Moncrieff: 236-262; Sturrock: 173-192
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel continues to think about his grandmother’s pain, “when we believe we are merely re-creating the grief and pain of a beloved person, our pity exaggerates them; but perhaps it is our pity that speaks true, more than the suffers’ own consciousness of their pain, they being blind to that tragedy of their existence which pity sees and deplores. More malapropisms from the hotel manager. Marcel learns from Francoise that grandmother had been ill far longer than he had imagined, hiding her illness from him and suffering from fainting fits even while they were at Balbec, and that it was she who had asked Saint-Loup to take her photograph for Marcel, so that “If anything happened to me, he ought to have a picture of me to keep. And I’ve never had a single one made.” Marcel’s further suffering as he gazes at his grandmother’s photograph. Marcel dreams of his grandmother. “A few days later I was able to look with pleasure at the photograph that Saint-Loup had taken of her; it did not revive the memory of what Francoise had told me, because that memory had never left me and I was growing used to it.” Marcel, beginning to recover from the pain caused by the realization of his grandmother’s death, sends word to Albertine that he will see her soon. “…the disposition of the apple-trees, as far as the eye could reach they were in full bloom, unbelievably luxuriant, their feet in the mire beneath their ball-dresses, heedless of spoiling the most marvellous pink satin that was ever seen…” Marcel’s dreams reveal that his grief for his grandmother’s death is diminishing. Marcel longs for Albertine to come to resume their former amusements, “…even in the midst of a grief that is still acute, physical desire will revive.” Marcel gets on the train to Incarville to find Albertine, but as he took his seat in his compartment, “…immediately I saw my grandmother, as she had appeared sitting on the train on our departure from Paris for Balbec, when, in her distress at seeing me drink beer, she had preferred not to look, to shut her eyes and pretend to be asleep,” forcing him to get off the train at the next stop and abandon all his plans. The new house of pleasure at Maineville, “the first brothel for smart people that it had occurred to anyone to build upon the coast of France.” The death notice from the Cambremers. Marcel learns of the arrival at the Grand-Hotel of the Princess of Balbec, “the report of her coming had the effect upon many people of making them take each newcomer for the Princesse de Parme — and upon me for making me go and shut myself up in my attic.” Marcel sends Francoise to go out and “find Albertine, so that she might spend the evening with me.” Francoise makes clear her disapproval of Albertine, but informs Marcel that she’s on her way. “Monsieur ought not to see that young lady. I know quite well the sort she is, she’ll make you unhappy.” The Princesse de Parma treats the staff as though they were there solely for her, tipping each well, and rewarding them with “a few friendly, flattering words, with a store of which her mother had provided her.” Marcel becomes friendly with Albertine’s girlfriends “I counted that, in that one season, a dozen conferred on me their ephemeral favours.” Marcel uses the lift-boy to Epreville, to La Sogne, to Saint-Frichoux, to fetch Albertine. The lift boy, his language, his airs, his straw hat and cane. The page, “as handsome as Endymion, with incredibly perfect features.” One evening, the lift-boy informs Marcel that he is not able to find Albertine, but Marcel’s message was being passed on, and she would be with him later.
A question for the group. When Marcel, talking about Albertine’s girlfriends, says that they gave him “at one watering-place or another, moments of pleasure,” that a dozen conferred on me their ephemeral favours,” what, exactly, do you think he’s talking about? Do you think that Marcel actually scored with fourteen different girls that season at Balbec? Were Balbec girls really that easy?
I loved how Proust/Marcel/the Narrator is able to see an entire world from one black-bordered death notice from the Cambremers:
“In the whole expanse of this provinical family, the enumeration of which filled several closely printed lines, not a single commoner, and on the other hand not a single known title, but the entire muster-roll of the nobles of the region who made their names — those of all the interesting places in the neighbourhood — ring out with their joyous endings in ville, in court, or sometimes on a duller note (in tot). Garbed in the roof-tiles of their castle or in the roughcast of their parish church, their nodding heads barely reaching above the vault of the nave or hall, and then only to cap themselves with the Norman lantern or the timbers of the pepperpot turret, they gave the impression of having sounded the rallying call to all the charming villages straggling or scattered over a radius of fifty leagues, and to have paraded them in massed formation, without a single absentee or a single intruder, on the compact, rectangular chess-board of the aristocratic letter edged with black.”
I was also struck by the distinction the Narrator makes regarding pain and memory, in discussing the grandmother’s photo, “A few days later I was able to look with pleasure at the photograph that Saint-Loup had taken of her; it did not revive the memory of what Francoise had told me, because that memory had never left me and I was growing used to it.” The newly recalled memory vs. the lived with memory. The shock of the new.
And, finally, the conclusion of Andre Aciman’s essay “Upheaval of my Entire Being,” from The Proust Project. (The beginning of the essay can be found in my previous post.)
“Small wonder that Proust put so much stock in style. The Proustian sentnece, which personifies procrastination, allows him to sink into paper and never to come up for air, to pile up metaphors and clauses, and take all sorts of sinuous turns, the better to take sorrow and pain and spread them out, like gold, into a cadence, just cadence, because cadence is like feeling, and cadence is like breathing, and cadence is desire, and if cadence doesn’t reinvent everything we would like our life to have been or to become, then just the act of searching, and probing in that particularly cadenced way, becomes a way of feeling and of being in the world.
And yet, having built such a paper world, Proust can suddenly overturn everything I’ve been suggesting and jolts out like someone waking from a dream, sputtering things as randomly and inchoately as a man who’s barely learned to speak. No reader of Montaigne can forget that stunning moment when, after probing why he loved his deceased friend so much, the author of the Essays, this master stylist of baroque prose, breaks down and scrawls one of the most beautiful sentences penned in French. You ask me, why I loved him, Montaigne says. I don’t know. All I can say is: Parce que c’estoit luy, parce que c’estoit moy — because it was he, because it was I. Proust, too, knows how to cut through layer after layer of searching and probing prose and write as brief a sentence if only because it, like his sudden outburst, wells up in him and erupts on something that is more than just paper now. You asked me why I loved my grandmother, he says, I don’t know. All I know is this — and here is the little sentence I mentioned at the beginning: Elle etait ma grand’mere et jetais son petit-fils, She was my grandmother, and I was her grandson, ponders Marcel after his emotional upheaval. And if that’s not enough, a few lines down, Proust will say it again, more forcefully, because, while staring at her photograph in his hotel room, he will say it in yet more guileless terms: C’est grand’mere, je suis son petit fils. It’s grandmother, I am her grandson.
It’s grandmother, I’m her grandson.
Anyone can write this. but of course it’s what around it that makes it so eloquent. More to the point, life can’t compete with this. Life doesn’t even come close. And come to think of it, perhaps no one alive can.”
Which, I think, sums it all up quite nicely.
Moncrieff: Page 262 “It was not on that evening, however, that my cruel mistrust began to take solid form.” through Page 272 “…so much so that the other person was more jealous than I was.”
Sturrock: Page 192 “It was not even on that evening, however, that my cruel mistrust began to take shape.” through Page 199 “…to the point where the other person was more jealous than I.”