Les Demoiselles de Balbec


When Marcel first sees the band of girls on the Balbec beach they are a swirl of eyes and skin tones. These passages might well be describing a cubist painting, where parts stand in for the whole. 

Although each was of a type absolutely different from the others, they all had beauty; but to tell the truth I had seen them for so short a time, and without venturing to look hard at them, that I had not yet individualised any of them. Except for one, whose straight nose and dark complexion singled her out from the rest, like the Arabian king in a Renaissance picture of the Epiphany, they were known to me only by a pair of hard, obstinate and mocking eyes, for instance, or by cheeks whose pinkness had a coppery tint reminiscent of geraniums; and even these features I had not yet indissolubly attached to any one of these girls rather than to another; and when (according to the order in which the group met the eye, marvellous because the most different aspects were juxtaposed, because all the colour scales were combined in it, but confused as a piece of music in which I was unable to isolate and identity at the moment of their passage the successive phrases, no sooner distinguished than forgotten) I saw a pallid oval, black eyes, green eyes, emerge, I did not know if these were the same that had already charmed me a moment ago, I could not relate them to any one girl whom I had set apart from the rest and identified. 

  

 

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2 Responses to “Les Demoiselles de Balbec”

  1. marimann Says:

    I’m a first time visitor to your blog and have read several of your posts and have enjoyed them very much. This post, with its correlation between Proust’s descriptions of the young ladies at Balbec and Picasso’s Demoiselles is particularly striking to me, as I had not previously read that passage with that insight in mind. Thank you.

    • Jim Everett Says:

      Proust uses Cubism as a synonym for modernity in a couple of places but never uses modern painting as a metaphor, as he does extensively with the Impressionists and earlier schools. That strikes me as strange. He began writing the novel at the height of the Fauvists and then through the Cubist era. What I was trying to capture here was how the language of modernist painting might have seeped into his writing.

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