Archive for the ‘Within a Budding Grove’ Category

Albertine Aroused

February 6, 2010

Albertine passes a school-girlish note to Marcel saying that she likes him. When Albertine must spend a night at his hotel, Marcel resolves to express his passion for her.

But I told myself that not for nothing does a girls invite a young man to her room in secret, arranging that her aunt should not know, and that boldness, moreover, rewards those who know how to seize their opportunities; in the state of exaltation in which I was, Albertine’s round face, lit by an inner flame as by a night-light, stood out in such relief that, imitating the rotation of a glowing sphere, it seemed to me to be turning, like those Michelangelo figures which are being swept away in a stationary and vertiginous whirlwind. I was about to discover the fragrance, the flavor which this strange pink fruit concealed. I heard a sound, abrupt, prolonged and shrill. Albertine had pulled the bell with all her might. (II,701)

Marcel has misread her interest in him. But Albertine is indeed passionate, although she expresses her sexuality diffusively and ambiguously. Andrée is here commenting on Giselle’s school essay.

Albertine’s eyes never ceased to sparkle while she was reading this to us….Albertine’s admiration, with a change, it is true, of object but with no loss—an increase rather—of intensity, combined with the closed attention to what was being said, continue to make her eyes “start from her head” all the time that Andrée [spoke]. (II,672)

“Andrée, you really are staggering, “she cried….(II,672)

Albertine was drinking in every word. Her eyes blazed. And it was with the utmost indignation that she rejected Rosemonde’s suggestion that they should have a game. (I,674)

Admiration and attention  had made Albertine so hot that she was sweating profusely. Andrée preserved the unruffled calm of a female dandy.” (ii,675)


Young Girls

February 5, 2010

Marcel begins with what will become a lifelong obsession: girls in that special period when time has not yet drawn them into that lesser state dictated by their genes and family. While the relations are chaste, all his senses are involved observing them.

…whereas it is as delegates from our other senses that our eyes direct themselves towards young girls; the sense follow, one after another, in search of the various charms, fragrant, tactile, savorous, which they thus enjoy even without the aid of hands and lips; and able, thanks to the arts of transposition, the genius for synthesis in which desire excels, to reconstruct beneath the hue of cheeks or bosom the feel, the taste, the contact that is forbidden them, they give to these girls the same honeyed consistency as they create when they go foraging in a rose-garden, or in a vine whose cluster their eyes devour. (II,645)

…the aurora of adolescence with which the faces of these girls still glowed, and from which I, young as I was, had already emerged, shed its light on everything around them and, like the fluid painting of certain Primitives, brought out in relief the most insignificant details of their daily lives against a golden background. Their faces were for the most part blurred with this misty effulgence of a dawn from which their actual features had not yet emerged. One saw only a charming glow of colour beneath which what in a few years’ time would be a profile was not discernible….They are no more than a stream of ductile matter, continuously moulded by the fleeting impression of the moment.(II,662)

And on these more varied instruments they played with their lips, with all the application and ardour of Bellini’s little angel musicians, qualities which also are an exclusive appange of youth. Later on these girls would lose that note of enthusiastic conviction which gave a charm to their simplest utterances…(II,666)

Irremediably Alone

February 4, 2010

Marcel sacrifices time with Saint-Loup in order to spend time with the little band. Saint-Loup is the model of a friend, so why the sacrifice?

And yet perhaps I was not wrong in sacrificing the pleasures not only of society but of friendship to that of spending whole day in this green garden. People who have the capacity to do so—it is true that such people are artists, and I had long been convinced that I should never be that—also have a duty to live for themselves. And friendship is a dispensation from this duty, an abdication of self. Even conversation, which is friendship’s mode of expression, is a superficial digression which gives us nothing worth acquiring. We may talk for a lifetime without doing more than indefinitely repeat the vacuity of a minute…(II,664)

…That first impression of boredom our friendship impels us to correct when we are alone again, to recall with emotion the words which our friend said to us, to look upon them as a valuable addition to our substance, when the fact is that we are not like building to which stones can be added from without, but like trees which draw from their own sap the next knot that will appear on their trunks, the spreading roof of their foliage. (II,664)

With the girls, on the other hand, if the pleasure which I enjoyed was selfish, at least it was not based on the lie which seeks to make us believe that we are not irremediably alone and prevents us from admitting that, when we chat, it is no longer we who speak, that we are fashioning ourselves then in the likeness of other people and not of a self that differs from them. (II,665)

Finding the Mole in Balbec

February 3, 2010

Marcel’s social self crowds out his really observant self, which only works in solitude, so it takes time for him to see clearly what Albertine looks like.

 I found myself giving to these various incidents the same importance as to my introduction to Mlle Simonet, an introduction which was now nothing more than one among several incidents, having entirely forgotten that it had been, but a few minutes since, my sole object in coming there. (II,615)

Her actual self begins to erode the imagined Albertine .

As I drew closer to the girl and began to know her better, this knowledge developed by a process of subtraction, each constituent of imagination and desire giving place to a notion which was worth infinitely less…(II,618)

We can track Marcel’s progress by following the mole on Albertine’s face.

Her friendly greeting as, standing close beside her, I once again saw the tiny mole on her cheek, below her eye, marked another stage…(II,618)

And yet, whatever the inevitable disappointments that it must bring in its train, this movement towards what we have only glimpsed, what we have been free to dwell upon and imagine at our leisure, this movement is the only one that is wholesome for the senses,that whets their appetite. (II,620)

Finally, to conclude this account of my first introduction to Albertine, when trying to recapture that little beauty spot on her cheek, just under the eye, I remembered that, looking from Elstir’s window when Albertine had gone by, I had seen it on her chin. In fact, when I saw her I noticed that she had a beauty spot, but my errant memory made it wander abour her face, fixing now in one place, now in another. (II,622)

I took advantage of this immobility to look again and discover once and for all where exactly the little mole was placed. Then, just as a phrase of Vinteuil which had delighted me in the sonata, and which my recollection allowed to wander from the andante to the finale, until the day when, having the score in my hands, I was able to find it and to fix it in my memory in its proper place, in the scherzo, so this mole, which I had visualised now on her cheek, now on her chin, came to rest for ever on her upper lip, just below her nose. (II,624)

Life Lessons

February 2, 2010

Marcel leaves Elstir’s studio, dejected because he did not meet the band of girls when the opportunity seemed so close. But he did return with two lessons that would form the foundation of his art.  First, he guesses correctly that Odette is the model in a painting so sexually charged that Elstir keeps it hidden from his wife. He also guesses that Elstir is the M. Biche of the Verdurin clan. Elstir is not apologetic.

“There is no man,” he began, “however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is unpleasant to him that he would gladly expunge it. And yet he ought not entirely regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man–so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise–unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded….We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness wich no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. ((,605)

This lesson, when he pays attention to it, will ease Marcel’s guilt at preferring to follow his momentary passions at the expense of writing. The other lesson is about the emotional life. The richest emotions must be recalled and enjoyed in solitude, away from the hunter/gatherer mode of acquiring emotional experiences. He reflects later on his good fortune at having met Elstir and that he is a friend of the little band.

All this had been a source of pleasure to me, but that pleasure had remained hidden; it was like one of those visitors who wait before letting us know we are by ourselves. Then only do we catch sight of them, and can say to them, “I am at your service,” and listen to what they have to tell us. Sometimes between the moment at which those pleasures have entered our consciousness and the moment at which we are free to entertain them, so many hours have passed, we have in the meantime seen so many people, that we are afraid lest they should have grown tired of waiting. But they are patient, they do not grow tired, and as soon as the crowd has gone we find them there ready for us. (II,607)



Saving Grace

February 1, 2010

Elstir, in his prime, does not paint beauty, but rather creates beauty from within himself and then paints it. He is blessed if his creation becomes incarnate. Take Gabrielle, his wife and favorite model. Marcel at first finds her rather plain, if imperious.

I understood then that to a certain ideal type illustrated by certain ideal lines, certain arabesques which reappeared incessantly throughout his work, to a certain canon of art, he had attributed a character that was almost divine, since he had dedicated all his time, all the mental effort of which he was capable, in a word his whole life, to the task of distinguishing those lines as clearly and of reproducing them as faithfully as possible. What such an ideal inspired in Elstir was indeed a cult so solemn, so exacting, that it never allowed him to be satisfied with what he had achieved; it was the most intimate part of himself; and so he had never been able to look at it with detachment, to extract emotion from it, until the day on which he encountered it, realised outside himself, in the body of a woman, the body of the woman who had in due course become Mme Elstir and in whom he had been able (as is possible only with something that is not oneself) to find it meritorious, moving, divine. How restful, moreover, to be able to place his lips upon that ideal Beauty which hitherto he had been obliged so laboriously to extract from within himself, and which now, mysteriously incarnate, offered itself to him in a series of communions, filled with saving grace. (II,586) 

Marcel comes to understand the role of the mind as the creator of beauty.

When I understood this I could no longer look at Mme Elstir without a feeling of pleasure, and her body began to lose it heaviness, for I filled it with an idea, the idea that she was an immaterial creature, a portrait by Elstir. (II,588)

But the effort to look within takes its toll.

A day will come when, owing to the erosion of his brain, he will no longer have the strength, faced with those materials which his genius was want to use, to make the intellectual effort which alone can product his work, and yet will continue to seek them out, happy to near them because of the spiritual pleasure, the allurement to work, that they arouse in him; and, surround them besides with an aura of superstition as if they were superior to all things else, as if there dwelt in them already a great part of the work of art which they might be said to carry within them ready-made, he will confine himself to the company, to the adoration of his models….And thus the beauty of life, an expression somehow devoid of meaning, a stage this side of art at which I had seen Swann come to rest, was that also which, by a slackening of creative ardour, idolatry of the forms which had inspired it, a tendency to take the line of least resistance, must gradually undermine an Elstir’s progress. (II,588)

Optical Illusions

January 31, 2010

Marcel visits Elstir’s studio and meditates on the sources of his artistic vision. Here is a concise definition of Impressionism.

Now the effort made by Elstir to reproduce things not as he knew them to be but according to the optical illusions of which our first sight of them is composed, had led him precisely to bring out certain of these laws of perspective, which were thus all the more striking, since art had been the first to disclose them. (II,570)

Proust’s writing is impressionistic in the same way, as in this scene of the Rivebelle restaurant.

All this dizzy activity became fixed in a quiet harmony. I looked at the round tables whose innumerable assemblages filled the restaurant like so many planets, as the latter are represeneted in old allegorical pictures. Moreover, there seemed to be some irresistible force of attraction at work among these various stars, and at each table the diners had eyes only for the tables at which they were not sitting, with the possible exception of some wealthy Amphitryon who, having managed to secure a famous author, was endeavouring to extract from him, thanks to the magic properties of the turning-table, a few insignificant remarks at which the ladies marvelled. The harmony of these astral tables did not prevent the incessant revolution of the countless waiters, who, because instead of being seated like the diners they were on their feet, performed their gyrations in a more exalted sphere. No doubt they were running, one to fetch the hors d’oeuvres, another to change the wine or to bring clean glasses. But despite these special reasons, their perpetual course among the round tables yielded, after a time, to the observer  the law of its dizzy but ordered circulation. (II,532)


Les Demoiselles de Balbec

January 31, 2010

When Marcel first sees the band of girls on the Balbec beach they are a swirl of eyes and skin tones. These passages might well be describing a cubist painting, where parts stand in for the whole. 

Although each was of a type absolutely different from the others, they all had beauty; but to tell the truth I had seen them for so short a time, and without venturing to look hard at them, that I had not yet individualised any of them. Except for one, whose straight nose and dark complexion singled her out from the rest, like the Arabian king in a Renaissance picture of the Epiphany, they were known to me only by a pair of hard, obstinate and mocking eyes, for instance, or by cheeks whose pinkness had a coppery tint reminiscent of geraniums; and even these features I had not yet indissolubly attached to any one of these girls rather than to another; and when (according to the order in which the group met the eye, marvellous because the most different aspects were juxtaposed, because all the colour scales were combined in it, but confused as a piece of music in which I was unable to isolate and identity at the moment of their passage the successive phrases, no sooner distinguished than forgotten) I saw a pallid oval, black eyes, green eyes, emerge, I did not know if these were the same that had already charmed me a moment ago, I could not relate them to any one girl whom I had set apart from the rest and identified. 




January 29, 2010

Marcel views the seascape from his hotel window, and sees changing scenes according to the circumstances: “…as it were the repetition–dear to certain contemporary masters–of one and the same effect caught at different hours…” (II,526) Take the case where he is hungry.

A few weeks later, when I went upstairs, the sun had already set. Like the one that I used to see at Combray, behind the Calvary, when I came home from a walk and was getting ready to go down to the kitchen before dinner, a band of red sky above the sea, compact and clear-cut as a layer of aspic over meat, then, a little later, over a sea already cold and steel-blue like a grey mullet, a sky of the same pink as the salmon that we should presently be ordering at Rivebelle, reawakened my pleasure in dressing to go out to dinner. (II,523)

He has more painterly views, too.

And if, beneath my window, the soft, unwearying flight of swifts and swallows had not arisen like a playing fountain, like living fireworks, joining the intervals between their soaring rockets with the motionless white streaming lines of long horizontal wakes–without the charming miracle of this natural and local phenomenon which I had before my eyes–I might easily have believed that they were no more than a selection, made afresh every day, of paintings which were shown quite arbitrarily in the place in which I happened to be and without having any necessary connexion with that place. (II,524)

I had more pleasure on evenings when a ship, absorbed and liquefied by horizon, appeared so much the same colour as its background, as in an Impressionist picture, that it seemed to be also of the same substance, as though its hull and the rigging in which it tapered into a slender filigree had simply been cut out from the vaporous blue of the sky. (II,525)


Without Rancor

January 28, 2010

The narrator does try to be understanding of Bloch.

 I did not believe what he was saying, but I bore him no ill-will on that account, for I had inherited from my mother and grandmother their incapacity for rancour even against the worst offenders, and their habit of never condemning anyone. Besides, Bloch was not altogether a bad fellow: he was capable of being extremely nice. (II, 445)

But he tires of the effort. Bloch is at Balbec with his tribe.

Personally, I was not particularly anxious that Bloch should come to the hotel. He was at Balbec, not by himself, unfortunately, but with his sisters, and they in turn had innumerable relatives and friends staying there. Now this Jewish colony was more picturesque than pleasing….they formed a solid troop, homogenous within itself, and utterly dissimilar to the people who watched them go by and found them there again every year without ever exchanging a word or a greeting…(II,434)

Marcel and Robert are invited to dinner with Bloch and his family and witness scene after scene of vulgar behavior. Here is Bloch’s father scrimping on the wine and theater seats.

However, if the failing of his son, that is to say the failing which his son believed to be invisible to other people, was coarseness, the father’s was avarice. And so it was in a decanter that we were served, under the name of champagne, with a light sparkling wine, while under that of orchestra stalls he had taken three in the pit, which cost half as much, miraculously persuaded by the divine intervention of his failing that neither at table nor in the theatre (where the boxes were all empty) would the difference be noticed. (II,487)

And in the unkindest cut of all, Bloch is revealed to have had sex with Odette in a railway car.

“I picked her up a few days before that on the Zone railway, where, speaking of zones, she was so kind as to undo hers for the benefit of your humble servant….I was hoping ,” he said, “thanks to you,  to learn her address, so as to go there several times a week to taste  in her arms the delights of Eros, dear to the gods; but I do not insist since you seem pledged to discretion with respect to a professional who gave herself to me three times running, and in the most rarefied manner, between Paris and Point-du-Jour. I’m bound to see her again some night.” (II,489)