True Geometry


The then recent inventions of the telephone, airplane and automobile all play a part in this novel. Each provided novel ways to experience time and space, destroying the habitual:

We set off again, escorted for a moment by the little houses that came running to meet us with their flowers. The face of the countryside seemed to us entirely changed, for in the topographical image that we form in our minds of separate places the notion of space is far from being the most important factor. We have said that the notion of time segregates them even further. It is not the only factor either. Certain places which we see always in isolation seem to us to have no common measure with the rest, to be almost outside the world, like those  people whom we have known in exceptional periods of our life, in the army or during our childhood, and whom we do not connect with anything. During my first stay at Balbec there was a hill which  Mme de Villeparisis liked to take us up because from it you saw only the sea and the woods, and which was called Beaumont….I knew that Beaumont was something very special, very remote, very high, but I had no idea of the direction which it was to be found,having never taken the Beaumont road to go anywhere else; besides, it took a very long time….But the motorcar respects no mystery, and, having passed through Incarville, whose houses still danced before my eyes…recognized Beaumont, close by which I passed thus without knowing it whenever I took the little train, for it was within two minutes of Parville….so Beaumont, suddenly linked with places from which I supposed it to be so distinct, lost its mystery and took its place in the district, making me think with terror that Madame Bovary and the Sanseverina might perhaps have seemed to me to be like ordinary people, had I met them elsewhere than in the closed atmosphere of a novel. (IV,548-549)

 and creating the novel:

No, the motor-car did not convey us thus by magic into a town which we saw at first as the collectivity summed up in its name, and with the illusions of a spectator in a theatre. It took us backstage into the streets, stopped to ask an inhabitant the way. But, as compensation for so homely a mode of progress, there are the gropings of the chauffeur himself, uncertain of his way and going back over his tracks; the “general post” of the perspective which sets a castle dancing about with a hill, a church and the sea, while one draws nearer to it however much it tries to huddle beneath its age-old foliage; those ever-narrowing circle described by the motor-car round a spellbound town which darts off in every direction to escape, and which finally it swoops straight down upon in the depths of the valley where it lies prone on the ground; so that this site, this unique point, which on the one hand the motor-car seems to have stripped of the mystery of express trains, on the other hand it gives us the impression of discovering, of pinpointing for ourselves as with a compass, and helps us to feel with a more lovingly exploring hand, with a more delicate precision, the true, geometry, the beautiful proportions of the earth. (IV,550)

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