Moncrieff: 73-85; Grieve: 53-63
by Dennis Abrams
Reading a review of La Berma’s performance in Phedre, Marcel becomes convinced of her greatness. Marcel’s mother is not pleased that his father no longer thought of a diplomatic career for him. Marcel discovers that he is subject to the laws of time. “In theory, one is aware that the earth revolves, but in practice one does not perceive it, the ground upon which one treads seems not to move, and one can rest assured. So it is with Time in one’s life…In saying of me, ‘He’s no longer a child,’ ‘His tastes won’t change now,’ and so forth, my father had suddenly made me conscious of myself in Time, and caused me the same kind of depression as if I had been, not yet the enfeebled old pensioner, but one of those heroes of whom the author, in a tone of indifference which is particularly galling, says to us at the end of a book: ‘He very seldom comes up from the country now. He has finally decided to end his days there.'” Marcel’s parents discuss M. de Norpois. Francoise learns, to her quiet pleasure, that she had been described by M. de Norpois as “a first-rate chef.” Francoise’s dislike of other restaurants and pride in herself as a cook. New Year’s visits. Marcel leaves a letter for Gilberte at the stall from which Swann purchases gingerbread, telling her of his wish that they can start their relationship anew with the new year. Coming home, Marcel realizes that “For all that I might dedicate this new year to Gilberte, and, as one superimposes a religion on the blind laws of nature, with the particular image that I had formed of it, it was in vain…I had recognized, had sensed the reappearance of, the eternal common substance, the familiar moisture, the unheeding fluidity of the old days and years.” Marcel senses the hopelessness of his letter “by means of which I hoped, in telling her of my solitary dreams of love and longing to arouse similar dreams in her. The sadness of men who have grown old lies in their no longer even thinking of writing such letters, the futility of which their experience had shown.” Gilberte still has not reappeared at the Champs-Elysees, and as Marcel’s memory of her face fades, he fears that he no longer loves her.
Wow. Those last few pages of New Year’s Day melancholy and futility are so beautifully written, yet, as we approach our own New Year’s Day, are, for me at least, emotionally devastating. I’m turning fifty next month, and Proust’s reminder of Time, and its effects on one’s hopes, seems to be right along my own line of thought these days.
On a brighter note, I do want to note that, as much as I enjoyed reading the Davis translation of Swann’s Way, I am very happy to be back reading Moncrieff again. It’s probably because this is the translation in which I’ve read Proust before, but to my ear, it captures how I think Proust sounds. The art of translation and what one likes is, as I said in one of my first posts, a very personal decision.
And finally, since, not surprisingly, there has been much discussion of Swann and Odette’s marriage, I thought I’d share with you Roger Shattuck’s brief summation of their relationship from his book Proust’s Way.
“The stations of Swann’s love for Odette begin and end in indifference, and between those terms his sentiments, still covered by the generic word “love,” pass through multiple, overlapping stages: aesthetic appreciation of Odette’s beauty, passive acceptance of her company, suffering because of being deprived of her company, urgent physical need for her, brief happiness in the satisfaction of that need, the torments of jealousy, social disgrace in her eyes because of his importunate behavior, a sense of physical and nervous sickness, despair at the recollection of his happier moments, incapacity to act in order to rescue himself, and the slow cooling of affection. Only afterward, when the subjective emotions of love have been exhausted, does Swann marry Odette, an insignificant event that takes place offstage, barely mentioned. Not one image: a multitude. The action of the first twenty-eight hundred pages out of three thousand can be seen as consisting in Marcel’s gradual discovery and acceptance of the truth that no person, no action, no sentiment, no social phenomenon is ever simple or consistent. Most of the way through, the Search remains a book of disenchantments. Things are never what they seem.”
Moncrieff: Page 85 “At last she returned to play there…” through Page 98 “…that it was social and professional.”
Grieve: Page 63 “Eventually she came back to the Champs-Elysees…” through Page 73 “…she was a social and professional pessimist.”
Enjoy. And trust me…you will.