Céleste Albaret: The End

Proust, from the time he started his novel, told everyone that he was in a race against death. He was amused when Céleste  suggested that he just write “The End” and take a rest. But one day…

As I came up to the bed he turned his head slightly toward me, opened his lips, and spoke. It was the first time he’d ever spoken to me immediately on waking up and before having had his first cup of coffee. And it never happened again. I couldn’t help looking surprised. “Good morning, Céleste,” he said. For a moment his smile seemed to savor my surprise. Then: “A great thing happened during the night.” “What, monsieur?” “Guess.” He was enjoying himself….So I said: “I don’t see what it can be, monsieur, I can’t guess. It must be a miracle. You’ll have to tell me.” He laughed like a boy who has played a trick on someone. “Well, my dear Céleste, I shall tell you. It is great news. Last night I wrote ‘The End.'” And then he added smiling, and with that light in his eyes: “Now I can die.” (336-337)

A few months later Proust contracted influenza which lead to an infection in his lungs and the final descent. He continued working until hours before is death.

So I sat down and didn’t leave him for hours, and then only for a few moments. At first we talked a bit: then he started adding material to and correcting his proofs. He started by dictating to me–until about two in the morning. But I couldn’t have gone very fast, because I myself was reaching the end of my tether, and the room was terribly cold. At one point he said: “I think it is more tiring for me to dictate than to write, because of the breathing.” So he took up his pen and went on his own for over an hour. The hands of his watch, when he stopped moving the pen across the paper and put it down, are engraved in my memory. It was exactly half-past three in the morning. “I am too tired, Céleste,” he said. “Let’s stop. I can’t do any more. But don’t go.” (352)

He went on looking at me and said: “My God, Céleste–what a pity. What a pity…” (353)

“You won’t switch off my light, will you?” “Monsieur, you know I’d never take it upon myself to do a thing like that. It’s you who give the orders.” “Don’t switch it off, Céleste. There’s a big fat woman in the room…a horrible big fat woman in black. I want to be able to see…” “Don’t you worry, Monsieur. Just wait–I’ll chase her away. Is she frightening you?” “Yes, a bit,” he answered. “But you must not touch her…” (355)

I went back into the room and stood beside Professor Proust. There were only the two of us there now. M. Proust never took his eyes off us. It was terrible. We stayed like that for about five minutes, and then the professor suddenly moved forward, and bent gently over his brother, and closed his eyes. They were still turned toward us. I said: “Is he dead?” “Yes, Céleste. It is over.” (359)




7 Responses to “Céleste Albaret: The End”

  1. cantueso Says:

    Can you read it only in English? I read most of it many times over in French and parts of it also in Spanish, and it makes all the difference. In English it is hard to understand. Now I am reading the last volume again, but that one I don’t yet know very well. I think it is poorly written or poorly organised: “…at this point I am still walking down the boulevard, one day before the meeting with AAA, which was two days before the incident of BBB”.

    I don’t know the book by Céleste, never read any about-Proust books. I am not sure I ought to try.

    • Jim Everett Says:

      I’m afraid I can read it only in English. I am brushing up on my French but I fear that I will never have an idiomatic fluency. I lived in Paris a few years some time ago (I am a soixante-huitard) but never became fluent. But I plan to get a French language version of the novel and at least attempt to read certain passages that I find compelling.

      I read the novel twice before reading biographies and critical studies, which is what I would recommend to other readers starting out. But I am always searching for a reader with more insight than myself.

  2. cantueso Says:

    Well, I know that many people don’t mind the English version. I got an American friend of mine to read three or four of the first volumes all in English, and he read them twice.

    The fact is that the original French is so natural and so clear (mostly) that it is like vanilla icecream in summer. — But what is your interest in Proust? I read him originally because of that language. When I was little we spoke French at home, and I was able to rescue my French thanks to his books. Now English has become my main language, but I keep re-reading Proust all the time and only in French.

    As to subject matter, I got the most out of his discoveries about lies: Odette’s lies. What happens to people’s language when they lie, if they don’t have a very vivid imagination: they stick to a few words, since they have nothing else, no facts to remember, only the words they said. And those words become substitutes and are all that’s left if there is no attempt to look for the truth.

    I have also started to enjoy the eternally long sequences of mindless dinner conversations, l’art du néant, the art of nothingness, as Proust himself called it.

    I am however not particularly interested in his theories of the gay life, though I do know some gay people, but can’t see them primarily as gay, but simply as Peter, John, and Susy. They have very little in common otherwise, almost nothing.

    • Jim Everett Says:

      I began reading Proust after reading a review of Lydia Davis’s Penguin translation in the New York Review of Books. The review had generous quotations from the novel and I was entranced by Proust’s prose. I loved the long buildup of his sentences and their Austen-like irony. After reading the novel several times, I am now approaching the novel as a touchstone to explore art in a more general sense.

  3. cantueso Says:

    But did you read the whole thing several times? All 8 or 9 books?

    I think the last ones are no good. There are too many depressed passages. If you can’t tell otherwise, watch out for places full of “besides” or “by the way” and his writing becomes like a doodle, an aimless going round in word explanations of every kind.

    However, just because he was loosing steam, there are very funny instances where you can clearly see how Proust stitches together unrelated content, saying for instance: while at this point I was still walking beside the Duke down the main drag, I reflected on what had happened two days before when….

    Or even: what follows is related to something that will happen three days later, but is also an echo of the incident told twenty pages back when …

    In one place he says: Have I already told the reader about the incident at the party of…

    In the first volumes of Temps Perdu he would never let you see these elements of his technique, but they are quite frequent in the last volumes, where howevert he also shows his ugly side, bitchy, spying, a gossip, a bad friend.

    • Jim Everett Says:

      You are not alone in judging The Captive and The Fugitive as a bit of slog in places. I think they dive deep into his personal obsessions on the nature of love and jealousy, and as such are highly idosynratic. Time Regained, by the way, was composed very early, just after Swann’s Way.

  4. cantueso Says:

    Please could you correct “unrelented” in the second paragraph?? It should be “unrelated”.

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