Work in Process

Proust’s copy editors had a difficult setting the type for ISOLT. He composed and then edited each page numerous times. What he handed over to the printer was a patchwork of sheets with crossouts and amendments and additions tacked to the original sheet. Some of this compositional style, in my opinion, can be seen in the text. Presented here are a few excerpts that have that feel, snippets that serve to introduce characters and themes.

Marquise de Villeparisis will play an important role in introducing Marcel to the Guermantes set. She has a reportedly racy past and so has strained relations with her family. We get here a clue to her past without her being identified. Bergotte corrects Marcel on the character of de Norpois.

“When he was Counsellor in Rome,” he went on, after making sure that Gilberte could not hear him, “he had a mistress here in Paris with whom he was madly in love, and he found time to make the double journey twice a week to see her for a couple of hours. She was, as it happens, a most intelligent woman and remarkably beautiful then; she a dowager now. And he has had any number of others since. I’m sure I should have gone stark mad if the woman I was in love with lived in Paris and I had to be in Rome. Highly stung people ought always to love, as the lower orders say, ‘beneath’ them, so that their women have a material inducement to be at their disposal.” (II,187)

On the very next page, Swann talks about jealousy and love. There is a short preface by the narrator meant to prepare us for the Albertine sage, a story not yet conceived when this passage was originally written, so it must be one of those tacked on edits.

But since a theory requires to be stated as a whole, Swann, after this momentary irritation, and after wiping his eyeglass, completed his thought in these words, words which were to assume later on in my memory the importance of a prophetic warning which I had not had the sense to heed: “The danger of that kind of love, however, is that the woman’s subjection calms the man’s jealousy for a time but also makes it more exacting. After a while he will force mistress to live like one of those prisoners whose cells are kept lighted day and night to prevent their escaping. And that generally ends in trouble.” (II,188)

And finally there is the repetition of a theme that Proust wants to be kept in sight. This example is that of separating the work from the author, an idea that he comes back to often.

Perhaps it is only in really vicious lives that the problem of morality can arise in all its disquieting strength. And to this problem the artist offers a solution in the terms not of his own personal life but what is for him his true life, a general, a literary solution. As the great Doctors of the Church began often, while remaining good, by experiencing the sins of all mankind, out of which they drew their own personal sanctity, so great artists often, while being wicked, make use of their vices in order to arrive at a conception of the moral law that is binding upon us all. (II,180)





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