Archive for May, 2010

Proust on Painting

May 27, 2010
Proust often used paintings as metaphors to bring out the appearance of a character or scene. In Proust on Art and Literature we can read his writings on painters and gain a sense of why he felt so deeply about painting.
Watteau, like Proust, was because of illness nearly incapable of lovemaking, which colored his view of love. 

I often think with a mixture of fellow-feeling and pity about the life of the painter Watteau, whose work lives on as the portrayal, the allegory, the apotheosis of love and pleasure, and who was, by the report of all his biographers, physically such a weakling that he could never, or rarely, taste the sweets of love. So in his art, love, and even pleasure, is overcast with melancholy. (319)             

Watteau - The Scale of Love


 One obstacle to writing that the narrator will have to cross is the idea that art must have an elevated subject. Chardin epitomizes the beauty of the everyday world.       

Chardin has taught us that a pear is as living as a woman, a kitchen crock as beautiful as an emerald. He has proclaimed the divine quality of all things under the light which beautifies them and to the mind which reflects on them. By opening the world to us, he has made us leave behind a false idealism in order to explore an ample reality where, on all sides, we have rediscovered beauty, no longer the dwindled prisoner of convention or false good taste, but free, strong, universal, and it is into the open sea of beauty that he launches us. (334)           



Chardin - The Skate


Rembrandt, for Proust, has found a golden light that allows him to paint “the very light of his thought.”

One cannot doubt that he had realised that this was his own proper light, and that when he saw by it, what he saw became full of riches for him, and fitted to parent other profound pieces of observation in him, and that then he felt the joy which portends that we are nearing some high event, that we are about to create. (339)        


Monet stretches the bondaries of what we can love.
To draw out the truth and beauty of a place we must know that they are there to be drawn out, that gods are everywhere latent in its soil. Part from those places where, on some high and holy day, we ourselves have been granted a revelation, we can only pray on consecrated ground. Certainly it is not a vain idolatry for Monet or Corot that will do our loving for us. We shall love ourselves. But on the threshold of love we are bashful. there has to be someone who will say to us, Here is what you may love; love it. And then we love. (357) 






Contre Saint-Beuve II

May 26, 2010

Proust speaks of his talent for finding the “song” in an author.

 When I began to read an author I very soon caught the tune of the song beneath the words, which in each author is distinct from that of every other; and while I was reading, and without knowing what I was doing, I hummed it over, hurrying the words, or slowing them down, or suspending them, in order to keep time with the rhythm of the notes, as one does in singing, where in compliance with the shape of the tune one often delays for a long time before coming to the last syllable of a word. (265)

At this time, just before beginning ISOLT, he is still composing the tune for this novel. The sketches in Contre Saint-Beuve are thin and far from their final form. Consider the early portrait of Charlus, in the chapter titled A race accursed.

Early every afternoon there appeared a tall stout gentleman with a strutting gait; his moustache was dyed, and he always wore a flower in his buttonhole: this was the Marquis de Quercy. He walked through the courtyard and went to call on his sister, Mme. de Guermantes…His life was extremely methodical; he saw the Guermantes daily from one till two, spent the next hour with Mme. de Villeparisis whose flat was overhead, then went on to his club where he did various things…(211)

 But even as I said this to myself, I seemed to see a magical reversal taking place in M. de Quercy. He had not moved, but all of a sudden he was illuminated by a light from within, in which everything about him that I had found startling, perplexing, contradictory, had been harmoniously resolved as soon as I said those words to myself: “One would take him for a woman.” I had understood, he was one. He was one of them. He belonged to that race of beings who are in effect, since it is precisely because their temperament is feminine that they worship manliness, at cross-purposes with themselves, who go through life apparently in step with other men, but bearing about with them, on that little disk of the eye’s pupil, through which we look at the world and on which our desire is engraved, the body, not of a nymph but of a youth, who casts his shadow, virile and erect, over all they see and all they do. A race accursed…(218)

 When M. de Quercy was a little boy, when his playmates told him about the pleasures of going with a woman, he pressed up against them, supposing he only partook in a common wish for the same excitements. Later on, he felt that they would not be the same; he felt it, but did not say so, nor say so to himself. On moonless nights he went out of his castle in Poitou and followed the lane into the road that goes to the castle of his cousin, Guy de Gressac. Here, at the crossroads, they met, and on the grass bank they renewed what had been the games of their childhood…(225)

But there were times when, just as the desire for a perverse pleasure may blossom for once in a normal being, he was haunted by a desire that the body he clasped to his own might have had the breasts of a woman, breasts like tea-roses, and other more sequestered characteristics. He fell in love with a girl of high breeding whom he married and for fifteen years all his desires were contained in his desire for her, like a deep river in a blue-tinted bathing-pool. He marvelled at himself, like the  former dyspeptic who for twenty years could take nothing but milk and who lunches and dines every day at the Café Anglais, like the idler turned industrious, like the reformed drunkard. She died; and the knowledge that he had found the cure for his sickness made him less afraid to relapse into it. (229)

The language is conventional, the characterization merely descriptive. But through a magical reversal, Charlus would emerge in his glorious, flaming, queenly self.

Contre Saint-Beuve Sketches

May 24, 2010

In the years prior to writing ISOLT, Proust wrote continuously, including an 800 page novel, Jean Santeuil. A journal he kept at the time, called now Contre Saint-Beuve (and collected in  Marcel Proust on Art and Literature), contains a number of sketches that Proust will later unfold like a Japanese paper flower and include in his better known novel.

I dipped the toast  in the cup of tea and as soon as I put it in my mouth, and felt its softened texture, all flavoured with tea, against my palate, something came over me–the smell of geraniums and orange-blossoms, a sensation of extraordinary radiance and happiness; I sat quite still, afraid that the slightest movement might cut short this incomprehensible process which was taking place in me, and concentrated on the bit of sopped toast which seemed responsible for all these marvels; then suddenly the shaken partitions in my memory gave way, and into my conscious mind there rushed the summers I had spent in the aforesaid house in the country, with their early mornings, and succession, the ceaseless onset, of happy hours in their train. (19-20)

As I was walking through a pantry the other day, a piece of green canvas plugging a broken window-pane made me stop dead and listen inwardly. A gleam of summer crossed my mind. Why? I tried to remember. I saw wasps in a shaft of sunlight, a smell of cherries came from the table–I could not remember. For a moment I was like those sleepers who wake up in the dark and do not  know where they are, who ask their bodies to give them a bearing as to their whereabouts, not know what bed, what house, what part of the world, which year of their life they are in. (22)

But as soon as I tasted the rusk, a whole garden, up till then vague and dim, mirrored itself, with its forgotten walks and all their urns with all their flowers, in the little cup of tea, like those Japanese flowers which do not re-open as flowers until one drops them into water. In the same way, my days in Venice, which intellect had not been able to give back, were dead for me until last year, when crossing a courtyard I came to a standstill among the glittering uneven paving stones….I still did not know what it was, but in the depth of my being I felt the flutter of a past that I did not recognise…(20-21)

A railway time-table with its names of stations where he loves to fancy himself getting out of the train on an autumn evening when the trees are already stripped of their leaves and the bracing air is full of their rough scent, or a book that means nothing to people of discrimination but is full of names he has not hear since he was a child, can bw worth incommensurably more to him than admirable philosophical treatises…(24-25)

This is the hour when some sick man, lodged for the night in a strange hotel and roused by a savage assault of pain, sees with rejoicing a streak of daylight under his door. Heaven be praised, it is already morning!–in a minute or two the hotel will be astir, he will be able to ring his bell, some one will come and look after him…At that moment, the streak of light under his door goes out. It is midnight, they have turned off the gas whose light he mistook for the light of morning, and all the long night through he will have to lie anguishing and unaided. (28)

When the art that claims to be realistic suppresses that inestimable truth, the witness of their imagination, it suppresses the only thing of value; and on the other hand, if it records it, it enriches the meanest material; it could give a value to snobbery if instead of describing it in its relation to fashionable life–where, like real love, real travel, it counts for nothing–it tried to recover it in the light that never was–the only true one–that plays from the longing eyes of a young snob on the violet-eyed Countess as she set out in her carriage on a summer Sunday. (54)

Unlike those passages, Proust contracts (censors?) the following in the novel.

It was an unusually spacious room for a water-closet….Then, in search of a pleasure that I did not know, I began to explore myself, and if I had been engaged in performing a surgical operation on my brain and marrow I could not have been more agitated, more terrified. I believed at every moment that I should die….At last a shimmering jet arched forth, spurt after spurt, as when the fountain at Saint-Cloud begins to play….In that moment I felt a sort of caress surrounding me. It was the scent of lilac-blossom, which in my excitement I had grown unaware of. But a bitter smell, like the smell of sap, was mixed with it, as though I had snapped the branch. I had left a trail on the leaf, silvery and natural as a thread of gossamer or a snail-track, that was all. (30-31)


Marcel Proust, A Life

May 23, 2010

Edmund White’s brief (156 pages) biography of Proust reveals few details not found in the longer works by Carter, Painter or Tadié. But it differs from these other books by having been written by an accomplished novelist and a gay man, two qualities that help the author provide new insights into Proust.

White on Proust the homosexual:

 At the same time that Proust was eager to make love to other young men, he was equally determined to avoid the label “homosexual.” Years later he would tell André Gide that one could write about homosexuality even at great length, so long as one did not ascribe it oneself. This bit of literary advice is coherent with Proust’s  general closetedness–a secretiveness that was all the more absurd since everyone near him knew he was gay. (46)

This suggestion that Proust was a homosexual having an affair with the young Daudet could not be allowed to pass by unchallenged. Three days later the two men, standing at a distance of twenty-five yards, fired in the air above each other’s heads: Proust reported that his bullet fell just next to Lorrain’s foot. Proust showed a surprising coolness under fire. Perhaps he was proudest of the cachet of his seconds, the painter Jean Béraud and a celebrated he-man duelist, Gustave de Borda. No one remarked on the absurdity of one homosexual “accusing” another of being homosexual, which led to a duel to clear the “reputation” of the “injured” party….To be labeled a homosexual in print (as opposed to living a homosexual life in private or discreetly among friends) was social anathema, even in Paris, until the very recent past. (75-76)

Bibesco remembered  that at one of his mother’s salons he had first met Proust, whom he later characterized by saying he had eyes of “Japanese lacquer” and a hand that was “dangling and soft.” When he subsequently instructed Marcel on how to shake hands with a  virile grip, Proust said, “If I followed your example, people would take me for an invert.” Which is just an indication of how devious the thinking of a homosexual of the period could become–a homosexual affects a limp handshake so that heterosexuals will not think he is a homosexual disguising himself as a hearty hetero–whereas in fact he is exactly what he appears to be: a homosexual with a limp handshake. (82)

 To be sure, almost no one who did not know him thought that Proust himself was homosexual. The Narrator is one of the few unambiguous heterosexuals in the book; almost all the other characters turn out to be gay. After Proust’s death several essays congratulated him on his “courage” in braving such disgusting corners of experience, as though Proust were a moral Jean-Henri Fabre-the pioneering entomologist–and his homosexual characters were insects. (150)

White on Proust the writer:

But Proust had more personal objections to Ruskin. Sesame and Lilies is about the importance of reading as a way of improving the lot of the working class; whereas Proust prefaced his translation with one his most moving texts, “On Reading,” about the magical power of reading to awaken the imagination of a child–an end in itself. (79)

As the trajectory of this single character [Charlus] demonstrates, Proust had learned a method of presentation that falls midway between that of Dickens and that of Henry James. Dickens assigns his characters one or two memorable traits, sometimes highly comic, which they display each time they make an appearance; James, by contrast, is so quick to add nuances to every portrait that he ends up effacing them with excessive shading. Proust invented a way of showing a character such as Charlus in Dickensian bold relief at any given moment–Charlus as the enraged queen or, later, Charlus as the shattered King Lear. Yet by building up a slow composite of images through time, Proust achieves the same complexity that James had aimed at, though far more memorably. (109)

Proust esteemed Wagner’s way of “spitting out everything he knew about a subject, everything close or distant, easy or difficult.” This sort of fullness and explicitness he obviously preferred in literature as well, an amplitude he contrasted favorably to the pared-back reticence of the neo-classical style, as it was practiced by Anatole France or even André Gide. Still more important, Wagner’s opera Parsifal has been designated by many critics as the very template for Remembrance of Things Past, since both works trace the quest of a young man–in Parsifal, for the Holy Grail; and in Proust’s book, for the secret of literature. (112)

 Rather than distorting the proportions of the whole book, as some critics have complained, the introduction of Albertine actually  fills an immense void, “since little dalliances without importance and fleeting flirtations are replaced by the violent, tragic grandeur of Racinian passion,” as Proust’s best and most recent biographer, Jean-Yves Tadié, writes. (129)

 The apparently meandering prologue to the whole epic, “Combray,” for instance, is actually something like a strict overture to an opera, in the sense that it announces and compresses all the successive themes. (141)

Proust was anti-intellectual and convinced that the domain of art, which is recollected experience, can never be tapped through reasoning or method alone; it must be delivered to us, fresh and vivid, through a process beyond the control of the intellect or willpower. Paradoxically, if Proust was anti-intellectual he was also profoundly philosophical, in that what he sought was not the accidents but the essence of any past event. Involuntary memory, by definition anti-intellectual, nevertheless refines away all the unnecessary details of a forgotten moment and retains only its unadorned core. (143)

Proust and Signs II

May 19, 2010

Deleuze calls Proust a modernist because of the radical replacement of the loss of certainty with a human certainty that can only be discovered after blind encounters with the world. While Plato and Proust both emphasize memory, Proust rejects the logos of Plato.

There is one aspect, however concealed it may be, of the logos, by means of which the Intelligence always comes before, by which the whole is already present, the law already known before what it applies to: this is the dialectical trick by which we discover only what we have already given ourselves, by which we derive from things only what we have already put there. (Thus we will recognize the vestiges of a Logos in Saint-Beuve and his detestable method when he interrogates an author’s friends in order to evaluate his writing as the effect of a family, a period, a milieu, even if Sainte-Beuve also considers the work in its turn as a whole that reacts on its milieu. It is a method that leads him to treat Baudelaire and Stendhal somewhat  in the way Socrates treats Alcibiades: as nice boys well worth knowing. Goncourt too employs crumbs of the Logos, when he observes the Verdurin dinner party and the guests gathered “for entirely superior conversations mingled with parlor games.”) (105-106)

Proust illustrates the limits of formal knowledge with three minor characters.

Now each in his way reveals the bankruptcy of the Logos and has value only because of his familiarity with mute, fragmentary, and subjacent signs that integrate him into some part of the Search. Cottard, an illiterate fool, finds his genius in diagnosis, the interpretation of ambiguous syndromes. Norpois knows perfectly well that the conventions of diplomacy, like those of worldliness, mobilize and restore pure signs under the explicit significations employed. Saint-Loup explains that the art of war depends less on science and reasoning than on the penetration of signs that are always partial, ambiguous signs enveloped by heterogeneous factors, or even false signs intended to deceive the adversary. (107)

 For Proust, the logos is emergent, not pre-existing.

This is precisely the originality of Proustian reminiscence: it proceeds from a mood, from a state of soul, and from its associative chains, to a creative or transcendent viewpoint–and no longer, in Plato’s fashion, from a state of the world to seen objectivities. (110)

The dragons of Balbec, the patch of wall in the Vermeer, the little phrase of Vinteuil, mysterious viewpoints, tell us the same thing as Chateaubriand’s wind: they function without “sympathy,” they do not make the work into an organic totality, but rather each acts as a fragment that determines a crystallization….Such a work, having for subject time itself, has no need to write by aphorisms: it is in the meanders and rings of an anti-Logos style that it makes the requisite detours in order to gather up the ultimate fragments, to sweep along at different speeds all the pieces, each one of which refers to a different whole, to no whole at all, or to no other whole than that of style. (115)

 The beginning reader of Proust always feels a lack of plan, of unity in the novel.

To claim Proust had the notion–even vague or confused–of the antecedent unity of the Search or that he found it subsequently, but as animating the whole from the start, is to read him badly, applying the ready-made criteria of organic totality that are precisely the ones he rejects and miss the new conception of unity he was in the process of creating. For it is surely here that we must begin: the disparity, the incommensurability, the disintegration of the parts of the Search, with the breaks, lacunae, intermittences that guarantee its ultimate diversity. (116)

How does this new conception of unity emerge? Consider the cup of tea and the madeleine.

The true container is not the cup, but the sensuous quality, the flavor. And the content is not a chain associated with this flavor, the chain of things and people who were known in Combray, but Combray as essence, Combray as pure Viewpoint, superior to all that has been experienced from this viewpoint itself, appearing finally for itself and in its splendor, in a relation of severance with the associative chain that merely came half the way toward it. The content is so completely lost, having never been possessed, that its reconquest is a creation. (119)

 The novel becomes a sort of machine that produces these truths.

Why a machine? Because the work of art, so understood, is essentially productive–productive of certain truths. No one has insisted more than Proust on the following point: that the truth is produced, that it is produced by orders of machines that function within us, that it is extracted from our impressions, hewn out of our life, delivered in a work. This is why Proust rejects so forcefully the state of a truth that is not produced but merely discovered or, on the contrary, created, and the state of a thought that would presuppose itself by putting intelligence “before,” uniting all one’s faculties in a voluntary use corresponding to discovery or to creation (Logos). “The ideas formed by pure intelligence have only a logical or possible truth, their choice is arbitrary….” (146-147)

Proust and Signs I

May 16, 2010

Gilles Deleuze wrote Proust & Signs in 1964. The book applies the study of signs, semiotics, to a literary analysis of ISOLT. He begins with a (to my mind) sensible statement of what Proust’s novel is and is not.

What constitutes the unity of In Search of Lost Time? We know, at least, what does not. It is not recollections, memory, even involuntary memory. What is essential to the Search is not in the madeleine or the cobblestones….What is involved is not an exposition of involuntary memory, but the narrative of an apprenticeship: more precisely, the apprenticeship of a man of letters. (3)

So Deleuze will be writing about the learning required for a literary apprenticeship.

Learning is essentially concerned with signs. Signs are the object of a temporal apprenticeship, not of an abstract knowledge. To learn is first of all to consider a substance, an object, a being as if it emitted signs to be deciphered, interpreted. There is no apprentice who is not “the Egyptologist” of something. One becomes a carpenter only by becoming sensitive to the signs of wood, a physician by becoming sensitive to the signs of disease….Proust’s work is based not on the exposition of memory, but on the apprenticeship of signs. (4)

Signs come in four categories: worldly, love, sensuous and art.

The first world of the Search is the world of, precisely, worldliness. There is no milieu that emits and concentrates so many signs, in such reduced space, at so great a rate. (5)

Nothing funny is said at the Verduins’, and Mme Verdurin does not laugh; but Cottard makes a sign that he is saying something funny, Mme Verdurin makes a sign that she is laughing, and her sign is so perfectly emitted that M. Verdurin, not to be outdone, seeks in his turn for an appropriate mimicry. Mme de Guermantes has a heart that is often hard, a mind that is often weak, but she always has charming signs. She does not act for her friends, she does not think with them, she makes signs to them. The worldly sign does  not refer to something, it “stands for” it, claims to be equivalent to its meaning. (6)

The apprentice lover is consumed with trying to understand the signs emitted by his lover.

The second circle is that of love. The Charlus-Jupien encounter makes the reader a party to the most prodigious exchange of signs. To fall in love is to individualize someone by the signs he bears or emits. It is to become sensitive to these signs, to undergo an apprenticeship to them (thus the slow individualization of Albertine in the group of young girls). It may be that friendship is nourished on observation and conversation, but love is born from and nourished on silent interpretation. (7)

 The lover wants his beloved to devote to him her preference, her gestures, her caresses. But the beloved’s gestures, at the very moment they are addressed to us, still express that unknown world that excludes us. The beloved gives us signs of preference; but because these signs are the same as those that express worlds to which we do not belong, each preference by which we profit draws the image of the possible world in which others might be or are preferred. (8)

 Sensuous signs are at the heart of experiences of involuntary memory.

The third world is that of sensuous impressions or qualities. It may happen that a sensuous quality gives us a strange joy at the same time that it transmits a kind of imperative….But whatever the examples–madeleine, steeples, trees, cobblestones, napkin, noise of a spoon or a pipe–we witness the same procedure. First a prodigious joy, so that these signs are already distinguished from the preceding ones by their immediate effect. Further, a kind of obligation is felt, the necessity of a mental effort to seek the sign’s meaning (yet we may evade this imperative, out of laziness, or else our investigations may fail out of impotence or bad luck, as in the case of the trees).  The sign’s  meaning appears, yielding to us the concealed object–Combray for the madeleine, young girls for the steeples, Venice for the cobblestones… (11-12)

Each of these three types of signs have a material base, the world, the lover, the physical sensation. The signs of art rise above the material and provide meaning to the apprentice.

At the end of the Search, the interpreter understands what had escaped him in the case of the madeleine or even of the steeples: that the material meaning is nothing without an ideal essence that it incarnates. The mistake is to suppose that the hieroglyphs represent “only material objects.” But what now permits the interpreter to go further is that meanwhile the problem of art has been raised and has received a solution. Now the world of art is the ultimate world of signs, and these signs, as though dematerialized, find their meaning in an ideal essence. (13)

With these tools defined, we can now see how Deleuze uses signs to gain insights in the text of the novel. Consider the disappointments Marcel inevitably feels when he encounters what he had only imagined before.

Disappointment is a fundamental moment of the search or of apprenticeship: in each realm of signs, we are disappointed when the object does not give us the secret we were expecting. And disappointment itself is pluralist, variable according to each line. There are few things that are not disappointing the first time they are seen. For the first time is the time of inexperience; we are not yet capable of distinguishing the sign from the object, and the object interposes and confuses the signs. Disappointment on first hearing Vinteuil, on first meeting Bergotte, on first seeing the Balbec church…How is the disappointment, in each realm, to be remedied? On each line of apprenticeship, the hero undergoes an analogous experience, at various moments: for the disappointment of the object, he attempts to find a subjective compensation….The hero passionately longs to hear Berma, but when he does, he tries first of all to recognize her talent, to encircle this talent, to isolate it in order to be able to designate it. It is Berma, “at last I am seeing Berma.” … It is because the sign is doubtless more profound than the object emitting it, but it is still attached to that object, it is still half sheathed in it. And the sign’s meaning is doubtless more profound than the subject interpreting, but it is attached to this subject, half incarnated in a series of subjective associations. We proceed from one to the other; we leap from one to the other; we overcome the disappointment of the object by a compensation of the subject. (35-36)

  Now consider the nature of involuntary memory, which provides the closest approximation to art.

At what level, then, does the famous involuntary Memory intervene? It will be noticed that  it intervenes only in terms of a sign of a very special type: the sensuous signs. We apprehend a sensuous quality as a sign; we feel an imperative that forces us to seek its meaning….Combray rises up in a pure past, coexisting with the two presents, but out of their reach, out of reach of the present voluntary memory and of the past conscious perception. “A morsel of time in the pure state” is not a simple resemblance between the present and the past, between a present that is immediate and a past that has been present, not even an identity in the two moments, but beyond, the very being of the past in itself, deeper than any past that has been, than any present that was….”Real without being present, ideal without being abstract.” This ideal reality, this virtuality, is essence, which is realized  or incarnated in involuntary memory. Here as in art, envelopment or involution remains the superior state of essence. And involuntary memory retains it two powers: the difference in the past moment, the repetition in the present one. But essence  is realized in involuntary memory to a lesser degree than in art; it is incarnated in a more opaque matter. (53-61)

Deleuze concludes part one of his book with a comparison of Proustian method to that of Socrates.

But the Socratic demon, irony, consists in anticipating the encounters. In Socrates, the intelligence still comes before the encounters; it provokes them, it instigates and organized them. Proust’s humour is of another nature: Jewish humor as opposed to Greek irony. One must be endowed for the signs, ready to encounter them, one must open oneself to their violence. The intelligence always come after; it is good when it come after; it is good only when it comes after. As we have seen, this distinction between Proust and Platonism involved many more differences. There is no Logos; there are only hieroglyphs. To think is therefore to interpret, is therefore to translate. The essences  are at once the thing to be translated and the translation itself, the sign and the meaning. (101-102)

Loose Ends

May 4, 2010

Proust died before publication of The Fugitive, which explains the loose ends one finds scattered about.

Reports of Mme de Villeparisis’s death (V,391) were premature. We meet her again in Venice, where we learn more about her diminished social status in this account by Mme Sazerat about how she and her family lost their fortune:

“Because M de Villeparisis was, before her second marriage, the Duchesse d’Havré, beautiful as an angel, wicked as a demon, who drove my father to distraction, ruined him and then abandoned him immediately. Well, she may have behaved to him like the lowest prostitute, she may have been the cause of our having had to live, my family and myself, in humble circumstances at Combray, but now that my father is dead, my consolation is to think that he loved the most beautiful woman of his generation…? (V,859)

M. Legrandin has a distinctive way of entering male brothels. Robert de Saint-Loup has a distinctive way of entering male brothels.

He [Legrandin] was in the habit of frequenting certain low haunts where he did not wish to be seen going in or coming out: he would hurl himself into them….First of all upon Legrandin; needless to say, he swept like a hurricane into M. de Charlus’s town house, for all the world as though he were entering a house of ill-fame where he must on no account be seen… (V,904-905)

Something, however, struck me: not his face, which I did not see, nor his uniform, which was disguised by a heavy greatcoat, but the extraordinary disproportion between the number of different points which his body successively occupied and the very small number of seconds with which he made good this departure which had almost the air of a sortie from a besieged town. (VI,174-175)

Gilberte, “as we shall see,” becomes that Duchesse de Guermantes and the mother of a whole brood of children.

However that may be, Gilberte had been for only a short time the Marquise de Saint-Loup (in the process of becoming, as we shall see, Duchesse de Guermantes)…(V,909)

He [Saint-Loup] was seated by the side of Gilberte–already pregnant (subsequently he did not fail to keep her continually supplied with off-spring)…(V,926)

I like to think of myself as an informed reader, but I was not alert enough to anticipate this revelation:

No, the Baron and Baronne de Forcheville, despite these deceptive appearances, did figure on the wife’s side, it is true, and not on the Cambremer side, not because of the Guermantes, but because of Jupien, who, the better informed reader knows, was Odette’s first cousin. (V,915)

 One final loose end: This completes my reading of In Search of Lost Time and of this blog, at least in this form. I will turn next to some critical literary works on Proust and will probably find there something  on which to comment.

A Victim

May 3, 2010

Andrée, perhaps not an altogether reliable person, has given Marcel the reason why Albertine left him.

 “…I think she was forced to leave you by her aunt who had designs for her future upon that guttersnipe, you know, the young man you used to call ‘I’m a wash-out,’ the young man who ws in love with Albertine and had asked for her hand. Seeing that you weren’t marrying her, they were afraid that the shocking length of her stay in your house might prevent the young man from doing so. And so Mme Bontemps, on whom the young man was constantly bringing pressure to bear, summoned Albertine home.” (V,830)

Marcel, who had been so engrossed with his jealous speculations, had never once thought how his living arrangement with Albertine might harm her.

I had never in my jealousy thought of this explanation, but only of Albertine’s desire for women and of my own surveillance of her; I had forgotten that there was also Mme Bontemps who might eventually regard as strange what had shocked my mother from the first. At least Mme Bontemps was afraid that it might shock this possible husband whom she was keeping in reserve for Albertine in case I failed to marry her. (V,831)

Jane Austen would have understood Albertine’s position, that of a young woman with no independent means, caught in a social web, where a mistake with a man might leave her forever penniless.

It was not the first time I had felt astonishment and a sort of shame at never once having told myself that Albertine was in a false position in my house, a position that might give offence to her aunt; it was not the first, nor was it the last….Listening to the people who maintained that Albertine was a schemer who had tried to get one man after another to marry her, it was not difficult to image how they would have defined her life with me. And yet to me she was a victim, a victim who perhaps was not altogether pure, but in that case guilty for other reasons, on account of vices which people did not mention.

Albertine was an accomplished liar, capable of delivering the most obvious falsehood with full eye contact and emotion in her voice. But that was her only tool for survival in this artificial world created by Marcel.

But above all we must remember this: on the one had, lying is often a trait of character; on the other hand, in women who would not otherwise be liars, it is a natural defence, improvised at first, them more and more organised, against that sudden danger which would be capable of destroying all life: love. (V,834-835)

Contrasts in Forgetting

May 2, 2010

Marcel is gradually forgetting Albertine. Time is the agent. He has a finite set of memories and as they fade they are not replaced, while he himself changes into another person.

It is not because other people are dead that our affection of them fades; it is because we ourselves are dying. Albertine had no cause to reproach her friend. The man who was usurping his name was merely his heir. We can only be faithful to what we remember, and we remember only what we have known. My new self, while it grew up in the shadow of the old, had often heard the other speak of Albertine; through that other self, through the stories it gathered from it, it thought that it knew her, it found her lovable, it loved her; but it was only a love at second hand. (V,805)

Swann is also being forgotten, but by a quite different process. Gilberte has been adopted by her step-father, de Forcheville, and wishes him to be known as her true father. She has inherited Swann’s tact and intelligence and Odette’s morality.

But when, to this daughter of his, he used from time to time to say, taking her in his arms and kissing her: “How comforting it is, my darling, to have a daughter like you; one day when I’m no longer here, if people still mention your poor papa, it will be only to you and because of you,” Swann, in thus pinning  a timorous and anxious hope of survival on his daughter after his death, was as mistaken as an old banker who, having made a will in favour of a little dancer whom he is keeping and who has very nice manners, tells himself that though her he is not more than a great friend, she will remain faithful to his memory. She had very nice manners while her feet under the table sought the feet of those of the old banker’s friends who attracted her, but all this very discreetly, behind an altogether respectable exterior. (V,800)

Gilberte’s presence in a drawing-room, instead of being an occasion for people to speak of her father from time to time, was an obstacle in the way of their seizing the opportunities that might still have remained for them to do so, and that were becoming more and more rare. Even in connexion with the things he had said, the presents he had given, people acquired the habit of not mentioning him, and she who ought to have kept his memory young, if not perpetuated it, found herself hastening and completing the work of death and oblivion. (V,800)

Triumphant Joy

May 1, 2010

We know that by now in the narrative Marcel has begun to write what will become Swann in Love. He has also written an article for the Figaro, where for the first time he feels all the pleasure and anxiety of seeing his published work. His first reaction is to hold the newspaper as if it were a nourishing loaf of newly baked bread which, as in the parable, multiplies a thousand-fold.

Then I considered the spiritual bread of life that a newspaper is, still warm and damp from the press and the morning fog in which it is distributed, at daybreak, to the housemaids who bring it to their masters with their morning coffee, a miraculous, self-multiplying bread which is at the same time one and ten thousand, which remains the same for each person while penetrating innumerably into every house at once. (V,767)

 He wonders if it will be noticed (even though it is the main article). To answer this question he pantomimes a typical newspaper reader.

To appreciate exactly the phenomenon which was occurring at this moment in other houses, it was essential that I read this article not as its author but as one of the readers of the paper; what I was holding in my hand was not only what I had written, it was the symbol of its incarnation in so many minds. But then came an initial anxiety. Would the reader who had not been forewarned see this article?  I opened the paper carelessly as would such a reader, even assuming an air of not knowing what there was this morning in my paper, of being in a hurry to look at the social and political news. But my article was so long that my eye, which was avoiding it (in order to be absolutely fair and not load the dice in my favor, as a person who is waiting counts very slowly on purpose) picked up a fragment of it in passing. (V,767-768)

The thought that ten thousand people will read his article and, most importantly, see his name, fills him with a surging joy, unique in  his life.

And setting my own self-distrust against the ten-thousand-fold approbation which now sustained me, I drew as much strength and hope for my talent from reading this article at this moment as I drew misgivings when what I had written was addressed only to myself. I saw at that same hour my thought–or at least, failing my thought for those who were incapable of understanding it, the repetition of my name and as it were an embellished evocation of my person–shine on countless people, colour their own thoughts in an auroral light which filled me with more strength and triumphant joy than the multiple dawn which at that moment was blushing at every window. (V,770)

Finally, being a published writer provides him with a vision, however confused, of a way out of his current life in society and into a transcendent place where he communicates his truest thoughts to his friends. His famous distrust of friendship begins here, not as misanthropic, but as learning how to be a truer friend.

With regard to other friends, however, I told myself that if the state of my health continued to grow worse and I could no longer see them, it would be pleasant to continue to write, in order thus to have access to them still, to speak to them between the lines, to make them share my thoughts, to please them, to be received into their hearts….[A]lthough I chose to imagine their attention as the object of my pleasure, that pleasure was an internal, spiritual, self-generated pleasure which they could not give me and which I could find not in conversing with them, but in writing far away from them, and that if I began to write in the hope of seeing them indirectly, in the hope they might have a better idea of me, in the hope of preparing for myself a better position in society, perhaps writing would relieve me of the wish to see them, and I should no longer have any desire to enjoy the position in society which literature might have given me, because my pleasure would be no longer in society but in literature. (V,772)