No Tomorrow by Vivant Denon—or really, shouldn’t it be “No Tomorrow,” as this is more a short story than anything else—is a small, fine thing, not unlike the figures that grace its cover in the new NYRB edition.* The 1777 erotic tale is clear and precise without being explicit or coarse. It is not even erotic so much as addressed at the idea of eroticism, the story of a libertine affair mature enough to examine the ethics of pleasure, but without removing the pleasure of the affair itself.
I have no complaints about Lydia Davis’s translation, but I think it’s especially wonderful that NYRB has made this a bilingual edition. The much-discussed opening is, I must say, most beautiful in the original, but I don’t think the rest loses much at all. But I’m very pleased to get both in this little volume, and would love to see more of that in future.
Denon has fabulous control: “The night was superb; it revealed things in glimpses, and seemed only to veil them so as to give free rein to the imagination.” The narrator, looking back on a night spent with Madame de T— when he was just twenty years old, perfectly foreshadows how both the evening and the story will unfold. He is whisked off by Mme de T— (though they both have other lovers) to her husband’s chateau, on the night when she reconciles with him after eight years apart. A strange situation to be sure, but Mme de T— is undisturbed and leads the narrator on a stroll, where she first acts coy, talking about his friend the Countess:
“Oh, what power an artful woman has over you! And how happy she is when, in this game, she feigns everything and invests nothing of her own!”
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