FANNI DIES IN RUSSIA

2014-01-03 18.42.16…young and touching Fanni. Pretty, sweet, amiable, witty, speaking several languages—in a word, possessing all qualities seductive to the most insensitive man—she was reduced to begging for the slightest service, and usually the bit of bread she obtained obliged her to requite it in the most servile way. She implored our help and we abused her. Each night she belonged to anyone who undertook to nourish her.

Halfway between Moscow and the Berezina River, after the weather turns bitter, a French officer in Napoleon’s army by the name of Labaume laments the torment of an innocent young girl. He pities all the Frenchwomen, in fact,

who’d come with us from Moscow, mostly on foot in cloth slippers, dressed in wretched silk or cotton cambric dresses and who’d covered themselves in furs or soldiers’ greatcoats taken from corpses.

Even in the blizzard, Labaume is rendered so heartsick by the cruelties he witnesses he takes the time to describe them in his diary. He mentions one of Napoleon’s generals who beds a French girl in Moscow with promises of marriage. Now she is pregnant, following her man, utterly devoted to him, until he tells her to

go back to Moscow, because he’s married already anyway, and there perhaps find the husband her parents had destined for her. The girl fainted, and the general marched off into the night toward Smolensk.

And just as he too comes into Smolensk, Labaume sees Fanni one last time

no longer, alas, able to walk. The unfortunate girl was having herself dragged along behind a vehicle, and when her strength gave out she fell down into the snow, which no doubt became her winding sheet, without her having aroused anyone’s compassion nor anyone throwing her so much as a pitying glance, so brutalized were our souls and so extinct our sensibility. Misery no longer had any witnesses. We were all its victims.

That, my friends, is game.        

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