Archive for the ‘Céleste Albaret’ Category

Céleste Albaret: The End

June 3, 2010

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)



Céleste Albaret: Charlus

June 2, 2010

Céleste Albaret writes perceptively about Proust’s research for his novel. She confirms the unimportance of friendship for Proust; the dinners and meetings she arranged for him were simply research for the novel. If he got what he was looking for, he returned to the apartment jubilant. If not, he return dejected, fuming that he had wasted an evening instead of writing. She also shows that the novel’s characters are usually a melange of characteristics found among several members of his circle. Not so with Charlus, who is closely modeled on Robert de Montesquiou.

“And do you know what, Céleste? In the little silence at the beginning of the meal, as people were picking up their knives and forks, suddenly Monsieur de Montesquiou’s voice was heard blaring out to his hostess: ‘Madame, why in the world have you put me next to such an awful old cow?’ I need hardly describe the effect. The hostess nearly passed out and couldn’t think of anything to say. The count’s neighbor wished the floor would open and swallow her up or that the chandelier would crash down on the middle of the table. The worst of it was, the whole thing was gratuitous. The count’s unfortunate neighbor was one of his own circle and had never been anything but pleasant to him. The strange thing is that even when he was being coarse he still had such lordly manners that everyone overlooked his whims. (259)

His voice tended to be shrill. When he recited his own poems he used to stamp his foot; he’d do this even in conversation in a salon or in the street. He always stood pompously erect, with his head thrown back. This was all the more striking as he was tall and thin, with a very high-bridged nose and a thin,curled wax mustache. “Just like a cobra about to strike,” said M. Proust, who did an excellent imitation of him. (259)

[At the death of Montesquiou’s brother:] “I found Count Thierry de Montesquiou, the father, in the garden, stricken with grief. I tried to comfort him, but he was inconsolable. And yet he was a proud man, well-known for his harsh and rather cynical wit. Count Robert was with us, and suddenly, as I was speaking, seeing there were tears in his father’s eyes, he said, ‘Cheer up, Father! You will soon be frolicking about in paradise yourself!” No one else could have carried cruelty to such an extreme.” (260)

It had been years since M. Proust had last seen him. For one thing, he’d got as much as he wanted for the character, and for another, he didn’t hide that he was somewhat afraid of Montesquiou….”I don’t want to see him, Céleste. absolutely not. We must manage to prevent it. I know he goes to bed early now. So you telephone him at the Hôtel Garnier and say you haven’t seen me yet and you don’t know when you will. Say that when you left me this morning I said I wanted to rest….Oh no, that won’t work–if you telephone him he will know I have seen the telegram….No, tell him I am in the middle of a bad attack and I don’t know how long it will last. Say I could not possible see him before two or three in the morning.” I phoned. The count came to the telephone. He listened to my tale, and then he said: “Two o’clock in the morning. I shall be there.”….At the end of the conversation the count had shown his perverse side. “Do you know what he asked before he left, Céleste? ‘Marcel, do tell me how your Baron de Charlus is getting on.'”….The strange thing is, and it shows the real fear he could inspire, that after his death M. Proust said one night when were talking about him: “There are moments when I don’t really believe  he is dead. I know him; he is perfectly capable of pretending to be dead and adopting another name just to see whether his famous and people still remember him.” (262-265)

Recall Charlie Morel’s mortal fear of Charlus.

Céleste Albaret : La Prisonière

June 1, 2010

Céleste Albaret’s “as told to” book on her life with Proust is a remarkable account of  devotion. Moving from her family home in the provinces to Paris with her new husband, Odilon Albaret, this was her first employment. She joyfully changed her entire mode of existence to be of service to Proust, like the moon altering its rotation to face the Earth at all times.

 What still astonishes me is the ease with which I submitted and adapted myself to a way of life for which I was absolutely unprepared. All my childhood had been spent in the freedom of the country and the affection of my mother. We went to bed with the hens and rose with the roosters, or nearly. And here I was, taking quite naturally to living at night as he did, as if I’d never done anything else. And I not only lived in the same rhythm as he did, but twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week I lived entirely for him. I have nothing to do with the book he called La Prisonière, but it would have been a good name for me. (45)

“You see how it is monsieur. Here I am, I don’t budge; I never go anywhere except do something you want done and don’t want to write about. And yet my mother brought me up to go to Mass every Sunday. But not only do I not go–I hardly even think of it.” I said this without any resentment, just eagerly, like a little girl. He looked at me from the bed, with magnificent serenity. “Céleste,” he said, very gently, “do you know you are doing something much greater and nobler than going to Mass? You are giving up your time to look after a sick man. That is infinitely more beautiful.” It was true. And I think that was the only time I ever made him think I was complaining. (46)

For we soon fell more and more into the habit of talking. And then I had no more regular hours at all. The time I got up depended on the time I’d gone to bed; the only item that had to be taken into account was his coffee when he woke up. So usually I didn’t get up until one or two in the afternoon, and when he eventually woke up and we were talking about his plans, I got into the habit of saying quite naturally: “Well, yesterday evening you said…” “Yesterday evening” had sometimes been eight or nine o’clock that same morning. (49)

Now I realize M. Proust’s whole object, his whole great sacrifice for his work, was to set himself outside time in order to rediscover it. When there is no more time, there is silence. He needed that silence in order to hear only the voices he wanted to hear, the voices that are in his books. I didn’t think about that at the time. But now when I’m alone a night and can’t sleep, I seem to see him as he surely must have been in his room after I had left him–alone too, but in his own night, working at his notebooks when, outside, the sun had long been up. And I think how I was there, not suspecting up till the end, or almost, that he had chosen that solitude and silence, though he knew it was killing him. But then I remember what Professor Robert Proust said to me later: “My brother could have lived longer if he’d been willing to live the same way as everyone else. But he chose what he did, and he chose if for the sake of his work. All we can do is bow our heads.” And above all I hear the voice of M. Proust himself: “I am very tired, dear Céleste. But it has to be like this. It has to be…” (50)