Moncrieff: 669-680; Grieve: 489-496
by Dennis Abrams
Albertine gets a pencil from Andree, a piece of paper from Rosamunde, and writes Marcel a brief note: “I like you.” Albertine praises Gisele’s examination essay on the theme “Sophocles, from the Shades, writes to Racine to console him for the failure of Athalie.” Andree patiently explains to Albertine what she would do differently in the essay, but all Marcel can think about is the fact that Albertine likes him. Marcel has all the signs that are characteristic of being in love, yet, “Such for me was this state of love divided among several girls at once. Divided, or rather undivided, for more often than not what was so delicious…was rather the whole of the group of girls, taken as they were all together on those afternoons on the cliffs, during those wind-swept hours, upon the strip of grass on which were laid those forms, so exciting to my imagination, of Albertine, of Rosemonde, of Andree; and that without my being able to say which of them it was that made those scenes so precious to me, which of them I most wanted to love.” Marcel’s perception of the girls is not yet dulled by familiarity. “No doubt this astonishment is to some extent due to the fact that the other person on such occasion presents some new fact; but so great is the multiformity of each individual, so abundant the wealth of lines of face and body, so few of which leave any trace…” “And this inevitable astonishment is not the only one; for side by side with it comes another, born of the difference, not now between the stylisations of memory and the reality, but between the person whom we saw last time and the one who appears to us to day from another angle and shows us a new aspect.” The faultiness of memory.
1. To continue Proust’s examination of memory, I was struck by this passage:
“But to a great extent our astonishment springs from the fact that the person presents to us also a face that is the same as before. It would require so immense an effort to reconstruct everything that has been imparted to us by things other than ourselves — were it only the taste of a fruit — that no sooner is the impression received than we begin imperceptibly to descend the slope of memory and, without realising it, in a very short time we have come a long way from what we actually felt. So, that every fresh glimpse is a sort of rectification, which brings us back to what we in fact saw. Already we no longer had any recollection of it, to such an extent does what we call remembering a person consist really in forgetting him.”
I suspect Proust is on to something here. (Of course, I’m of the mind that Proust is nearly on to something whatever he is talking about.) Try this. Picture in your mind’s eye someone close to you, someone you love, maybe even your partner or someone you live with. Really try to picture them in great detail. How complete a picture is it? If you’re like me, even picturing my partner, the picture is rather vague, changing…nebulous. But when you see them again in person, the outlines, the shadows are filled in.
And a question for the group. Proust devotes several pages to Albertine and Andree’s analysis of Gisele’s exam report. I’m sure there’s some larger purpose here (besides having the opportunity to get a little dig in at the critic Saint-Beuve), but for the life of me, I’m just not seeing it. Any takers?
Moncrieff: Page 680 “As for the harmonious cohesion…” through page 692 “…rich in expected surprises, which is romance.”
Grieve: Page 496 “The various waves of feeling…” through Page 505 “…which is romantic readiness.”