Upward Nubility


When they had last met, Marcel’s attempt to kiss Albertine was violently rebuffed. Albertine visits Marcel in Paris and his interest in her is revived.

One has seen a woman, a mere image in the decorative setting of life, like Albertine silhouetted against the sea, and then one has been able to take that image, to detach it, to bring it close to oneself, gradually to discern its volume, its colours, as though one had placed it behind the lens of a stereoscope. It is for this reason that women who are to some extent resistant, whom one cannot possess at once, of whom one does not indeed know at first whether one will ever possess them, are alone interesting. (III,495)

Will she now accept his advances? He finds clues in her speech.

…had I been asked upon what–in the course of this endless chatter throughout which I was at pains to keep from Albertine the one thing that was in my mind–my optimistic assumption with regard to her possible complaisances was based, I should perhaps have answered that this assumption was due (while the forgotten outline of Albertine’s voice retraced for me the contour of her personality) to the advent of certain words which had not formed  part of her vocabulary, or at least not in the acceptation which she now gave them. (III,484)

Mme Bontemps has inducted her into womanhood, in part by transforming her language.

Her more pronounced nubility had struck home when Albertine, speaking of another girl whom she considered ill-bred, said: “One can’t even tell whether she’s pretty, because she paints her face a foot thick.“….All these expressions Mme Bontemps had imparted to her at the same time as a hatred of the Jews and a respect for black because it is always suitable and becoming, even without any formal instruction, but as the piping of the parent goldfinches serves as a model for that of the newborn goldfinches so that they in turn grow into true goldfinches also. (III,485-487)

Marcel has heard what he wanted to hear.

To my mind, that is the best thing that could possibly happen. I regard it as the best solution, the stylish way out.”

This was so novel, so manifestly an alluvial deposit leading one to suspect such capricious wanderings over ground hitherto unknown to her, that on hearing the words “to my mind” I drew Albertine towards me, and at “I regard” sat her down on my bed. (III,486)

 

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