Saturday, 6 November 2010

Sergent-Major Nibs

The past is invoked in the presence of a slow and harrowing death. I shun it; it lays claim on me, nevertheless. The dying person insists in telling me stories - it records them for me to hear, it narrates them embellished, it mumbles them in states of delirium. Is it in search of lost time that this narration takes place? Is there enough time to tell the stories and make our peace? Is there peace?

 As I am unable to contemplate the search for the lost time, I remain content with the possession of Sergent-Major nibs - the nibs that Proust used to retrace his. They are made by Gilbert and Blanzy-Poure and come in a small box colourfully illustrated with the Battle of the Wattignies which was fought 1793 during the French Revolutionary Wars. They are very fine and make delicate lines. Sometimes there’s too much ink in the nib and so dipping it in the ink bottle needs some skill. The paper can take it. It is a French exercise book I’m using -  it’s called simply “Cahier Grands Carreaux”.

With these fine Sergent-Major nibs I copy extracts from Swann's Way. “For a long time I would go to bed early.” Or: “Our social personality is a creation of other people.” It is soothing, there is no intellectual strain involved - only the numbing pleasure of watching the nib gliding onto paper with other people's words. Death is the end. Searches are irrelevant today. Only the small pleasures in objects - in the small sound of nib marking the paper - remain. What is lost, is lost. 

Sergent-Major nibs by Gilbert & Blanzy-Poure; 
purchased from Vintage Fountain Pens


  1. You got hold of a very nice box, in a very good state. I envy you! Treasure it.

    It's a real pleasure writing with these nibs. They write really well, whether for spending time, holding it, wasting it, losing it, making money with it(time is money, as some say), whatever... even for copying a few lines from Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu.

    I never could get beyond the first twenty pages of Proust's famous novel... much preferred Malraux or Saint-Exupéry! Guess I was lucky to get through all my French Literature exams without stumbling on a question concerning some aspect of Proust's writing. Whew!

  2. It is a very nice box. I do treasure it. And Proust.

  3. Very nice. (And welcome back.)

  4. Thank you, Steven. Good to be back...

  5. You need to write the lower case letters so they only fill one line high in the "grand carreaux" and uppercase letters (majuscules) can be a whole 4 lignes high.

    4 lines for uppercase, 1 for lowercase.

  6. I admit I'm not versed in calligraphy. Good to know.

  7. Lovely post. Few things are as illuminating than using a dip-pen. One realises the totally different exigencies, methods and pace of using one, act upon oneself and the creative process, and how spoiled we are by having word-processors. Perhaps too spoiled, and creation is too easy.

    From a fellow Proust-lover.

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