Archive for November, 2010

The Study of Feelings

November 28, 2010

Proust’s characters reveal themselves to us only as fast as Marcel understands them. Jacques Rivière, publisher of Proust at the La Nouvelle Review Française, shows how this is done in Analytic Tradition.

He makes nothing appear unless he starts from within; he does not think of repeating the echo of lost Time; he tries only to give back to Time, little by little, its entire content. And he does  the same individually for each emotion that he has experienced, for each character who reappears before his eyes. Immediately, he seeks their nuances, their intimate diversity; only by dint of discovering their differences does he hope to recall them to life.

Jacques Boulenger very subtly noted in L’Opinion that Proust portrayed others only “by retracing the reflection they had left in him,” and thus went on to seek their image in the depths of some inner mirror, as it were. It is important to understand the implications of this process. However hard we may try, we can make no truly profound description of character unless it is based upon the narrow and solid understanding of ourselves. Before we can turn toward the outside with the hope of some chance of success, the analysis must have been etched strongly within. At least, this is the law among us French. What was lacking in Flaubert and in all the novelists of his school was the knowledge of how to seize themselves first. Because they wanted to be immediately and directly objective, they condemned themselves simply to placing objects in front of themselves, without animating them, diversifying them, lighting them up from within.

Proust sees all things, even those which are exterior, at the angle from which he sees himself. And as he has acquired the habit of refraction, his glance immediately decomposes, makes specific. He succeeds thus in never separating a human being from his detail, and in showing him to us always completely concrete, as rounded out inwardly as he is outwardly, astonishing but, at the same time, known.

The great classic tradition is what he thus renews. Does Racine not seek others in himself? Having once set his understanding upon the traces of his feelings, gradually, by their profitable interplay, he becomes a creator. And in this way only: nothing is raised up directly. By understanding, by analysis and knowledge, he gives birth little by little to different human beings. And before the eyes of the reader or of the spectator, these human beings, thanks to the progressive development of understanding within themselves, take form. In the very beginning, the poet turned his back upon their totality and refused to accept the  appearance they might have assumed; he wanted only to absorb them better, to enter their souls as he had first entered his own, that is, completely armed with attention. From what other source do Hermione, Nero, and Phaedra slowly emerge before our eyes than from the depths of those feelings by which we see them being torn apart? Here there is no creation in the true sense of the word, but only invention, that is, something  found, perceived, unraveled, a verification, so to speak, of the consciousness of another.

Proust goes back to this method, using a large canvas, working more slowly, more minutely, less dramatically. In everything, he once again finds the road inward. And he does so not by an effort of concentration and sleep, in imitation of the style of Bergson, but on the contrary, by the peaceful unfurling of lucidity and discernment. As naturally as a poet who, forgetful of himself, projects images before himself, so does Proust plunge into himself and ask questions, explore, guess, recognize, and gradually explain people and things to himself. His mind very gently eats away all that is obscure or opaque in his subjects, destroys all that refuses to be revealed, all that would tend to make just an impression. In this way he invents them merely by making an inventory, merely by the calm perpetuity of the attention he grants them. To produce his subjects, he demonstrates them. He tries to make them manifest on the page he is writing, and through ten thousand words, he goes in search of them. He does not acknowledge their shadows; these, too, must be filled with traits that can be and must be seized: for the lack of better, he will people them with his hypotheses.

The great, modest journey through the human heart which the classics had initiated begins again. “The study of feelings” once more makes progress. Our eyes open anew upon inner truth. Our literature, choked by the ineffable for a time, once more becomes openly what it has always been essentially: a “discourse on the passions.” (44-46)

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The Legacy of Proust

November 28, 2010

Henri Peyre, in his Critical Essay “The Legacy of Proust”, writes that following the initial acclaim of ISOLT there followed a sharp drop in his stock.  Witness the denunciations by writers of the time.

W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, venturing to appraise the literary stock market in their Letters from Iceland, prophesied–wrongly–‘some further weakening in Proust.” Philip Guedalla had, much earlier, coined one of his bons mots in accounting that the vogue for Proust would hardly outlast a ‘Marcel wave.’ ‘Water jelly,’ exclaimed D. H. Lawrence to characterize that strange cold-blooded animal who scientifically and patiently dissociated ideas, emotions, and sensations. ‘Ploughing a field with knitting needles’ was George Moore’s description of Proust. Aldous Huxley, one of the very few living writers who had the honor of a flattering mention in Proust’s novel, placed some ungrateful lines in the mouth of one of his characters in Eyeless in Gaza.

‘How I hate old Proust!…that asthmatic seeker of lost time squatting, horribly white and flabby, with breasts almost female but fledged with long black hairs, for ever squatting in the tepid bath of his remembered past…There he sat, a pale repellent invalid, taking up spongefuls his own thick soup and squeezing it over his face…(28-29)

Revulsion at his depiction of “abnormal love” and the tendency of the next generation to dismiss the prior one are perhaps expected. As is Proust’s failure to depict “class struggle” and the lives of ordinary working people, although he did pretty well with the servant class. Peyre concedes these points but considers them ephemeral. Proust’s greatness lies, of course, in qualities as a novelist, the foremost being the creation of the most vividly drawn characters in literature.

While Charlus is the incomparable hero of Proustian fiction, perhaps of twentieth-century fiction altogether, Swann, though less dominant in the saga, lays bare more clearly Proust’s process of character presentation and delineation. Like all the others, he is a blend of several persons observed by the author in reality. He first appears to the narrator when the latter, a sensitive child, surrounds him with mystery and accumulates baffling contradictions on the wealthy neighbor of Combray. Proust depicts his physique in rapid touches, renders his language, gradually suggests him among his family, his sets of friends. Like most Proustian characters, Swann leads a double life and is himself ambivalent. He is one of the very few exceptions who, perhaps because he dies before the middle of the work, is never carried away in the infernal homosexual round. But he cherishes dolorous and languid women, Botticelli-like, in art, yet, in real life, concretely embraces Rubens-like cooks, servants, and unrefined country girls. He is addicted to dreaming and sharpens his acute nervous sensitiveness to the point of welcoming pain, but he is not capable of the effort needed to mature in solitude and to create a work of art. He thus fills an essential function in the novel. He opens up the world of art to Marcel but fails to show him how to penetrate deeply into it, as Elstir will teach him. He points to the peril of living a purely mundane life and of being engulfed by it to the point of losing the ability to concentrate and to create. and he prefigures for Marcel all the tortures of sickly love, anguish, lack of will, and jealousy that will punctuate with their monotonous burden every subsequent passionate pilgrimage within the long novel. (36-37)

Peyre, too, finds the association of Proust with schools of philosophy and psychology of little interest. But he does place Proust in the school of the romantics, who placed imagination at the center.

More aptly than the much abused adjective ‘Bergsonian,’ the broader word ‘romantic’ would designate the best in the Proustian vision. The romantics restored ‘the pleasures of imagination’ to the forefront. Romantic heroes, and, even more, romantic heroines, enjoyed the expectation of all joys, and particularly the sinful ones, far more than the fulfillment of such expectations; for reality regularly disappointed them. Like Emma Bovary after she had decided to seek the realization of her bookish dreams with pitifully selfish lovers, they confessed to ‘experiencing nothing extraordinary’ even in forbidden pleasures. But, and on another plane, imagination was the goddess worshipped by Coleridge, Poe, Baudelaire, and Proust. It alone constituted the whole of love according to Proust; it lay at its source in any case, and it provoked all other pleasures, transfiguring to secondary characters fleetingly colored by the narrator’s magic lantern persons from M. de Charlus, Mme de Guermantes, la Berma, and Bergotte to Mlle de Stermaria or the dairy girl of whom he caught a glimpse from the train taking him to Balbec. Proust’s claim to greatness lies in part in that irradiation of imagination, enriched by a retentive and transfiguring memory, which turns a weight of matter into gold, and transmutes vices, jealousies, and suspicions into beauty. (39-40)

Other Souls

November 28, 2010

In the little book Days of Reading we find this passage on staying in strange bedrooms:

I leave it to people of taste to decorate their homes with reproductions of the masterpieces which they admire and to relive their memories of the trouble of preserving a precious image for them by entrusting it to a carved wooden frame. I leave it to people of taste to make of their bedrooms the very image of their taste and to fill them only with those objects of which it can approve. For myself, I only feel myself live and think in a room where everything is the creation and the language of lives profoundly different from my own, of a taste the opposite of mine, where I can rediscover nothing of my conscious thought, where my imagination is exhilarated by feeling itself plunged into the heart of the non-self; I only feel happy when I set foot–in the Avenue de la Gare, overlooking the harbour, or in the Place de l’Eglise in one of those provincial hotels with long cold corridors where the wind from outside is winning the battle against the efforts of the central heating, where the detailed map of the locality is still the only decoration on the walls, where each sound serves only to make the silence apparent by displacing it, where the bedrooms preserve a musty aroma which the fresh air washes away but cannot erase, and that the nostrils breathe in a hundred times to carry it to the imagination, which is enchanted by it and makes it pose as a model to try and recreate it within itself with all it contains by way of thoughts and memories; where in the evenings, when you open the door of your bedroom, you feel you are violating all the life that remains dispersed there, taking it boldly by the hand as, the door once closed, you enter further in, up to the table or the window; that you are sitting in a sort of free promiscuity with it on a settee made by the upholsterer in the county town in what he believed was the Parisian style; that you are everywhere touching the bareness of this life in the intention of disturbing yourself by your own familiarity, as you put your things down in this place or that, playing the proprietor in a room filled to overflowing with the souls of others and which preserves the imprint of their dreams in the very shape of the firedogs or the pattern on the curtains, or as you walk barefoot over  its unknown carpet; then you  have the sense of locking this secret life in with you, as you go, trembling all over, to bolt the door; of driving it ahead of you into the bed and at last of lying down with it in the great white sheets which come up above your face, while, close by, the church tolls for the whole town the hours that are without sleep for lovers and for the dying. (60-61)

 While he preserves his love of the all-encompassing sentence, Proust’s feelings about staying in strange rooms has changed by the time he writes the novel.

It is our noticing them that puts things in a room, our growing used to them that takes them away again and clears a space for us. Space there was none for me in my bedroom (mine in name only) at Balbec; it was full of things which did not know me, which flung back at me the distrustful glance I cast at them, and, without taking any heed of my existence, showed that I was interrupting the humdrum course of theirs. The clock–whereas at home I heard mine tick only a few seconds in a week, when I was coming out of some profound meditation–continued without a moment’s interruption to utter, in an unknown tongue, a series of observations which must have been most uncomplimentary to myself, for the violet curtains listened to them without replying, but in an attitude such as people adopt who shrug their shoulders to indicated that the sight of a third person irritates them. (II,333)

Although habit will make the new room comfortable, eventually, the source of Marcel’s discomfort is more elementary. If his presence means nothing to the new setting, then this is a foretaste of mortality, of a world that is ignorant of his past and uncaring of his future.

Perhaps this fear that I had–and that is shared by so many others–of sleeping in a strange room, perhaps this fear is only the most humble, obscure, organic, almost unconscious form of that great and desperate resistance put up by the things that constitute the better part of our present life against our mentally acknowledging the possibility of a future in which they are to have no part; a resistance which was at the root of the horror that I had so often been made to feel by the thought that my parents would die some day…a resistance which was also at the root of the difficulty that I found in imagining my own death…(II,338)

Proust’s Religion

November 18, 2010

There is religious imagery in Proust, but his religion does not have need of God. Rene Girard, in his essay in Proust, A Collection of Critical Essays, explains.

Throughout the novel, the desires–innocent as well as perverse–of Marcel and of the other characters are described in quasi-religious terms. Behind the coveted something, there is always a someone endowed with an almost supernatural prestige. Marcel yearns after a kind of  mystical communion, with an individual, or with a group, dwelling, he believes, in a superior realm of existence and entirely separated from the vulgar herd. This metaphysical desire takes a different form in the various stage of the novel. Just as Combray huddles at the foot of its medieval church, so the first Marcel lives in the shadow of his parents, or of Swann, or of the great writer Bergotte, all of them towering figures whom the child imitates religiously in the hope of becoming one of them. Later on, through sexual desire and social ambition, Marcel again seeks initiation to a new and mysterious existence which he believes to be preferable to his own. Now, however, the benevolent gods of Combray have been replaced by malevolent ones–the smart hostesses who stubbornly refuse to send the passionately awaited invitation, the flighty boys and girls who inflict the torture of jealousy upon their admirers in inverse proportion to the pleasure they provide. Proust’s metaphors, his art, reflect this change in the “religious” atmosphere of the novel. The images of Combray, usually borrowed from the Old Testament and medieval Christianity, express a vigorous but naive faith. The world of snobisme and erotic passion, on the other hand, associates itself with black magic, with the bloody cults of fetishism, with such perversions of Christianity as witch-hunting and the Inquisition. (2)

The salons he longs for and finally attains are temples of snobisme, where no one can feel secure because there is always a place where one has not yet been accepted.

Why should everyone feel individually guilty about a feeling of inadequacy which is, in reality, universal? To answer this question, we must go back to Combray. Marcel has rejected the bourgeois morality of his parents, except for one essential tenet which he is unable to question: he still believes that he must be a “real” man, self-reliant, independent, and strong. But what does it mean to be a “real” man in a positivistic world from which all things transcending the human have been banished? It means, in the last resort, that humanity must assume the attributes of divinity. This consequence of  “God’s death,” seen clearly only by Nietzsche and Dostoevski before Proust’s time is perhaps obscurely at work among those characters in the novel who are constantly seeking mystical union with a pseudo-divinity and must therefore be, at least subconsciously, committed to self-divinization.

According to Nietzsche, God’s death, by propelling human pride to new heights, will lead man to surpass himself and become a superman. Dostoevski is of a different mind. Man is not a god, Dostoevski asserts, and the individual man’s inner voice will always tell him this truth. But this existentially irrefutable truth is powerless against the unanimous voice of a Promethean society, always urging its members to arrogate the functions of the divine. The result, for the individual, will be inescapable frustration. “Divinity” becomes what one knows one does not have, but what one must assume les autres do have. Each would-be superman will believe himself the only limited being n a society of demi-gods, and in his delusion will seek salvation from his divinized but envied fellowmen, with tragic and grotesque consequences for all concerned.

Proust is not prepared to take a direct part in this philosophical debate, possibly because, for him God is simply too dead…

For Proust as for Dostoevski, transcendence, which, in the past, separated the worshipper from the worshipped, now separates individuals from each other and forces them to live their relationships at the level of a corrupted religiosity. Everyone is led by amour-propre, Proust writes–by a self-centered love that leads outward, turning us into the slaves and imitators of others. Crushed under the weight of our Promethean pride, amour-propre has become like a centrifugal planisphere. As this centrifugal pride lures the narrator with the fallacious promises of snobisme and sexual passion, it takes him further and further away from Combray. (5-6)

Prolix Proust

November 14, 2010

Bell is no uncritical admirer of Proust. For instance, he knows that Proust can be tedious at times.

 He could not leave out. Insignificant facts, platitudinous reflections, the obvious, the well worn, the thrice-told, all, all are set down beside what is stranger, subtler and truer than anything that has been set down in imaginative literature since Stendhal at any rate. Because he will not eliminate he is indiscriminate. He will treat facts as though he were a man of science rather than an artist. Indeed, in his way of piling instance on instance he reminds me sometimes of Darwin; also for piling thus high he has the man of science’s excuse–he accumulates that truth may prevail. Proust was too profoundly in earnest not to be repetitious sometimes. Subtlest of analysts, subtlest of observers, he is not a subtle expositor. Far too much of what he says is redundant. Really he seems not know which of his ideas and observations are surprising and which are trite. Occasionally his lack of finesse makes one positively uncomfortable, and his humour become so elephantine sometimes that one hardly knows which way to look…

Assuredly Proust had a sense of humour; but in his writings he was rarely witty, except of course in his parodies. In life he seems to have been delicious often. The Princess Antoine Bibesco once told me a story that redounds so pleasantly to the credit of his wit that I shall make bold to repeat it. Proust, who always was eager to be put right in matters of deportment and convention, had been taken to task by his friend,Prince Antoine, for talking about  “de Musset”. the particule nobiliaire, explained the prince, cannot stand first: you must say “Musset” or “Alfred de Musset” or “Monsieur de Musset”. Proust kissed the rod, grateful though crestfallen. A few days later the prince, meeting Proust on hs way home from a luncheon-party, asked whether there were any good pictures in the house from which he came. “Pas grande chose”, replied the chastened novelist, “et cependant il y a un beau portrait par ce peintre que vous appelez Dyk.” (27-28)

For all this tediousness, clumsiness, repetition and lack of discrimination blame Proust’s passion–his strength and inevitable weakness–his passion for truth. It is odd to remember that throughout his youth this devoted servant of truth posed as a slightly frivolous aesthete and as such was accepted. There was something of Oscar Wilde about him. If he never walked down the rue de la Paix with a lily in his hand, habitually he went out to dinner with a camellia in his buttonhole, and in society affected a manner so exaggeratedly polite, sympathetic and ingratiating that his friends to define his peculiar attack coined the verb “proustifier”. Had he decided before the publication of Swann, he would have left the reputation of a drawing-room decadent. As an aesthete he haunted the salons: especially those of the adorable Madame Strauss and the impressive Princess Mathilde [Napoleon’s niece]–good hunting grounds for a future memorialist. He profited by his popularity. To know Madame Strauss must have been a liberal education. She it was who, the first night some opera or other, put Gounod, with his mania for saying incomprehensible things, in his place:

“Qu’en pensez-vous, cher maitre?”

“C’est rhomboïdal.”

“Ah, cher maitre, j’allais le dire.”

And Proust himself tells us how the princess, after trying in vain to dissuade her nephew from joining the Russian army, burst out–“Quelle obstination! Mais malheureux, ce n’est pas une raison parce que tu as eu un militaire dans ta famille…” C’est déjà assez Guermantes. (32-33)

A Periodic Writer

November 13, 2010

Clive Bell has valuable advice for those having a hard time appreciating Proust’s style, which can be boiled down in a negative way to a lack of narrative and very long sentences.

When I began to read Swann the first fault on which I pounced was that of which anyone, however unpouncingly disposed, is sure to complain at first. I complained that Proust was tedious. Tedious he is, but his tediousness becomes excusable once its cause is perceived. Proust tries our patience so long as we expect his story to move forward: that not being the direction in which it is intended to move. Novelists, as a rule, are concerned, to some extent at any rate, with getting on with their tale; Proust cares hardly more what becomes of his than did Sterne. It is states, not action, he deals. The movement is as that of an expanding flower or insect. He exhibits a fact: we expect another to succeed it, effect following cause. Not at all: the fact remains suspended while we watch it gradually changing its shape, its colour, its consistency. For fifty pages we watch the process; after which Proust proposes another fact, new and seemingly irrelevant. Because very often there is no progressive relation we have a sense of being thwarted. We are annoyed. Proust does not get forward, we complain. Why should he? Is there no other line of development in the universe?

This sense of weariness, born of continual checking and marking time, is aggravated by the fact that, at first reading, Proust’s sentences seem unconscionably and unnecessarily long. For this, too, there is excuse, and good. In short sentences Proust could not have given his meaning. He hesitates, he qualifies, he withdraws a little even; partly because, politest of men, to him a peremptory affirmation seemed sheer bad manners, chiefly because his ruling passion was a passion for truth. Two thousand five hundred years of philosophy notwithstanding, truth is rarely absolute; that is why Proust’s sentences are interminable. They are a string of qualifications. For him short sentences would have been mere literature–words corresponding with no reality. His object was to tell the truth about life as he saw it; wherefore he intended originally to write a book without a single paragraph or chapter, so unlifelike–so unreal– did these arbitrary and convenient divisions appear. For the same reason he had a horror of full stops. He was to render his sense of life–of something which has relations in space, and is also, as he saw it, a mode of time. But time, he may have argued, is what the hymn says it is–an ever-flowing stream, not a ball of string cut into neat lengths. Time overflows punctuation. Also, how is a style to be anything but complicated and prolix when an artist is trying to say four things at once–to give a birds-eye view and “a close up” at once in time and space? (11-13)

And then there is the reward at the end.

The period was invented by Thucydides and perfected by Demosthenes as a means of giving cohesion to the disjointed statements that tumble from the mouth of an unpractised narrator…In what is called a periodic style there is no more than a tendency to keep the reader alert by modifying and qualifying the central idea by means of a series of dependent clauses, the relations of which one to another and to the principal verb will not become apparent till as late as possible. You may, if you please, compare a periodic writer with a musician who as long as he decently can keeps back the resolution of his harmonies. Proust is plaiting very particular strands of emotion and sensation experienced by a very definite individual, and experienced simultaneously. That is why the interminable dependent clauses, instead of following one another duckwise, go side by side, like horses driven abreast, and sometimes higgledy-piggledy like a flock of feeding starlings….Proust composed in the periodic manner in that his meaning is often not revealed till the close, or near the close, of the sentence. Often a careless or sleepy reader will find himself at the end of the sentence with a principal verb on his hands which he hardly knows what to do with. This shows that the period has been well sustained and that the periodic structure has served its purpose. (15-18)

Discovering Proust

November 12, 2010

Clive Bell, the English art critic, was introduced to Proust by his lover, he doesn’t say who in his monograph Proust, published in 1928. Perhaps it was Vanessa Stephen, his wife and sister of Virginia Woolf, or possibly someone else. The encounter took on the air of a ménage à trois and recaptures the excitement of discovering Proust as the volumes began to appear.

Not until the spring of 1919 did I hold a copy of Swann in my hand; and then the introduction was contrived by a lady. She had fallen in love with the book and through the book with the author–as ladies will; and I, instead of feeling grateful for having been brought acquainted with a masterpiece, felt jealous–as will men. I began reading Swann, not in hope of a new experience, but with a view to picking holes in a rival. In so Proustian a fashion does the adventure begin. (5-6)

After my conversion the adventure became more Proustian than ever. It was a ménage à trois. Proust having become a part of two lives, an ingredient of a relationship, each new volume became an emotional event and the vagaries of his creatures matter for conversation, letters, post cards, telephonings, telegrams, even. The book with its moods lived on through ours–gay, agitated, intense, cynical: not only did everything about it become of consequence, everything about the author became interesting. God forgive me, I tried to look at the drawings of Mlle. Lemaire: I re-read a few pages of Ruskin.  (8-9)

Bell attended the Schiff dinner at the Hotel Majestic in 1922.

And at last, drawing level with my accomplice, I met the master. It was at a supper-party after a first night of the ballet; and at half-past two in the morning up popped Proust, white gloves and all, for all the world as though he had seen a light in a friend’s window and had just come up on the chance of finding him awake. Physically he did not please me, being altogether too sleek and dank and plastered: his eyes were glorious however. Though he was infinitely gracious, the call was not a success. In paying Stravinsky a compliment he paid Beethoven a better: Ansermet failed to keep the peace: ça finissait mal. Still, I had seen Proust; there was fresh food for enthusiasm, something new to write home about, more to discuss. (9)

Axel’s Castle II

November 7, 2010

Proust famously denounced attempts to reduce art to the person of the artist. The self that makes art is not the self that we engage socially. Still, this leaves room to read the novel to understand the artist’s self. Wilson does this and does not like who he meets.

The fascination of Proust’s novel is so great that, while we are reading it, we tend to accept it in toto. In convincing us of the reality of his creations, Proust infects us with his point of view, even where this point of view has falsified his picture of life. It is only in the latter part of his narrative that we begin seriously to question what he is telling us. Is it really true, we begin to ask ourselves, that one’s relation with other people can never provide a lasting satisfaction? Is it true that literature and art are the only forms of creative activity which can enable us to meet and master reality? Would not such an able doctor as Proust represents his Cottard as being enjoy, in supervising his cases, the satisfaction of knowing that he has imposed a little of his own private reality upon the world outside? Would not a diplomat like M. de Norpois in arranging his alliances?–or a hostess like Mme. de Guermantes in creating her social circle? Might not a more sympathetic and attentive lover than Proust’s hero have even succeeded in recreating Albertine at least partly in his own image? We begin to be willing to agree with Ortega y Gasset that Proust is guilty of the mediæval sin of accidia, the combination of slothfulness and gloom which Dante represented as an eternal submergence in mud.

For “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,” in spite of all its humor and beauty, is one of the gloomiest books ever written. Proust tells us that the idea of death has “kept him company as incessantly as the idea of his own identity”; and even the water-lilies of the little river at Combray, continually straining to follow the current and continually jerked back by their stems, are likened to the futile attempts of the neurasthenic to break the habits which are eating his life. Proust’s lovers are always suffering: we scarcely ever see them in any of those moments of ecstasy or contentment which, after all, not seldom occur even in the case of an unfortunate love affair–and on the rare occasions when they are supposed to be enjoying themselves, the whole atmosphere is shadowed by the sadness and corrupted by the odor of the putrescence which are immediately to set in. (164-165)

And so  with Proust we are forced to recognize that his ideas and imagination are more seriously affected by his physical and psychological ailments than we had at fist been willing to suppose. His characters, we begin to observe, are always becoming ill like the hero–an immense number of them turn out homosexual, and homosexuality is “an incurable disease.” Finally, they all suddenly grow old in a thunderclap–more hideously and humiliatingly old than we have ever known any real group of people to be. And we find that we are made more and more uncomfortable by Proust’s incessant rubbing in of all these ignominies and disabilities. We begin to feel less the pathos of the characters than the author’s appetite for making them miserable. And we realize that the atrocious cruelty which dominates Proust’s world, in the behavior of the people in the social scenes no less than in the relations of the lovers, is the hysterical sadistic complement to the hero’s hysterical masochistic passivity.What, we ask, is the matter with Proust?–and what is it that happened to his novel? (165-166)

It seems to me plain, in spite of all the rumors as to the ambiguity of Albertine’s sex, that both Proust’s hero and himself were exceeding ly susceptible to women: we are certainly made to feel the feminine attraction of both Albertine and Odette, and the spell of their lovers’ infatuation, whereas, on the other hand, none of the male homosexual characters is ever made to appear anything but horrible or comic. Proust had apparently, in his youth, been in love at different times with several women–Mme. Pouquet was evidently one of these–had fared rather badly with them and had never forgiven them to the end of his days. And he shows in “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” more resentment against the opposite sex than enthusiasm for his own. Homosexuality figures in Proust almost exclusively under the aspect of perversity, and it is in general unmistakably associated, as in the incident of Mme. Vinteuil, with another kind of perversity, sadism. The cruel and nasty side of Proust is the inevitable reaction against, the inevitable compensation for, the good-little-boy side which…was a great deal too good to be human–or, more precisely, which remained rather puerile. (181-182)

Proust was never able to find any other woman to care for him as his mother did. His friends have testified to the fact that it was impossible for any friend or inamorata to meet the all-absorbing demands for sympathy and attention which he was accustomed to having satisfied at home; and he was unwilling or unable to make the effort to adjust himself to any non-filial relation. The ultimate result was that strange state of mind which often disconcerts us in his novel: a state of mind which combines a complacent egoism with a plaintive malaise at feeling itself shut off from the world, a dismay at the apparent impossibility of making connections with other human beings. We end by feeling that, after all, he enjoys the situation of which he is always complaining. Did he not prefer, after all, his invalid’s cell, with his mother ministering to him, to the give and take of human intercourse? The death of his mother upset this situation and we probably owe his novel to it. Proust, with his narcotics, his fumigations, his cork-lined chamber, his faithful servants and his practice of sleeping all day, arranged for himself an existence as well protected as it had been during his mother’s lifetime; but lacking that one human relationship which had sustained him, he was obliged to supply something to take its place and for the first time he set himself seriously to work. His need now to rejoin that world of humanity from which he had allowed himself to be exiled become more pressing, and his book was a last desperate effort to satisfy it. (183-184)