being tied to their dull lives — the lives of big ones, I mean. How many Sunday afternoons, with my Sunday clothes buttoned to my chin, did I long to be an Indian on the plains, to ride about on my great spotted pony and smoke a pipe at the campfire and stick my tomahawk into the head of some enemy brave?”

“Had I known you then, Tintin, I would have run off with you to the Americas or to the moon. Ah, if children only had the means, what different histories they would form of themselves!”

“Did you wear a long coat and shiny leather shoes?”

“A long blue coat and black shiny shoes. And since I always had a sore throat, I was made to wear a long red scarf, the scarlet color of my throat, Mother would say.”

“Had I known you then, Tintin, I would have run off with you to the Americas or to the moon. Ah, if children only had the means, what different histories they would form of themselves!”

“How I would have protected you, Madame Clavdia, from wild animals and wild persons, in our skin-carpeted cave high in the mountain clouds, our nest hung with bear furs and antelope skins and illumined by a secret light of the sky. Yes, had we known each other then, we would have destroyed the vacancy of Sundays and the misery of being small.”

“And what of the miseries of the present? Are there no aids for them?” Clavdia asked, her voice dropping. “Cannot grown-ups help their own kind to suffer less the dull shadow of the day?”

“Every person who knows you, madame, would help you to throw pails of brilliant light on this and every other mean shadow.”

“Many have offered me the same, and yet when the moment of required aid arrives, the self-proclaimed assister rehearses other roles on other stages.”

“I’ve been in the wings and sometimes in the orchestra and sometimes in a cozy box, and from these watches I have noted much villainy, but I have witnessed much kindness, too,” Tintin said.

“Of course, all through this world are kind and bright persons, or there must be — so we all say. Yet when we are starting out anew in search for some intelligence and love, where are those sparkling, helpful persons? Men circle me when I’m least in need of them. But this subject grows gloomy! Let me blame this thin mountain air for lapsing into gloominess.”

“Gloomy you shall not be. As long as there is life in me,” Tintin exclaimed, his emphasis nearly tumbling him out of his chair.

“Well, my cavalier, you must remain on your mount should you wish to serve me,” Clavdia chided mockingly. “Will you come, then, this evening, after dinner, to my room, where we may further pursue the service you volunteer?”

Frederic Tuten is the author of five novels: The Adventures of Mao on the Long March; Tallien: A Brief Romance; Tintin in the New World; Van Gogh’s Bad Café; and most recently, The Green Hour. Tuten has written on art, film and literature for such publications as Art Forum, Art in America, The New York Times, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. His short fiction has appeared in Tri-Quarterly, Fiction, The New Review of Literature, Conjunctions, and Granta.

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