Marcel sees something on the roadside that triggers what for most of us would call déjà vu. But Marcel is not like the rest of us.
And for a neurotic nature such as mine–one, that is to say, in which the intermediaries, the nerves, perform their functions badly, fail to arrest on its way to the consciousness, allow indeed to reach it, distinct, exhausting, innumerable and distressing, the plaints of the most humble elements of the self which are about to disappear…(II,340)
He sees a simple, unremarkable pattern of trees.
We came down towards Hudimesnil; and suddenly I was overwhelmed with that profound happiness which I had not often felt since Combray, a happiness analogous to that which had been given me by–among other things–the steeples of Martinville. But this time it remained incomplete. I had just seen, standing a little way back from the hog’s-back road along which we were travelling, three trees which probably marked the entry to a covered driveway and formed a pattern which I was not seeing for the first time. I could not succeed in reconstructing the place from which they had been as it were detached, but I felt that it had been familiar to me once; so that, my mind having wavered between some distant year and the present moment, Balbec and its surroundings began to dissolve and I wondered whether the whole of the drive were not a make-believe, Balbec a place to which I had never gone except in imagination, Mme de Villeparisis a character in a story and the three old trees the reality which one recaptures on raising one’s eyes from the book which one has been reading and which describes an environment into which one has come to believe that one had been bodily transported. (II,404)
This unexplained feeling of happiness can come rushing back to him later when driving down new roadways.
For as soon as the carriage or the motor-car turned into one of these roads that seemed to be the continuation of the road along which I had driven with Mme de Villeparisis, what I found my present consciousness immediately dwelling upon, as upon the most recent event in my past, would be (all the intervening years being quietly obliterated) the impressions that I had had on those bright summer afternoons and evenings, driving in the neighborhood of Balbec, when the leaves smelt good, the mist was rising from the ground, and beyond the nearby village one could see through the trees the sun setting as though it had been some place further along the road, distant and forested, which we should not have time to reach that evening. (II,409)
Tags: unforced memories