Moncrieff: 563-591; Grieve: 414-433
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel reluctantly visits Elstir at his studio. “Elstir’s studio appeared to me like the laboratory of a sort of new creation of the world…” The different phases of Elstir’s art. The seascapes done at Balbec: “But I was able to discern from these that the charm of each of them lay in a sort of metamorphosis of the objects represented, analogous to what in poetry what we call metaphor, and that, if God the Father had created things by naming them, it was by taking away their names or giving them other names that Elstir created them anew.” “One of the metphors that occured most frequently in the seascapes which surrounded him here was precisely that which, comparing land with sea, suppressed all demarcation between them.” Perspectives can seem different in photographs, as buildings can appear larger, etc. “Now the effort made by Elstir to reproduce things not as he knew them to be but actually 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…” “the effort made by Elstir to strip himself, when face to face with reality, of every intellectual notion, was all the more admirable in that this man who made himself deliberately ignorant before sitting down to pain, forgot everything that he knew in his honesty of purpose (for what one knows does not belong to oneself), had in fact an exceptionally cultivated mind.” Elstir explains to Marcel the beauty of the porch at Balbec, and explains to him the Persian influence that he did not or could not see. “The young cyclist of the little band, with her polo-cap pulled down over her dark hair towards her plump cheeks, her eyes gay and slightly challenging,” with a “tiny beauty mark on her chin,” goes past Elstir’s studio. Elstir says that she is Albertine Simonet and it is revealed that he is friends with all of little band. Marcel is surprised to learn that she is from the moneyed middle-class, and not from the shadier milieu that he had imagined. The importance of spelling “Simonet” with only one “n.” Because Marcel was becoming more familiar with Albertine, “…that girl with the plump cheeks who stared at me so boldly from the corner of the little street and from the beach, and by whom I believe that I might have been loved, I have never, in the strict sense of the words, seen again.” Marcel finds the watercolor of ‘Miss Sacripant.’ (More on this tomorrow.) Elstir, wanting to complete his work, denies Marcel the opportunity of being introduced to Albertine. The subtle beauty of Mme Elstir. Marcel’s willingness for self-sacrifice.
I loved this section, but I am beginning to get the feeling that for some readers, the last week or so, in which Proust has slowed the narrative down considerably, has been a little rough. I urge you to keep going — as in Marcel’s life, this too shall pass, and everything that we read about and learn here becomes startlingly important to the book as a whole.
Also, I urge you to read the following section from Malcom Bowie’s Proust Among the Stars, which helps to explain exactly what Proust is up to in his use of time and narrative:
“I have chosen from among the numerous scenes of sexual enquiry that are to be foundin the early volumes of the an elaborate intellectual comedy which prefigures much that is to be fully explored later. This is the episode in A l’ombre des jeunnes filles en fleurs where the narrator discovers a watercolour portraitn of ‘Miss Sacripant’ in Elstier’s studio and is thwarted in his desire to be introduced to the ‘little band’ of young girls. At least four currents of feeling are running in parallel here; the narrator wants: to meet the girls, and expects Elstire to help him do so; to find out more about Elstir’s art, and about the subject of the portrait; to respect the rhythm of Elstir’s working day rather than press his own claims upon the painter’s time; and, above all, to seem casual and disengaged in the eyes of the girls themselves. The attempt to achieve some sort of equilibrium between these incompatible wishes involves him in a distended cost-benefit analysis, and a delirium of excuses and explanations. Four stories are being told simultaneously in this episode, which is a tour de force of polyphonic invention, and any of them may suddenly gather bulk at the expense of the others. Slowness in one narrative may permit a new access of speed in another; opening up a gap in one causal sequence may permit a gap in another to be closed. For example, between the last rekindling of the narrator’s hope that an introduction can be arranged and the definitive extinction of that hope, for today at least, Elstir proceed with tiresome deliberation to complete his own work; he alone has the power to usher the narrator into the force-field of the eternal feminine; but devotes himself instead to the lesser magic that is his painting. The narrator not only describes thie sdlay, but performs a complementary delaying manoeuvre of his own: a long excursus on self-love and altruism, and on the little heroisms of ordinary life, intervenes between Elstir’s last brush-stroke and the beginning of their walk together. Material that is in itself dignified and serious-minded intrudes hilariously upon the narrator’s sentimental adventure; within the unfolding drama; an elaborate moral discussion has the status of a simple accidental misfortune.
By now, Proust’s narrative architecture has become dangerously elastic. Time may be measured as a connected series of physical events, sense-perceptions, and mental promptings — or by the key ideas which fuel speculation, rumination or reasoning, or by the inflections of prose discourse itself…Thinking, sensing, acting, writing are given a common pulse, and made into the co-equal modes of a single, encompassing transformational experiment…The discrepancy between public time, measurable by events, and mental time, measurable by the development of an individual’s ideas or by his changing intensities of feeling, is laid bare by Proust. Dramatic opportunities abound in the disputed territory between outside and inside, and Proust’s fluid transpositions between outer and inner time-scales are thoroughly ironic in character. These are the events, the narrator says; this, he adds, is how they look if you change your viewpoint on the scene; and this again is how they look if you remove yourself from the scene altogether and concentrate on the larger tendency of my tale. (MY ITALICS) Yet, despite all the attention paid by the narrator to those local repositionings of himself and his addressee, Proust’s reader is still encouraged to read for ‘the plot’, to find things out, and still invited to be seduced by secrets in the footsteps of the hero. And the scale on which this kind of reading occurs is, as I have said, very large indeed. Elstir’s painting travels back and forth both in event-time and in mind-time; it is a tight cluster of time-effects, and a time-measuring device for use in the book as a whole.”
Monday’s Reading — and I guarantee you’re all going to love this section:
Moncrieff: Page 591 “However, on the day of this first visit to Elstir…” through Page 606 “…extracting something that transcends them.”
Grieve: Page 433 “Anyway, at the time of…” through Page 444 “…something that surpasses them.”