Intermittences of the Heart

Proust cast about for titles to the his novel and an early favorite was Intermittences of the Heart. This is a good term to describe the state Marcel is in after the intensity of his love for Gilberte has subsided but not disappeared. All it takes to again feel the pain of the lost love is an association that returns him to that former state of love. At Balbec Marcel overhears a name that Gilberte had mentioned.

At the time, however, of my departure for Balbec, and during the earlier apart of my stay there, my indifference was still only intermittent…. And as Habit weakens everything, what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because if was of no importance, and we therefore left it in full possession of its strength). That is why the better part of our memories exists outside us, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the crisp crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which , when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source, can make weep again. Outside us? Within us, rather, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the person that we were, place ourselves in relation to things as he was placed, suffer anew because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what now leaves us indifferent. (II,299-300)

But, removed from the settings where he had love her, this flare of love was only an intermittency.

The change of habit, that is to say the temporary cessation of Habit, completed habit’s work when I set out for Balbec. It weakens, but it stabilises; it leads to disintegration but it makes the scattered elements last indefinitely. Day after day, for year past, I had modelled my state of mind as best I could upon that of the day before. A Balbec a strange bed, to the side of which a tray was brought in the morning that differed from my Paris breakfast tray, could no longer sustain the thoughts upon which my love for Gilberte had fed: there are cases (fairly rare, it is true) where, one’s days being paralysed by a sedentary life, the best way to gain time is to change one’s place of residence. My journey to Balbec was like the first outing of a convalescent who needed only that to convince him that he was cured. (II,301)

Time and habit erode an overwhelming passion into fading glimpses of the former self who was so in love.



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