Moncrieff: 710-730; Grieve: 518-533
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel’s confusion as to why Albertine rang the bell, thwarting his kiss, “…I came to wonder whether her violence might not have been due to some reason of vanity, a disagreeable odour, for instance, which she suspected of lingering about her person, and by which she was afraid that I might be repelled, or else of cowardice…” Albertine’s gift of the little gold pencil. Albertine’s amazement that Marcel is amazed that she refused him a kiss, “I wonder what sort of girls you must know if my behaviour surprised you.” Albertine’s willingness to shake hands like good pals and to be friends. “Despite my recent disappointment, these words so frankly uttered, by giving me a great respect for Albertine, made a very agreeable impression on me. And perhaps this impression was to have serious and vexatious consequences for me later on, for it was around it that there began to form that feeling almost of brotherly intimacy, that moral core which was always to remain at the heart of my love for Albertine.” Andree proves to be inadequate substitute for Albertine, “…Andree was too intellectual, too neurotic, too sickly, too like myself for me really to love her.” Marcel’s desire for love moves freely among the girls. Albertine presents many selves, as does Marcel. “To be quite accurate, I ought to give a different name to each of the selves who subsequently thought about Albertine; I ought to still more to give a different name to each of the Albertines who appeared before me, never the same, like those seas — called by me simply and for the sake of convenience ‘the sea’ — that succeeded one another and against which, a nymph likewise, she was silhouetted.” The girls’ faces acquired new meanings for Marcel since the first time he saw them. With the end of the season, the girls gradually leave Balbec, leaving Marcel and his grandmother to strike up brief friendships with the other remaining guests. Marcel vows to return “On the whole I had derived very little benefit from Balbec, but this only strengthened my desire to return there. It seemed to me that I had not stayed there long enough.” Marcel recalls mornings in his still darkened room, imagining the sun, the sea, and the presence of the young girls.
The novel we have just completed, Within A Budding Grove, won the Prix Goncourt in 1919. Celest Albaret, Proust’s housekeeper, in her memoir of her time with him entitled Monsieur Proust, wrote of his win.
“It was December 11 — the award must have been announced about four or five hours earlier — when there was a ring at the door. that is, it must have been about five or six in the evening and our daily routine had just begun. I went to the door and opened it, and there was someone who introduced himself as Gaston Gallimard, accompanied by Jacques Riviere and Tronche. Gallimard was in a high state of excitement.
‘I expect you know M. Proust has won the Prix Goncourt?’ he said.
How could we have known? We hadn’t been on the telephone for ages. We were quite cut off from the world. And even M. Proust’s closest friends respected his habits too much to disturb him outside the usual hours even for such news as this.
Gallimard was bursting with impatience. He’d hardly set food in the hall when he said, ‘I must see Monsieur Proust at once.’
I could sense Jacques Riviere and Tronche there behind him, much more reticent. They’d hardly uttered a word.
‘Very well, monsieur,’ I said. ‘I’ll go and tell Monsieur Proust.’
He was awake and had finished his fumigation and had his coffee, and in such circumstances it was agreed I could go in without being sent for if something exceptional had happened. So in I went. He was lying quietly on the pillows, gradually getting into the rhythm of his day.
‘Monsieur,’ I said, ‘I have some important news, which I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear. You’ve won the Prix Goncourt!’
He looked at me. All he said was: ‘Oh?’
Just as if it were a matter of sheer indifference — though I knew that deep down he was really delighted. But he was always like that — calm, master of himself in all circumstances, never disturbing his own harmony.
‘Yes, monsieur. And Monsieur Gallimard is here, with Monsieur Jacques Riviere and Monsieur Tronche. He’s terribly worked up and wants to see you at once.’
‘Well, you must tell him he can’t, Celeste. I don’t want to see him. Later on perhaps…yes, about ten this evening…perhaps.’
[After much discussion and going back and forth between M. Proust, Celeste, and Gallimard, Proust allows Gallimard to come to his room for the first and only time, alone, and just for just a few moments. ]
After I closed the door behind the three visitors, M. Proust rang. When I went in he was looking pleased and amused.
‘Right. And now, my dear Celeste, now I have sent Monsieur Gallimard about his business, let me tell you this. They’ll ferret out where I am, and from now on there’ll probably be a lot of people ringing our bell. I don’t want to see anyone. Especially not journalists and photographers — they’re dangerous, and they’re never satisfied. Turn everybody away.’
And he added with mock severity: ‘As for you, if anyone asks you questions, don’t say anything.’
His instructions were scrupulously obeyed. Not one journalist or photographer ever entered the apartment of rue Hamelin.
Even though he didn’t show it, there’s no doubt he was delighted to have won the Goncourt. That evening, or soon after, he told me about it in a way that showed how pleased he was.
‘There are lots of literary prizes, Celeste, to reward authors and confer distinction on them — so many, in fact, that one loses count. But there aren’t many important ones that are worth it. there’s the Prix Femina, then the Grand Prix for Literature of the Frency Academy — but even they are nothing compared with the Goncourt. That is the only one that really counts, because it is awarded by men who know what the novel is and what a particular novel is worth…’
One of the gestures that touched him most was that of the actress Rejane, whom he’d admired ever since, at the age of ten or eleven, he saw her on the stage for the first time. She persuaded her son, Jacques Porel, who knew M. Proust and was very fond of him, to ask what she could give him as a present to show her pleasure about the Goncourt. He said the best present he could have would be a photograph of herself if she had one, dressed as the Prince de Sagan in a famous show of which she had been the star at the Epatant theater. The evening Jacques Porel brought the photograph, signed by Rejane, M. Proust showed it to me, pointing out the details as usual.
‘Look, Celeste. No other woman could have had the audacity to dress as a man, with a top hat and monocle, and carry it off with such delicacy and elegance. Look at the gardenia in her buttonhole. it is a pity though, that she has kept on her pearl earrings.’
He was as delighted as a boy.
Monday’s Reading, beginning The Guermantes Way:
Moncrieff: Page 1 “The twittering of the birds…” through Page 11 “…indistinguishable from one another.”
Treharne: Page 3 “The early-morning twitter of the birds…” through Page 10 “…and her egalitarian hauteur could not distinguish.”