Moncrieff: 425-426; Treharne: 309-317
by Dennis Abrams
With his grandmother ill, Marcel goes to look for a cab, but comes across Professor E—a friend of the family, who, despite having dinner plans with the Minister of Commerce and a torn tail-coat while the other one “has no buttonhole for decorations,” agrees to look at grandmother for fifteen minutes out of friendship for the family. But only if Marcel “would please oblige me by not touching the lift-buttons. You don’t know how the lift works; one can’t be too careful.” Although we may feel that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this it does not occur to us that it can have any connexion with the day that has already dawned and can mean that death — or its first assault and partial possession of us, after which it will never leave hold uf us again — may occur this very afternoon, so far from uncertain, this afternoon whose timetable, hour by hour, has been settled in advance.” Legrandin raises his hat to Marcel and his grandmother as they pass, looking at them with an air of surprise. Because grandmother is ill, she no longer has the strength to resist the weight, the assault of images, of the outside world, “She had appeared…to be plunged in that unknown in the world in the heart of which she had already received the blows of which she bore the marks when I had looked up at her in the Champs-Elysees, her hat, her face, her coat deranged by the hand of the invisible angel with whom she had wrestled.” Professor E—examines Marcel’s grandmother and announces, “Your grandmother is doomed,” before hustling him out so he can prepare for his dinner with the Minister. Marcel and his grandmother return home, Marcel’s mother will not look into her mother’s eyes to protect her from the knowledge of her own illness. Francoise is not afraid or unwilling to look at grandmother, having a tendency to always look at the worse side of things, and two characteristics from her childhood: a lack of restraint among “uneducated people” who do not attempt to conceal the impression “aroused in them by the sight of a physical change which it would be more tactful to appear not to notice,” combined by “the unwilling roughness of the peasant who tears the wings off dragon-flied until she gets a chance to wring the necks of chickens…” The deposit of bedclothes. Marcel and his mother continue to lie to each other about grandmother’s illness.
It should, I’m guessing, be obvious, that the next forty pages isn’t going to be quite as much fun to read as was the section describing Mme de Villeparisis’ salon. It is, in fact, one of the most precise and painfully descriptive depictions of a death that I know of. I’d like to share with you an excerpt from Roger Shattuck’s description of his passage from his book Proust’s Way, which comes, perhaps surprisingly, from the chapter “The Comic Vision.”
“Proust brings to bear on the grandmother’s death in her family’s Paris apartment his broad medical knowledge and a devastating insight into what happens to people in the presence of death. These forty pages contain one of the most unsparing descriptions of a death agony in al literature. Her loss confronts Marcel with the full burden of selfhood. And the weeklong sequence displays the heroism of the grandmother as she faces death and tries to sustain her disintegrating humanity, and the courage of Marcel’s mother. Her grief surpasses words and gestures, and at the same time she must try to control a household gone mad. Everything is brought to bear on this test of mortality. Yet, against all odds, even this is a strong comic scene, drawing on deep-seated traditions of danse macabre and gallows humor. Without comedy, the heroism would be strained and unconvincing. As things stand, the courage and dignity of the two afflicted women shine out through multiple layers of burlesque.”
Moncrieff: Page 436 “Francoise was infinitely helpful to us owing to her faculty of doing without sleep…” through Page 446 “…by a new painter or writer of original talent.”
Treharne: Page 317 “Francoise was a precious boon to us in that she could do without sleep…” through Page 324 “…by a new painter or writer with an original view of the world.”
I hesitate to say enjoy. But enjoy.