Moncrieff: 336-371; Grieve: 247-273
by Dennis Abrams
Three knocks, and Marcel’s grandmother brings him his morning milk. “I would explain to her that I had been afraid she would not hear me, or might think that it was someone in the room beyond who was tapping: at which she would smile: ‘Mistake my poor pet’s knocking for anyone else’s! Why, Granny could tell it a mile away! Do you suppose there’s anyone else in the world who’s such a silly-billy, with such febrile little knuckles, so afraid of waking me up and of not making me understand? Even if it just gave the tiniest scratch, Granny could tell her mouse’s sound at once, especially such a miserable little mouse as it is…” The view from his window. Marcel’s unhappiness at his new surroundings is caused by a mental resistance to the possibility of forgetting his past surroundings, of losing his former self. “Not that the heart, too, is not bound in time, when separation is complete, to feel the analgesic effect of habit; but until then it will continue to suffer.” Hot water and “the stiff starched towel with the name of the hotel printed upon it, with which I was making futile efforts to dry myself.” The changing ocean. The social significance of the dining room at Combray. “At Combray, since we were known to everyone, I took heed of no one. In seaside life, one does not know one’s neighbors. I was not yet old enough, and was still too sensitive to have outgrown the desire to find favour in the sight of other people and to possess their hearts.” Eminent (at least in their own minds’) provincial personalities, who meet at Balbec regularly, and are unwilling to meet others. The King of the South Seas and his mistress “Long live the Queen!” A wealthy old lady of title, dressed in black dress and bonnet, who keeps to herself “having placed, between herself on the one hand and the hotel staff and the tradesmen on the other, her own servants who bore instead of her the shock of contact with all this strange humanity and kept up the familiar atmosphere around their mistress, having set her prejudices between herself and the other visitors, indifferent whether or not she gave offence to people whom her friends would not have had in their houses, it was in her own world that she continued to live…” Two smart young men and an actress. Invitations to Sunday parties held by M. de Cambremer are much in demand. Marcel is attracted to the daughter of M. de Stermaria, but is unable to meet her. Marcel is astonished to learn that the old lady in black is the Marquise de Villepairis, who is an old friend of his grandmother’s. Marcel’s grandmother, however, holds to the principle that “when away from home, one should cease to have any social intercourse, that one did not go to the seaside to meet people, having plenty of time for that sort of thing in Paris, that they would make one waste in polite exchanges, in pointless conversation, the precious time which ought all to be spent in the open air; beside the waves; and finding it convenient to assume that this view was shared by everyone else, and that it authorised, between old friends whom chance brought face to face in the same hotel, the fiction of a mutual incognito, on hearing her friend’s name from the manager she merely looked the other way and pretended not to see Mme de Villeparisis, who, realising that my grandmother did not want to be recognised, likewise gazed into space.” Marcel fantasizes about getting introduced to Mlle. de Sternmaria via Mme de Villeparasis, “And for a whole month during which she would be left alone without her parents in her romantic Breton castle, we should perhaps have been able wander by ourselves at evening, she and I together in the twilight through which the pink flowers of the bell heather would glow more softly above the darkening water, beneath oak trees beaten and stunted by the pounding of the waves.” Marcel is intimidated by “the proprietor (or he may have been the general manager, appointed by a board of directors) not only of this palace but of seven or eight more besides…” Francoise has more friends at the hotel than Marcel does, and because she is friends with the staff, she is reluctant to ask them to do their jobs, thereby inconveniencing Marcel and his grandmother. “So that what it amounted to was that we could no longer have any hot water because Francoise had become a friend of the person who heated it.”
Since today’s synopsis is rather lengthy, I’ll try to keep this short. First of all, thank you for the birthday wishes. It was perfect timing for me — reading Marcel’s adjustment to life in a hotel, while I myself was busy at a new hotel in Mexico City. It brought me that much closer to Proust’s (or is it Marcel’s?) realisation that,
“Perhaps this fear that I had — and that is shared by so many others — of sleepig in a strange room, perhaps this fear is only the most humble, obscure, organic, almost unconscious form of that great and desperate resistance put up by the things that constitute the better part of our present life against our mentally acknowledging the possibility of a future in which they are to have no part; a resistance which was at the root of the horror that I had so often been made to feel by the thought that my parents would die some day, that the stern necessity of life might oblige me to live far from Gilberte, or simply to settle permanently in a place where I should never see any of my old friends; a resistance which was also at the root of the difficulty that I found in imagining my own death, or a survival such as Bergotte used to promise to mankind in his books, a survival in which I should not be allowed to take with me my memories, my frailties, my character, which did not easily resign themselves to the idea of ceasing to be, and desired for me neither extinction nor an eternity in which they would have no part.”
Not that I’m afraid of sleeping in strange rooms mind you, but I was, while reading this section, living his point — that when in a new place, it quickly becomes your reality, and the one you just left, even after a short time, becomes…something else.
I’ll probably have more on this tomorrow.
Moncrieff: Page 371 “In the end we too made a social connexion…” through Page 385 “…the splendours of Rivebelle are almost wholly invisible.”
Grieve: Page 273 “We, too, eventually, found a friend…” through Page 283 “…when they are more or less invisible.”