Parallel Time

Marcel, on doctor’s orders, returns to Balbec near Easter time. He has vivid expectations of what he will see and do.

They were very different from those of the earlier time, for the vision in quest of which I had come was as dazzlingly clear as the former had been hazy; they were to prove no less disappointing. The  images selected by memory are as arbitrary, as narrow, as elusive as those which the imagination had formed and reality has destroyed. There is no reason why, existing outside ourselves, a real place should conform to the pictures in our memory rather than those in our dreams. (IV,203)

One illusion was the ecstasy to be experienced with Mme Putbus’s maid.

No doubt there was no essential connexion between Mme Putbus’s maid and the country round Balbec; she would not be for me like the peasant girl whom, as I strayed alone along the Méséglise way, I had so often summoned up in vain with all the force of my desire. But I had long since given up trying to extract from a woman as it were the sqaure root of her unknown quantity, the mystery of which a mere introduction was generally enough to dispel… It was true that Mme Putbus was not to be at the Verdurins’ so early in the season; but pleasure which  we have chosen may be remote if their coming is assured and if, in the interval of waiting, we can devote ourselves to the idleness of seeking to attract while powerless to love. (IV,208)

These arbitrary fantasies of his active mind would quickly be dispelled by the powerful reality of an unforced memory. Marcel returns to his hotel room, fatigued to the heart.

But scarcely had I touched the topmost button than my chest swelled, filled with an unknown, a divine presence, I was shaken with sobs, tears streamed from my eyes….I had just perceived, in my memory, stooping over my fatigue, the tender, preoccupied, disappointed face of my grandmother, as she had been on that first evening of our arrival, the face not of that grandmother whom I had been astonished and remorseful at having so little missed, and who had nothing in common with her save her name, but of my real grandmother, of whom, for the first time since the afternoon of her stroke in the Champs-Elysées, I now recaptured the living reality in a complete and involuntary recollection. (IV,210-211)

Not only did his grandmother revert to herself of that long ago trip, but Marcel had reverted to his old self, at least for a moment.

Now, inasmuch as the self that I had just suddenly become once again had not existed since that evening long ago when my grandmother had undressed me after my arrival at Balbec, it was quite naturally, not at the end of the day that had just passed, of which that self knew nothing, but–as though Time were to consist of a series of different and parallel lines–without any solution of continuity, immediately after the first evening at Balbec long ago, that I clung to that minute in which my grandmother had stooped over me. (IV,212)

But it his current self that is remorseful over the unkind way he had opposed his grandmother in her wish to have a photograph taken of herself while still relatively well.

I clung to this pain, cruel as it was, with all my strength, for I realised that it was the effect of the memory I had of my grandmother, the proof that this memory was indeed present within me. I felt that I did not really remember her except through pain, and I longed for the nails that riveted her to my consciousness to be driven yet deeper. (IV,214-215)




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