Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

Excerpt

I was born at four o'clock in the morning on the ninth of January 1908, in a room fitted with white-enameled furniture and overlooking the Boulevard Raspail. In the family photographs taken the following summer there are ladies in long dresses and ostrich feather hats and gentlemen wearing boaters and panamas, all smiling at a baby: they are my parents, my grandfather, uncles, aunts; and the baby is me. My father was thirty, my mother twenty-one, and I was their first child. I turn the page: here is a photograph of Mama holding in her arms a baby who isn't me; I am wearing a pleated skirt and a tam-o'-shanter; I am two and a half, and my sister has just been born. I was, it appears, very jealous, but not for long. As far back as I can remember, I was always proud of being the elder: of being first. Disguised as Little Red Ridinghood and carrying a basketful of goodies, I felt myself to be much more interesting than an infant bundled up in a cradle. I had a little sister: that doll-like creature didn't have me.

I retain only one confused impression from my earliest years: it is all red, and black, and warm. Our apartment was red: the carpet was red, the Renaissance dining room was red, the figured silk hangings over the stained-glass doors were red, and the velvet curtains in Papa's study were red too. The furniture in this awesome sanctum was made of black pearwood; I used to creep into the kneehole under the desk and wrap myself in its dusty gloom; it was dark and warm there, and the red of the carpet pleased my eyes. That is how I passed the early days of infancy. Safely sheltered, I watched, I touched, I took stock of the world.

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