Moncrieff: 204-214; Sturrock: 150-157
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel arrives to spend the season at Balbec’s Grand Hotel, staying in the same room as he did on his first visit, when accompanied by his grandmother. The malapropisms of the hotel manager. The reason for Marcel’s visit is, in large part, because he has learned that Mme Potbus (and her chambermaid) will be staying with the Verdurins at one of M. de Cambremer’s houses, La Raspeliere. Saint-Loup’s letter of introduction to the Cambremers. Although Mme Potbus (and her chambermaid) will not be arriving at Balbec for some time, Marcel knows that he would be in a place “where fair strangers must abound; a beach offers them in no less profusion than a ball-room..” Marcel enters his room and experiences “upheaval of my entire being.” As Marcel bends down to remove his boots and is “shaken with sobs,” as he had “just perceived, in my memory, stopping over my fatigue, the tender, preoccupied, disappointed face of my grandmother, as she had been on that first evening of our arrival, the face not of that grandmother whom I had been astonished and remorseful at having so little missed, and who had nothing in common with her but her name, but of my real grandmother, of whom, for the first time since the afternoon of her stroke in the Champs-Elysees, I now recaptured the living reality in a complete and involuntary recollection.” Marcel realizes that “It is, no doubt, the existence of our body, which we may compare to a vase enclosing our spiritual nature, that induces us to suppose that all our inner wealth, our past joys, all our sorrows, are perpetually in our possession. Perhaps it is equally inexact to suppose that they escape or return. In any case, if they remain within us, for most of the time it is in an unknown region where they are of no use to us, and where even the most ordinary are crowded out by memories of a different kind, which preclude any simultaneous occurance of them in our consciousness. But if the context of sensations in which they are preserved is recaptured, they acquire in turn the same power of expelling everything that is incompatible with them, of installing alone in us the self that originally lived them.” “As though Time were to consist of a series of different and parallel lines…the self that I then was, that had disappeared for so long, was once again so close to me that I seemed still to hear the words that had just been spoken, although they were now no more than a phantasm…I was now solely the person who had sought a refuge in his grandmother’s arms…” Marcel’s need to have his grandmother’s arms around him is reawakened while at the same time “I knew that I might wait hour after hour, that she would never again be by my side. I had only just discovered this because I had only just, on feeling her for the first time alive, real, making my heart swell to breaking point, on finding her at last, learned that I had lost her for ever.” Marcel’s regrets at the pain he had caused his grandmother, “now that the consolation of countless kisses was for ever impossible.”
Obviously, a crucial passage. One year after his grandmother’s death, Marcel, by returning to Balbec and repeating a moment, recaptures the memory of his grandmother as she was before her illness, a memory which serves to finally let him realize that she is gone forever. Reading this, one is, I think, pained by Marcel’s pain, by our memory as reader’s of his grandmother and the comfort she had brought him that first night of their visit to Balbec, and by the fact that this time, he is alone facing his pain. Heartbreaking.
In his introduction to his translation of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Sturrock gives a nice explanation of the concept of “The Intermittences of the Heart”:
“This had at one time been the title he intended to give to In Search of Lost Time as a whole, and it might seem strange to find it thus demoted, and allotted so seemingly slight a role. That role is very slight, however. The ‘intermittences of the heart’ are the time delays that we may any of us experience between cause and effect in our emotional lives, between some more than usually significant event and our inward response to it. The first example of such a delay in Sodom and Gomorrah involved the death after a stroke of the Narrator’s beloved grandmother, which had been described at some length in Part II of The Guermantes Way. He had not then suffered its full effects. Now he does, when finding himself staying in the same hotel in Balbec where they once stayed together, and sleeping next to exactly the same sort of partition wall on which he had tapped in moments of distress, knowing that she would hear him on her side and come to comfort him. The memory is enough to cause him finally and intensely to mourn her. It is thus one of the series of memories around which In Search of Lost Time is structured, the series of so-called involuntary memories, the most celebrated of which has the Narrator dipping a madeleine in his tea and finding whole swaths of the past being vividly restored to him.”
And from The Proust Project, poet, essayist and translator Richard Howard has this to say:
“No favorite character, no phylactery of psychological insight; instead, the consecrated feature of Proustian textuality: the sentence. Of course, not just any sentence in the Search but those — they are frequent, even endemic — which occur when Proust flexes his rhetorical muscles (the reader can feel the discourse tighten and release) in preparation for the binding effort, the intentional and uniting articulation of continuous prose…
Let me offer a (comparatively) wieldly example which, in the middle of the first chapter of Sodom and Gomorrah 2, introduces the crucial notion — a conception even more deeply rooted than ‘involuntary memory,’ to which of course it is related — of the intermittencies of the heart. Herewith:
‘Considered in its entirety at any given moment, the human soul has no more than an almost fictious value for all its array of riches, since now some of these, now others, whether actual or imaginary, are inaccessible — in my own case, for example, not only the ancient name Guermantes, but the much graver instance of the true memory of my grandmother. For to memory’s flaws are linked the intermittences of the heart.’
It is the coiling elaboration of that first sentence which readies us, which works us up, as we say nowadays, for the ten words which follow, and for the famous phrase which Proust once thought to use as the comprehensive title of his entire work. The metaphorical and psychological meaning of the medical term intermittence occurs in Maeterlinck’s essay on immortality (in L’Intelligence des fleurs) which Proust had consulted for an application, in Sodom and Gomorrah 1, of a botanical metaphor for homosexual love: ‘As if the functions of that organ by which we delight in life were intermittent: as if our very presence, except in pain, were no more than a perpetual series of withdrawals and returns.’ But what I want to emphasize here is not the interesting derivation of the concept itself, but the way Proust’s long(ish0 sentence about various kinds of loss — not only of the snobbish association with the noble Guermantes but of Marcel’s authentic love for his grandmother — is articulated in the relentless twists and turns, the grammatical feints and dodges analogizing the structure of consciousness itself, whereupon he can deliver the knockout, the pith and vinegar of the tiny aphorism consequent upon such serpentine speculation.”
Brilliant. What are your thoughts?
And as a quick change of subject — did anyone really find the malapropisms of the hotel manager funny? Maybe they’re funnier in French?
Moncrieff: Page 214 “But never again would I be able to erase…” through Page 226 “…I’m only too delighted that people should know I was at your party.”
Sturrock: Page 157 “But never again would I be able to erase…” through Page 165 “…I’m only too happy for it to be known that I came to see you.”