The Careful Reader

Towards the end of The Fugitive, Proust drops a little bombshell that has startled many careful readers of the novel. It occurs in a passage where Proust is addressing the relationships involved in two weddings, that of Jupien’s daughter to the Cambremers’ son and Gilbert to Robert de Saint-Loup:

Yet another mistake which any young reader not acquainted with the facts might have been led to make was that of supposing that the Baron and Baronne de Forcheville figured on the list in the capacity of parents-in-law of the Marquis de Saint-Loup, that is to say on the Guermantes side. But on this side they had no right to appear since it was Robert who was related to the Guermantes and not Gilberte. No, the Baron and the 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)

I had noted this curious passage on a post long ago without knowing what to make of it. Had this this curious cousin relationship been mentioned earlier in the novel and we had missed it? Or was Proust introducing a theme here that he did not have time to develop?  It came to my attention again on the Goodreads Year of Reading Proust group site. Alert reader Inderjit wondered if he had missed something. Indefatigable reader Marcellita Swann pointed him to my post, which I’m afraid does not add much. I Googled the passage to see if anyone else had any insight. I didn’t find anything except for an alternate translation of the passage. In the original Scott Moncrieff Modern Library edition, the passage is: “...the reader must now be told…”, which would favor the undeveloped theme explanation. So, is this is a translation issue, with Kilmartin changing the phrase to “the better informed reader knows“? But which is the better translation?

Marcellita marshaled her resources and received from Bill Carter the Pleiade original: “Jupien, dont notre lecteur plus instruit sait…”. It seems then that Kilmartin is closer to the original, “better informed” for “plus instruit.”  Further, her source James Connelly mentions “The notes indicate that he reminded himself to develop this with an unknown character, Rigaud, but death intervened.” :

Albertine Disparue (The Fugitive) definitely feels unfinished. Like the last 3 volumes of La Recherche it was published posthumously (and edited by Marcel’s brother, Robert Proust, and Jacques Rivière from Gallimard). We can only imagine what a few more years would have allowed Marcel to write, probably adding a few more volumes in the process.

There is consequently no definitive text of Albertine Disparue. In 1986 a Proust heir unveiled a “dactylographie” where Proust had removed about 150 pages of the text, leading to a new, shorter version of Albertine, which was even less satisfying… More on this here (in French):

Re Odette & Jupien’s relationship, it was never mentioned before this passage. My sense is that Marcel talks of “notre lecteur plus instruit” (our better informed reader) by opposition to the younger people (“les jeunes gens des nouvelles générations” and “tout jeune lecteur”) who do not know precisely the complex genealogy of the aristocraty, pleasantly assuming that his reader (“notre lecteur”) knows all this as well as he does.

This seems the best answer. Proust juxtaposes The “well-informed reader” to the “young reader”, which occurs both in this paragraph and a couple of pages earlier. This section of The Fugitive titled “New Aspect of Robert de Saint-Loup” deals with the constant regeneration of society. The young contemporaries just beginning to move about society tend to see the current order as fixed and ancient. Proust counters with the stories of the elevation to nobility of a tailor’s daughter to the titled Mlle d’Oloron and her marriage to the son of the engineer’s daughter and nephew of the self-styled Legrandin de Meseglise (later self-enobled to Comte de Méséglise), the Marquis de Cambremer. And with the marriage to the genuine noble Robert de Saint-Loup to the daughter of the coquette Odette.

Proust developed these histories in the way described by Book Portrait, as a comparison of the views of the young and naive to those of their better informed elders: “…but many young people of the rising generation..” (V,913) and repeated in “Yet another mistake which any young reader not acquainted with…” to their more knowledgeable elders “the better informed reader…”.

But the earlier explanations we came up with still holds merit. Scott Moncrieff, by changing “better informed” to “the reader must now be told” obscures, if not entirely hides, Proust’s parallel construction. And Connelly is surely correct in saying that Proust intended to further develop the Jupien-Odette cousin story.


4 Responses to “The Careful Reader”

  1. Kirk Says:

    The only problem is that “plus instruit” doesn’t mean “better informed,” but rather “better educated.” This could make sense if it’s discussing the genealogy, in the sense that educated people are more aware of the relationships among the important families.

  2. marimann Says:

    Thank you for this in-depth analysis and comparisons of translations. It leads me to wonder if Proust had lived and finished Albertine’s story, or added and/or subtracted more from the complete work, would it still be the masterpiece we consider it today? Wold it answer our questions or raise more? Would Proust really ever have considered it finished? I know he told Celeste that it was fini and that now he could die, but if he had lived…?

  3. Marcelita Swann Says:

    André Vincens, “Proust, ses personnages,” ( )
    asked me a question….regarding Jupien and Odette being cousins (!). Searching your website, I muttered “Sésame, ouvre-toi,” and sent André this gem! It’s so reassuring, knowing we still have access to your cache of insights. Gratefully, Marcelita

    • Marcelita Swann Says:

      Here is André Vincens’ amazing website, “Proust, ses personnages,” listing every character, the corresponding volumes and the number of times mentioned. Plus, summaries, worldwide translations, and more.

      (Please correct, in the previous comment, if possible.) Merci!

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