Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Part 10: Letters from Zedelghem (Chapters 1-8)

By David Mitchell

Part 10: Letters from Zedelghem (Chapters 1-8)

Chapter 1: ZEDELGHEM 10TH—X—1931

  • It's been twelve days since Frobisher's last letter, but it feels like centuries to us.
  • While Ayrs is sick in bed, Morty Dhondt takes Frobisher to the cemetery where Frobisher's brother, Adrian, is supposed to be buried.
  • Frobisher can't find Adrian's grave amidst the field of tombstones dedicated to those fallen during WWI, so he lays a bundle of white roses on another soldier's grave.
  • He spends some time throwing himself a pity party for never being loved by his parents as much as he believes his brother was.
  • On the way back to Zedelghem, Dhondt accidentally plows over a giant pheasant. The bird cries, and Frobisher puts it out of its misery.
  • They have to stop in a town to have the front axle looked at, so Frobisher and Dhondt have a seat in the town square, "in reality a pond of cobbly mud" (10.1.11).
  • As they sit, Dhondt tells Frobisher that he feels human greed will be the downfall of human civilization.
  • And on that happy note, Frobisher out!

Chapter 2: ZEDELGHEM 21ST—X—1931

  • Ayrs is still ill, so Frobisher has been working on his own composition, "a sextet for overlapping soloists" (10.2.4) that sounds a lot like this book, except in musical form.
  • The next day, Frobisher and Ayrs get in a huge fight because Frobisher is sick of Ayrs taking all the credit for their music.
  • Later, Jocasta visits Frobisher, pleading for him to stay.
  • Also, Eva says that Mme. Van de Velde has been begging for Frobisher to come introduce himself to her five daughters.
  • The van de Veldes greet Frobisher by lining up on the staircase Brady Bunch-style and singing "Greensleeves." They then grill Frobisher with a bunch of inane questions. The eldest daughter, Marie-Louise, even believes Sherlock Holmes is a real person.
  • Frobisher and company go for a walk, but only Frobisher and Eva are willing—and in shape enough—to scale the town's clock tower.
  • At the top, Frobisher and Eva get their flirt on. He says, "I was seized by an impulse to give the empress of Bruges a lingering kiss" (10.2.23).
  • Fate intervenes, however, and a gaggle of tourists interrupts the reverie.
  • Back at Zedelghem, Jocasta tells Frobisher she'll destroy him if she ever finds out he's touched her daughter.
  • Frobisher protests (too much?): "Why in hell do you think I'm attracted to your gangly unpleasant daughter anyway?" (10.2.29).

Chapter 3: ZEDELGHEM 24TH—X—1931

  • Frobisher is miffed that Sixsmith has yet to reply to his previous letter.
  • He's been thinking a lot about the end, about how to ruin Ayrs, and so on. He opines, "Anticipating the end of the world is humanity's oldest pastime" (10.3.2). Don't we know that's the truth.

Chapter 4: ZEDELGHEM 29TH—X—1931

  • This short letter is just a gushy tribute to Eva. The best line: "A man like me has no business with this substance 'beauty,' yet here she is in these soundproofed chambers of my heart" (10.4.2).

Chapter 5: LE ROYAL HOTEL, BRUGES 6TH—XI—1931

  • Say doe-doei (that's Dutch for "bye-bye") to Zedelghem. After a huge fight, Frobisher and Ayrs have called the whole thing off.
  • Frobisher tries to gloat to Ayrs that he's been sleeping with his wife the whole time, but Ayrs already knows. On top of that, he says it was his idea for Jocasta to seduce Frobisher, so that he'd stick around.
  • At night, Frobisher steals Ayrs's gun and contemplates shooting the old coot. However, "murdering Eva's father in cold blood might put the kibosh on her feelings for me" (10.5.14).
  • On the road to town, Mrs. Dhondt passes Frobisher in her car. He tells her there's been an accident with a friend and he has to get to Bruges.
  • She drives him there, and he crashes at the hotel.
  • P.S. Frobisher assures Sixsmith that he shouldn't be worried.
  • P.P.S. There's one other thing Frobisher stole from Zedelghem—the second half of "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing." He can't wait to read it.

Chapter 6: LE ROYAL HOTEL, BRUGES NEAR THE ENDTH—XI—1931

  • Frobisher has been composing Cloud Atlas Sextet almost non-stop.
  • When he isn't composing, he's wandering around Bruges like a crazy man and pining over Eva. She has yet to contact him or even notice him.

Chapter 7: LE ROYAL HOTEL 25TH—XI—1931

  • Without hearing from Eva, Frobisher crashes a soirée at the van de Veldes. He gets a rude awakening named Grigoire—Eva's fiancé.
  • Turns out it was all a misunderstanding. What Frobisher interpreted as flirting was just friendship. Yeah, we've all been there.
  • Frobisher gets into a physical fight with Grigoire and gets booted out of the party.
  • About a week later, the municipal policeman—the one Frobisher borrowed a bike from many letters, months, and chapters ago—pays Frobisher a visit. Turns out Mr. van de Velde is very influential and doesn't want Frobisher in town anymore after the scene he caused.
  • Frobisher vows to finish his sextet within a week and leave.

Chapter 8: HOTEL MEMLING, BRUGES QUARTER PAST FOUR IN THE MORNING, 12TH—XII—1931

  • Frobisher's final letter begins with a shock: "Shot myself through the roof of my mouth at five A.M. This morning with V.A.'s Luger" (10.8.2).
  • This letter might just be the most gut-wrenching passage in the whole book. We're still choked up about it.
  • There are three main ideas in the letter.
  • 1) Frobisher believes that suicide isn't selfish; "what's selfish is to demand another to endure an intolerable existence" (10.8.6).
  • 2) Cloud Atlas Sextet is finished. "I'm a spent firework; but at least I've been a firework" (10.8.8). And this is officially the worst time for a Katy Perry reference, so we're not going to make one.
  • 3) Frobisher restates his belief in eternal recurrence—Nietzsche's philosophy, not Ayrs's composition: "We do not stay dead long. […] I'll be back In this same room, holding this same gun, composing this same letter, my resolution as perfect as my many-headed sextet. Such elegant certainties comfort me at this quiet hour. Sunt lacrimae rerum. R.F" (10.8.11). Rough translation from the Latin: "These are the tears of things. And these are the tears of us."