It must be one of the most famous walls in literature, the little patch of yellow wall before which the novelist Bergotte dies in A la recherche du temps perdu:
Finally he stood in front of the Vermeer, which he remembered as having been more brilliant, more different from everything else he knew, but in which…he now noticed for the first time little figures in blue, the pinkness of the sand, and finally the precious substance of the tiny area of wall. His head spun faster; he fixed his gaze, as a child does on a yellow butterfly he want to catch, on the precious little patch of wall. ‘That is how I should have written,’ he said to himself. ‘My last books were too dry, I should have applied several layers of colour, made my sentences precious in themselves, like that little patch of wall.’ He knew how serious his dizziness was. In a heavenly scales he could see, weighing down one of the pans, his own life, while the other contained the little patch of wall so beautifully painted in yellow. He could feel that he had rashly given the first for the second….He was repeating to himself, ‘Little patch of yellow wall with a canopy, little patch of yellow wall.’ While saying this he collapsed onto a circular sofa….
The Prisoner (vol 5 of A la recherche du temps perdu) in Carol Clark’s translation (Allen Lane 2002) p. 169.
Musing on this wonderful riff on life-in-art, art-in-life, Gert was reminded of another patch of yellow seen by a dying man, this time in one of her favourite short stories, Tobias Wolff’s Bullet in the brain.
This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects, himself leaning against a tree as the boys of the neighborhood gather for a pickup game.
Wolff’s subject, too, is a bookish man more in love with literature than life, but how different the resonances of the two visions of yellow are. A subject for a PhD, perhaps….
Hop over to this site to read Tom Lubbock’s interesting piece on the painting Bergotte is looking at:
And you can read Bullet in the brain here:
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/3363250865