Life Lessons

Marcel leaves Elstir’s studio, dejected because he did not meet the band of girls when the opportunity seemed so close. But he did return with two lessons that would form the foundation of his art.  First, he guesses correctly that Odette is the model in a painting so sexually charged that Elstir keeps it hidden from his wife. He also guesses that Elstir is the M. Biche of the Verdurin clan. Elstir is not apologetic.

“There is no man,” he began, “however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is unpleasant to him that he would gladly expunge it. And yet he ought not entirely regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man–so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise–unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded….We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness wich no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. ((,605)

This lesson, when he pays attention to it, will ease Marcel’s guilt at preferring to follow his momentary passions at the expense of writing. The other lesson is about the emotional life. The richest emotions must be recalled and enjoyed in solitude, away from the hunter/gatherer mode of acquiring emotional experiences. He reflects later on his good fortune at having met Elstir and that he is a friend of the little band.

All this had been a source of pleasure to me, but that pleasure had remained hidden; it was like one of those visitors who wait before letting us know we are by ourselves. Then only do we catch sight of them, and can say to them, “I am at your service,” and listen to what they have to tell us. Sometimes between the moment at which those pleasures have entered our consciousness and the moment at which we are free to entertain them, so many hours have passed, we have in the meantime seen so many people, that we are afraid lest they should have grown tired of waiting. But they are patient, they do not grow tired, and as soon as the crowd has gone we find them there ready for us. (II,607)





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