Moncrieff: 436-446; Treharne: 317-324
by Dennis Abrams
“Francoise was infinitely helpful to us owing to her faculty of doing without sleep, of performing the most arduous tasks.” Francoise’s devotion to duty, and her resentment if someone attempt to help her with what she sees as her duties. The young footman, reading Marcel’s books of poetry and sprinkling his letters to his home village with quotations, “but since he was somewhat lacking in logic he had formed the notion that these poems, picked out at random from my shelves, were things of common currency to which it was customary to refer.” Grandmother is given morphine, but although it relieves the pain, it increases the amount of albumin (a type of protein which, if found in the urine, can be a sign of kidney disease). Dr. Cottard stops the morphine. Grandmother’s pain, her attempts to hide it, and Marcel’s mother’s anguish. The change in grandmother’s face. “It was so altered that probably, had she been strong enough to go out, she would have been recognized only by the feather in her hat…The work of the sculptor was nearing its end, and if my grandmother’s face had shrunk in the process, it had at the same time hardened.” The specialist “X” is sent for, but grandmother refuses to see him, so to mollify him Marcel and his parents allow him to “inspect each of their noses in turn, although there was nothing the matter with each of them,” — the next day, they are all sick. Grandmother has many visitors, attesting to the severity of her illness, but her sisters in Combray refuse to come, “They had discovered a musician there who gave them excellent chamber recitals, in listening to which they felt they could enjoy better than by the invalid’s bedside, a contemplative melancholy, a sorrowful exaltation, the form of which was, to say the least, unusual.” Bergotte, now nearly blind and slowly dying himself, is a regular visitor. Bergotte’s work, once only popular with a select few, “had acquired an extraordinary power of expansion among the general public.” Marcel no longer feels the same admiration for Bergotte’s work, having moved on to another writer who, “still obscure, has begun, among a few more exigent spirits, to substitute a fresh cult for the one that has almost ceased to command observance,” even though Marcel could not “reach the point from which I would see the new relationships between things.” Time changes the way we look at art and at life.
See what I mean? Today’s section, with its stunningly precise description of the grandmother’s pain, is, nonetheless, eased by the humor of her sisters’ refusal to come because a chamber recital will give them same “contemplative melancholy,” and that of specialist X, who declares the entire family ill, a diagnosis that becomes all too true.
I was also taken by this description of the family’s anguish at the course of treatment, as true today as it was then:
“The blows which we aimed at the evil which had settled inside her were always wide of the mark, and it was she, it was her poor interposed body that had to bear them, without her ever uttering more than a faint groan by way of complaint. And the pain that we caused her found no compensation in any benefit that we were able to give her. The ferocious beast we were anxious to exterminate we barly succeeded in grazing; we merely enraged it even more, hastening perhaps the moment when the captive would be devoured.”
And, on a lighter note, this passage on the role of time in the way we see art, and the way art changes the way we see life around us was just breathtakingly beautiful.
“People of taste tell us nowadays that Renoir is a great eighteenth-century painter. But in so saying they forget the element of Time, and that it took a great deal of time, even at the height of the nineteenth century, for Renoir to be hailed as a great artist…Women pass in the street, different from those we formerly saw, because they are Renoirs, those Renoirs we persistently refused to see as women. The carriages, too, are Renoirs, and the water, and the sky; we feel tempted to go for a walk in the forest which is identical with the one which when we first saw it looked like anything in the world except a forest, like for instance a tapestry of innumerable hues but lacking precisely the hues peculiar to forests. Such is the new and perishable universe which has just been created.”
So today’s question for you is this: How has Proust changed the way you see the world? In what way is your vision now Proust’s?
(Since today’s post went a bit long, I’ll continue the excerpt from Roger Shattuck’s view of the comic in this section in tomorrow’s post.)
Moncrieff: Page 446 “The writer who had taken Bergotte’s place…” through Page 456 “…resolves itself into a question of ‘trying-on.'”
Treharne: Page 324 “The writer who had supplanted Bergotte…” through Page 331 “…I haven’t got a thing to wear.”‘”