Marcel is seeing the way time has shaped the physiognomy of those he has known. Here are excerpts, in a style as fresh as they were composed a hundred years ago.
Having been assured that M. de Cambremer’s mother had not died, I asked him how she was. “She is wonderful still,” he said, using to describe her an adjective which in certain families–by contrast with those tribes where aged parents are treated without pity–is applied to old people in whom the continued exercise of the most rudimentary and unspiritual faculties, such as hearing, going to mass on foot, sustaining the demise of their relatives with insensibility, is endowed in the eyes of their children with an extraordinary moral beauty. (VI,358)
…the old valet of the Prince de Guermantes…appeared old. One felt merely that in the human race there exist species, like the mosses and the lichens and a great many others in the vegetable kingdom, which do not change at the approach of winter. (VI,359)
A few, of whom the Prince d’Agrigente was one, seemed actually to have been embellished by age. His tall, thin figure, with its lacklustre eye and hair that seemed destined to remain a carroty red for all eternity, had turned, through a metamorphosis more appropriate to an insect, into an entirely different old man, whose red hair, too long exposed to view, had been taken out of service like a table-cloth too long in use and replaced by white. (VI,359)
Their faces might be surrounded with a first circle of wrinkles and a sweep of white hair but they were still the same babyish faces, with the vain enthusiasm of an eighteen-year-old. They were not old men, they were very young men in an advanced stage of withering. (VI,361)
…I had the surprise of talking to men and women whom I remembered as unendurable and who had now, I found, lost almost every one of their defects, possibly because life, by disappointing or by gratifying their desire, had rid them of most of their conceit or their bitterness. (VI,363)
Some men walked with a limp, and one was aware that this was the result not of a motor accident but of a first stroke: they had already, as the saying is, one foot in the grave. (VI,363) So he’s not perfect.
Tags: Proust and Ageing