Moncrieff: 278-298; Grieve: 202-217
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel slowly recovers, despite the memories of cruel remarks and letters. Absence, time, and fading memory are the only cures. “So that we never can be certain that the happiness which comes to us too late, when we can no longer enjoy it, when we are are no longer in love, is altogether the same as the happiness that lack of which made us at one time so unhappy.” Marcel dreams about Gilberte, a dream which reminds him of Gilberte’s “incomprehensible laugh.” Marcel remembers his sexual adventure with Gilberte, and “imagined her behaving like that, at home perhaps, in the linen-room, with the young man whom I had seen escorting her along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. And so, just as much as to believe (as I had a little time back) that I was calmly established in a state of happiness, it had been foolish in me, now that I had abandoned all thought of happiness, to take it for granted that at least I had become and would be able to remain calm…Mine returned to me in the end, for the cloud which, affecting one’s spirits, one’s desires, has entered one’s mind under cover of a dream, will also in course of time dissolve: permanence and stability being assured to nothing in this world, not even to grief.” Marcel stops visiting Mme Swann, and begins to think of leaving Paris to go to Venice or Florence, but if those are not possible “it would be at least quite easy and not too tiring to go and settle down at Balbec.” Spring arrives, Mme Swann dressed “on the advice of Bergotte,” as “a ‘Symphony in White.'” Mme. Swann’s Sunday-morning walks, surrounded by her entourage, receiving the acknowledgments of men whose wives and mothers would not deign to meet her. Sagan, the Prince, greets Odette with a grand sweeping gesture. (Not unlike the one with which Marcel greeted her at the time when he did not yet know her.) “And as the average span of life, the relative longevity of our memories of poetical sensations is much greater than that of our memories of what the heart has suffered, now that the sorrows that I once felt on Gilberte’s account have long since faded and vanished, there has survived them the pleasure that I still derive — whenever I close my eyes and read, as it were upon the face of a sundial, the minutes that are recorded between a quarter past twelve and one o’clock in the month of May — from seeing myself once again strolling and talking thus with Mme Swann, beneath her parasol, as though in the coloured shade of a wistaria bower.”
Amazing. Now, I know that some of you found the Narrator’s ruminations on love and the end of Marcel’s relationship with Gilberte rough-sledding, but for me, it was absolutely worth it. We, the readers, moved with Marcel/the Narrator though the torment of the end of the relationship, to the calm at the end of the storm, and the memory of strolling with Mme Swann beneath her parasol.
One of our posters asked a question about Proust, whether he’d ever had a lasting and successful relationship, and if so, how could he know anything about the possibilities of successful (heterosexual) love. While I do see the poster’s point, I have to respectfully disagree with the basic premise — that to understand a successful relationship, one must have lived it oneself. Though observation and a nearly unparalleled understanding of human emotion and psychology, Proust, although describing very few successful relationships in the book (what about Marcel’s parents?) does, I think, understand the various stages of love with a clear-eyed perspective.
Besides, let’s be honest. Out of all the relationships we’ve had during our lives, what exactly is the ratio of successful to unsuccessful?
I’d like to share with you the thoughts of Andre Maurois on the subject; (I realize that what he says is a bit harsh, but, I think the point he makes is a valid one.)
“His [Proust’s] weakness lay in never having known either marriage or the accepted adventures of the heart. It is, nevertheless, true that he did succeed, to a remarkable degree, in extending our knowledge of the passions. Those who fear the truth, who prefer to cling to the mirage of romantic love, who rest content with the limited horizons of writers they have always known, will find nothing in Proust. ‘I can see that all my thought contains as far as its horizon,” he says, ‘but the only things I really want to describe are those that lie beyond…’ There are many who refuse to see what lies beyond that horizon. He did not write for them. But the courageous souls who are prepared to dare the adventures of the heart, those men and women who long to know themselves as they really are not as they ought to be, those who value truth above happiness, and who believe that without truth there can be no happiness, will seek in the ordeals and miseries awaiting them in the new, harsh world of Proust, the difficult roads that lead to the goal of a love that is far more beautiful.”
Moncrieff: Page 299 “I had arrived at a state of almost complete indifference,” through Page 311 “…in which I should not see her.”
Grieve: Page 221 “By the time my grandmother and I left for Balbec…” through Page 230 “…where I would never see her.”