Davis, pages 158-169; Moncrieff 217-233
Autumn walks. The inadequacy of expressing one’s feelings. The desire for a woman to emerge from the countryside. The relationship between M. Vinteuil’s daughter and her lover.
The contrast between Marcel’s description of his walks along the Meseglise way, and his longing for a woman, who both symbolizes and summarizes the landscapes he both loves and imagines, and the scene of sado-masochistic love between Vineteiul’s daughter and her girlfriend, never fails to shock.
A few favorite passages, from the Davis translation.
“Most of the supposed expressions of our feelings merely relieve us of them in that way by drawing them out of us in an indistinct form that does not teach us to know them. When I try to count up what I owe to the Meseglise way, the humble discoveries for which it was the fortuitious setting or the necessary inspiration, I recall that it was that autumn, on one of those walks, near the bushy hillock that protects Montjouvain, that I was struck for the first time by this discord between our impressions and their habititual expression.”
“And it was at that moment, too — because of a countryman who was passing by, who seemed rather cross already and was more so when my umbrella nearly went in his face, and who responded without warmth to my “fine weather, isn’t it, perfect for a walk” — that I learned that the same emotions do not arise simultaneously, in a preestablished order, in all men. ”
“I could believe this all the more readily…because I was, and would be for a long time to come, at an age when one has not yet abstracted this pleasure from the posession of the different women with whom one has tasted it, when one has not reduced it to a general notion that makes one regard them from then on as the interchangeable instruments of a pleasure that is always the same. This pleasure does not even exist, isolated, distinct and formulated in the mind, as the aim we are pursuing when we approach a woman, as the cause of a previous disturbance that we feel. We scarcely even contemplate it as a pleasure which we will enjoy; rather, we call it her charm; for we do not think of ourselves, we think only of leaving ourselves. Obscurely awaited, immanent and hidden, it merely rouses to such a paroxysm, at the moment of its realization, the other pleasures we find in the soft gazes, the kisses of the woman close to us, that it seems to us, more than anything else, a sort of transport of our gratitude for our companion’s goodness of heart and for her touching predilection for us, which we measure by the blessings, by the beautitude she showers upon us.”
“…I no longer believed that the desires which I formed during my walks, and which were not fulfilled, were shared by other people, that they had reality outside of me. They now seemed to me no more than the purely subjective, impotent, illusory creations of my temperament. They no longer had any attachment to nature, to reality, which from then on lost all its charm and significance and was no more than a conventional framework for my life, as is, for the fiction of a novel, the railway carriage on the seat of which a traveler reads it in order to kill time.”
Regarding the extraordinary scene between Mlle. Vinteuil and her lover, once again, we have the young Marcel as voyeur, watching their mutual seduction through a window, following a scene as described by Howard Moss, “in which Marcel yearns to seduce a peasant girl — one who will be a kind of extension of the countryside itself, a female avatar of the local ground, a precurser to the spectral landscapes locked up in the bodies of Gilberte, the Duchesse, and Albertine…A serious relationship between sex and art is being established, for it is through his love for his daughter, and the misery her lesbian attachment causes him, that Vinteuil, a country tunesmith — our virst impression of him — is transformed into a great composer.”
And as Nabokov elaborates on it, while a young Marcel watched through a window “and saw old Vinteuil lay out a sheet of music — his own music — so as to catch the eye of his approcahing visitors…Some eighty pages lager the narrator is again hidden among the shrubs and again watches the same window. Old Vinteuil by then has died. His daughter is in deep mourning. The narrator sees her place her father’s photograph on a little table, with the same gesture as when her father had prepared that sheet of music. Her purpose, as it proves, is a rather sinister, sadistic one: her lesbian friend insults the picture in preparation of their making love. The whole scene, incidentally, is a little lame from the point of view of actions to come, with the eavesdropping business enhancing its awkwardness. Its purpose, however, is to start the long series of homosexual revelations and revaluations of characters that occupy so many pages in the later volumes and produce such changes in the aspects of various characters. Also, later, the possible relations of Albertine with Vinteuil’s daughter will become a form of jealous fixation for Marcel.”
Davis: Page 169 “If it was fairly simple to go the Meseglise way…” through page 178 “…the qualms of his conscience.” Moncrieff, page 233 “if the Meseglise way was fairly easy…” through page 245 “…is gnawed by secret remorse.”