Small World: An Academic Romance

Lodge, David

Penguin, 1984

p. 265

“She came to the Sorbonne for a year, as an occasional postgraduate student. She used to sit in the front row at my lectures, gazing at me through thick-rimmed spectacles. She always had a notebook open and a pen in her hand, but I never saw her write anything. It piqued me, I must say. One day, as I was going out of the lecture theater, I stopped in front of her and made a little joke. ‘Excuse me, Mademoiselle,’ I said, ‘but this is the seventh lecture of mine that you have attended and your notebook remains blank. Have I not uttered a single word worth recording?’ Do you know what she said? ‘Professor Tardieu, it is not what you say that impresses me most, it is what you are silent about: ideas, morality, love, death, things … this notebook’—she fluttered its vacant pages—‘is the record of your profound silences. Vos silences profonds.’ She speaks excellent French. I went away glowing with pride. Later I wondered whether she was working me. What do you think?”