Archive for July, 2010

Moncrieff:  32-43; Clark: 24-32

by Dennis Abrams

“The accessories of costume gave Albertine enormous pleasure.”    Marcel’s desire to please Albertine with “some new trifle every day,” his secret visits to ask the Duchess “where, how, from what model the article had been created that had taken Albertine’s fancy…”  Albertine’s snobbery and aversion for society people:  “her republican contempt for a duchess gave way to a keen interest in a fashionable woman.”  The Duchess, her grey crepe de Chine gown, her indoor Chinese gown with red and yellow flames.  The garments made by Fortuny from old Venetian models:  “Is it their historical character, or is it rather the fact that each of them is unique, that gives them so special a significance that the pose of the woman who is wearing one while she waits for you to appear or while she talks to you assumes an exceptional importance, as though the costume had been the fruit of a long deliberation and your conversation was somehow detached from everyday life like a scene in a novel?”  “Mme de Guermantes seemed to me at this time more attractive than in the days when I was still in love with her.”  Lowered expectations for Mme de Guermantes.  “I listened to her conversation as to a folk song deliciously and purely French…”  Her awareness of her “earthy and quasi-peasant quality.”  Marcel’s pleasure “was in hearing her tell some anecdote which brought peasants into the picture with herself.” Her style of pronunciation “was a regular museum of French history displayed in conversation.”    The Prince de Leon, his claim “to have the same shape of skull as the ancient Welsh,” and his style of dress “not at all in the style of these parts.”   The Marquis du Lau, who would change into slippers before having tea with the King of England “to whom he did not regard himself as inferior, and with whom, as we see, he did not stand on ceremony.”   The pronunciation and vocabulary of Mme de Guermantes shows the conversativism of the nobility.  The gown that Mme de Guermantes wore to dinner with Mme de Saint-Euverte before the party at the Princesse de Guermantes, all red with red shoes, reminded Marcel “of a sort of great blood-red blossom, a glittering ruby…”  Mme de  Guermantes does not remember Mme de Chaussepierre attending the party.  M. de Chaussepierre defeats M. de Guermantes for the presidency of the Jockey Club, brought about in part from the fallout of the Dreyfus Case.


I enjoyed this section a lot.  My apologies for my post of yesterday — sometimes I have difficulties when the Narrator indulges in a little too much naval gazing…

I loved witnessing once again the linkage between Francoise and Mme de Guermantes as representatives of an older France:

“It is not in the bloodless pastiches of the writers of today…that we recapture the old speech and true pronunciation of words, but in conversing with a Mme de Guermantes or a Francoise.  I had learned from the latter, when I was five years old, that one did not say ‘the Tarn’ but ‘the Tar”; not ‘Bearn’ but ‘Bear.’  The effect of which was that at twenty, when I began to go into society, I had no need to be taught there that one ought not to say, like Mme Bontemps, ‘Madame de Bearn.'”

And the fact that now that he’s no longer “in love” (in what sense WAS he in love?) with Mme de Guermantes,  Marcel now can relax and enjoy himself with her.

And this:

“What is extraordinary is that of the evening in question, which after all was not so very remote, Mme de Guermantes remembered nothing but what she had been wearing, and had forgotten a certain incident which nevertheless, as we shall see presently, ought to have mattered to her greatly.  It seems that among men and women of action (and society people are men and women of action on a minute, microscopic scale, but action none the less), the mind, overtaxed by a need to attend to what is going to happen in a hour’s time, commits very little to memory.”

And this brief description of Mme de Chaussepierre, which sums her up nicely:

“…the couple lived in a modest apartment, the wife went about dressed in black wool.”

And this:

“Of course, being president of the Jockey means little or nothing to princes of the highest rank such as the Guermantes.  But not to be president when its your turn, to be passed over in favour of a Chaussepierre, whose wife’s greeting Oriane not only refused to acknowledge two years later but had gone so far as to show offence at being greeted by such an obscure scarecrow, this the Duke did find hard to swallow.”

So, looking back, for those of you who might not remember, Mme de Guermantes’ original meeting with Mme de Chaussepierre (which ties in nicely with Clint’s post earlier this week about characters/subsidiary clauses returning…)

“‘And who in the world is that?’ Mme de Guermantes exclaimed, on seeing a little lady with a slightly lost air, in a black dress so simple that you would have taken for apauper, make her a deep bow, as did also her husband.  She did not recognise the lady and, in her insolent way, drew herself up as though offended and stared at her without responding:  ‘Who is that person, Basin?’ she said with an air of astonishment, while M. de Guermantes, to atone for Oriane’s impoliteness, bowed to the lady and shook hands with her husband. ‘Why, it’s Mme de Chaussepierre, you were most impolite.’  ‘I’ve never heard of Chaussepierre.’  ‘Old mother Chanlivault’s nephew.’  ‘I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.  Who is the woman, and why does she bow to me?’  But you know perfectly well; she’s Mme de Charleval’s daughter.  Henriette Montmorency.’   ‘Oh, but I knew her mother quite well.  She was charming, extremely intelligent.  What made her go and marry all these people I’ve never heard of?  You say she calls herself Mme de Chaussepierre?’ she asked, spelling out the name with a questioning look, as though she were afraid of getting it wrong.  The Duke looked at her sternly.  ‘It’s not so ridiculous as you appear to think, to be called ‘Chaussepierre! Old Chaussepierre was the brother of the aforesaid Chanlivault, of Mme de Senecour and of the Vicomtesse du Merlerault.  They’re excellent people…’

Finally, a bit more from Clark’s introduction to The Prisoner:

“But against the narrator’s image of a vicious Albertine, Proust allows the reader to set his or her ownimage, formed from Albertine’s kindly actions (beginning with her agreement, at the end of Sodom and Gomorrah, to leave Balbec and come to Paris to comfort the narrator), and above all her speech.  Her rather slangy language with its simple sentence constructions (all the more striking by contract with the narrator’s highly complex written style) establishes her as a modern girl, emancipated for the period, not very reflective, affectionate, fond of the narrator but (it seems) generally unable to follow the tortuous pathways of his jealous thinking.   A healthy, outdoor girl — golfer, cyclist — who says what she thinks; on the face of it the most unsuitable of matches fore an aesthete — indoor, sedentary, physically frail — like the narrator.  Can a girl like this really be the sexually rapacious incorrigible liar that the narrator imagines?

It is true that at the time of the action (not precisely specified but before 1914) middle- and upper-class young girls were strictly chaperoned and never allowed to be alone with young men; in such circumstances sexual contacts between girls might have been commoner than they would be today.  Very late in the story, the narrator admits the possibility that the young Albertine might have had sexual contact with other girls while seeing in this only ‘games with a friend,’ and believing that the moral crime of ‘being a lesbian’ was something different.  As well as a tragedy of possessive love, The Prisoner is also a dreadful comedy of misunderstanding.

Yet it is not the straightforward kind of ironic fiction (like, say, the first part of John Fowles’s The Collector) in which the reader’s sympathy goes to the narrator’s victim rather than to the narrator himself.  For a start the narrator — what Proust called ‘le monseiur qui dis je’ — is at least double:  he is the (presumably) middle-aged, older-and-wiser character who is telling the story in the past tense and who shares reflections with the reader about love, jealousy, the characteristic behaviour of men and women and so forth, and also the very young man living through the Albertine: his speech is presumably meant to reproduce that of the young man.  The way the story is told suggests that a reader’s sympathies are expected to lie largely with the male character, even though, in his youthful incarnation, he is sometimes presented in a mildly comic light.  In the many generalizations about how ‘we’ feel in our dealings with ‘them’, ‘we’ are always men and ‘they’ women.  Yet Proust had close women friends, and must have hoped for many female readers for his book:  how are women to take these generalizations, and the narrator’s behaviour?”

More to come…

The Weekend’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “One curious thing was that nobody had ever heard…” through “Andree was perhaps in league with Albertine.”  Pages 43-72; Kindle locations 583-90 through 967-74

Clark:   “It was characteristic that the Duc had never been heard…” through “Anyway, could I be certain that my first idea (that Andree was not telling me the whole truth) was not the right one?  Pages 32-51; Kindle locations 966-71 through 1310-17

Enjoy.  And enjoy your weekend.

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Moncrieff:  22-32; Clark: 17-24

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel’s desire to stay at home, his lie to Albertine that it was under his doctor’s orders that he stay in bed.  Marcel’s anxiety when he’s out with Albertine. “Realty is never more than a first step towards an unknown on the road to which one can never progress very far.  It is best not to know, to think as little as possible, not to feed one’s jealousy with the slightest concrete detail.”   Marcel’s pleasure at being alone.  His internal violin.   Atmospheric changes tautens or tightens the strings, “These modifications alone, internal though they had come from without, gave me a fresh vision of the external world.”   His life quivering around the vibrating string.   Morning enjoyment.   Francoise lights the fire, and the burning twigs bring back memories of Combray and Doncieres.  “I was as joyful, while remaining in my bedroom in Paris, as if I had been on the point of setting out for a walk along the Meseglise way, or of going to join Saint-Loup and his friends on manoeuvres.”   Looking out the window, Marcel watches the world go by, “How often, at the moment when the unknown woman who was to haunt my dreams passed beneath the window, sometimes on foot, sometimes at full speed in a motor-car, did I not suffer from the fact that my body could not follow my gaze which kept pace with her, and falling upon her as though shot from the embrasure of my window by an arquebus, arrest of the flight of the face that held out for me the offer of a happiness which, thus cloistered, I should never know!” Albertine seems to Marcel less pretty, “She was capable of causing me pain, but no longer any joy.”   Desire to go to Venice, “but how was I to manage it, if I married Albertine, I who was so jealous of her that even in Paris whenever I decided to stir from myroom it was to go out with her?”  Marcel’s desire for Albertine to return to her aunt’s without the need to talk about a separation.    Marcel is no longer preoccupied by thoughts of Albertine, “and was beginning to move in a free atmosphere, in which the idea of sacrificing everything in order to prevent Albertine from marrying someone else and to put an obstacle in the way of her taste for women seemed as unreasonable in my own eyes as in those of a person who had never known her.”  Jealousy is an intermittent malady.  Marcel turns to Mme de Guermantes for fashion advice.


I have to confess that I found the first few pages of this section, Marcel’s ruminations on being alone, the quivering violin string, etc., hard going.   It got better after that, and I thoroughly enjoyed (if that’s the right word) his reconsideration of his preoccupation with Albertine and her actions, and the reintroduction of a Duchess de Guermantes sorely lacking in mystery,  in her new role of landlady and fashion adviser.


For those of you who aren’t reading the Clarke translation, a bit from her introduction to The Prisoner:

“The Prisoner is the first part of what is often called the roman d’Albertine, the Albertine novel, an intense, two-handed story of love and jealousy set within the larger social fresco of In Search of Lost Time.  This novel-within-a-novel did not form part of Proust’s original plan for the work, but the idea for it seems to have come to him in 1913, and to have occupied more and more of his writing time between then and his death in 1922.  The ‘prisoner’ is Albertine Simonet, a young woman whom the narrator first sees at the seaside at Balbec in the second part of In the Shadows of Young Girls in Flower.  Then, in her late teens,, she is the lively, indeed almost rowdy, ringleader of a group of young girls referred to as ‘la petite bande‘, the little gang, who fly around the resort on their bicycles and dominate the beach and promenade with their racy style.  The narrator also meets her at the studio of the painter Elstir.  She does not appear in the next volume, The Guermantes Way, Part I, and only briefly in The Guermantes Way, Part II, when she visits the narrator in Paris, at a time when he is wholly preoccupied with another young woman, Mme de Stermaria.  In the second part of Sodom and Gomorrah, however, the narrator returnsto Balbec, meets Albertine again and begins to fall in love with her.   He goes into society with her, notably into the Verdurin circle at its summer quarters at La Raspeliere, introducing her as his cousin.  His is a complicated and reluctant love, however:  he is fascinated by the whole ‘little gang’, and wonders intermittently whether he would not do better to love a different member of it, Andree; also he suspects the girls, and particularly Albertine and Andree, of being attracted to each other, and even of having lesbian relations.  His love really takes hold only when he has a conversation with Albertine in the little stopping train (the ‘slowcoach’ or ‘tram’) which winds its way along thecoast, and learns fromm her that when even younger she was a close associate of Mlle Vinteuil and her friend, whom he knows to be lesbians.  He feels a desperate need to keep Albertine away from these dangerous contacts, and, convincing her of his deep unhappiness (for which he supplies a false motive), he persuades her to come and live for the time being in his family’s flat in Paris where he can keep a constant watch on her.  He also holds out the prospect of marriage to her, and briefly believes in it himself:  indeed, the final words of Sodom and Gomorrah, addressed by the narrator to his mother, are “I absolutely must marry Albertine.”  Thus from the beginning his love is grounded in jealousy and a project of control.

The opening of The Prisoner finds Albertine and the narrator living in the family flat, watched over only by the old family servant, Francoise, since the narrator’s mother is detained in their home village of Combray by the illness of an aunt.  The story is told exclusively from the narrator’s point of view and we are never allowed to learn of Albertine’s reactions to his behaviour towards her:  like him, we can only guess at them.  Indeed, nowhere in the entire work are we given any fully reliable information about Albertine, apart from her name, family situation (she is an orphan, brought up by an aunt, Mme Bontemps), build and colouring (tall, plumpish, dark).   Most strikingly, we do not learn, any more than the narrator does, whether she is exclusively lesbian in her tastes, or indeed actively lesbian at all.  Indeed, what does ‘being lesbian’ mean to the narrator? He sees lesbians everywhere, and attributes to them a kind of promiscuous, predatory sexual behavior which, nowadays at least, we are told is not at all characteristic of female homosexuals.”

Although, of course, it not atypical of male homosexuals…


Thursday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “The accessories of costume gave Albertine enormous pleasure.” through “Actually, his anger never cooled.” Pages 32-43, Kindle locations 436-42 through 583-90

Clarke: “The ‘little touches’ of dress gave Albertine great pleasure.” through “In fact he was furious.”  Pages 24-32, Kindle locations 824-34 through 965-71


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Moncrieff:  11-22; Clark:  10-17

by Dennis Abrams

References to Mme de Sevigne in Mamma’s letters, Marcel’s inept response “By those quotations your mother would recognize you at once,” causing Mamma to replay, “My poor boy, if it was to speak to me of my mother, your reference to Mme de Sevigne was most inappropriate.  She would have answered you as she answered Mme de Grignan: ‘So she was nothing to you?  I had supposed that you were related!'”  Albertine’s doubts that Marcel will ever marry her, despite his hints that he will, because she is poor. “We shall see in due course that, in spite of stupid habits of speech which she had not outgrown, Albertine had developed to an astonishing degree.”  Celeste’s curious genius.  Physical changes in Albertine:  “Her blue, almond-shaped eyes — now even more elongated –had altered in appearance; they were indeed of the same colour, but had seemed to have passed into a liquid state”  Seeing a freshly-shaved Marcel is enough to cause Albertine to “vow in a transport of sincerity that she would sooner die than leave me,” without understanding the reason why.   Albertine’s plans to go out with Andree and Marcel’s trust in Andree “to tell me of all the places that she visited with Albertine.  “Andree’s privileged position as one of the girls of the little band gave me confidence that she would obtain everything I might want from Albertine.  Truly, I could have said to her now in all sincerity that she would be capable of setting my mind at rest.”  Albertine tells Marcel that back during his first visit to Balbec, Andree had been in love with him, copying all of his ways of talking and arguing, “she would twist her eyebrows the way you do, and stretch out her long neck, and I don’t know what all.”  Marcel’s advice to go to Saint-Cloud instead of Buttes-Chaumont.   Despite his lack of love for Albertine “for I no longer felt anything of the pain I had felt in the train at Balbec on learning how Albertine had spent her adolesence, with visits perhaps to Montjouvain,” certain expressions used by Albertine made him question her past.  “Is that true?”  Marcel’s preoccupation with the way Albertine spends her time.  Albertine’s passivity, her faculty for forgetting and complying with one’s wishes.   “So long as my jealousy had not been reincarnated in new people, I had enjoyed after the passing of my anguish an interval of calm.”  The possibility for Albertine to slip into vice. “…my suffering, had I thought about it, could end only with Albertine’s life or with my own.”  “I have always been more open to the world of potentiality than to the world of contingent reality.  This helps one to understand the human heart, but one is apt to be taken in by individuals.”  Marcel’s reliance on Andree and the Verdurin’s chauffeur (Morel’s friend) lets him to be lulled into a sense of security that someone is “keeping watch on my behalf.”


Where did Marcel’s hostility/indifference to women come from?

“Albertine had developed to an astonishing degree.  This was a matter of complete indifference to me, a woman’s intellectual qualities having always interested me so little that if I pointed them out to some woman or other it was solely out of politeness.”

“…she would spring on my bed and sometimes would expatiate upon my type of intellect, would vow in a transport of sincerity that she would sooner die than leave me:  this was on mornings when I had shaved before sending for her.   She was one of those women who can never distinguish the cause of what they feel.  The pleasure they derive from a fresh complexion they explain to themselves by the moral qualities of the man who seems to offer them a possibility of happiness, which is capable, however, of diminishing and becoming less compelling the longer he refrains from shaving.”

Although, as I think about it, it’s not all that different than the way Swann, Saint-Loup, and Marcel himself detect a woman’s moral qualities from the look in her eyes…

A few great lines:

“For the truth is so variable for each of us, that other people have difficulty in recognising what it is.”

“Love is no more perhaps than the diffusion of those eddies which, in the wake of an emotion, stir the soul.”

“But the slightest pretext serves to revive a chronic disease, just as the slightest opportunity may enable the vice of a person who is the cause of our jealousy to be practised anew (after a lull of chastity) with different people.”

And, perhaps most importantly,

“In leaving Balbec, I had imagined that I was leaving Gomorrah, plucking Albertine from it; in reality, alas, Gomorrah was disseminated all over the world.  And partly out of jealousy, partly out of ignorance of such joys (a case which is extremely rare), Ihad arranged unawares this game of hide and seek in which Albertine would always elude me.”

Bloom reflects that,

“The metaphor or transference called ‘love,’ Proust calls ‘jealousy,’  so that when Marcel tells the invalid Swann that he has never felt jealous,  he implicitly confesses that he did not love Gilberte.  Time’s revenges are about to descend upon him in the novel’s great affair of jealousy, the demonic parody of its search for lost time.  The Albertine-Marcel saga…begins as it should, with jealousy, which, according to the Narrator,  precedes Marcel’s love for Albertine.  Early in The Captive, the pattern is made clear: the excitation of his jealousy is what motivates Marcel, in a contest with Albertine’s lesbian lovers that he can never hope to win.”


Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 22 “As for the reason for my desire to remain at home…” through Page 32 “…to summon our tailor or in order to order an ice cream.”

Clark: Pages 17-24,  Kindle locations 715-21 “I asked her to excuse me from coming with had and Andree.” through Kindle locations 827-34 “…to call our tailor or order an iced dessert.”


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Moncrieff:  1-10; Clark:  1-10

by Dennis Abrams

Daybreak in Paris.  Street sounds.  “I would awake finally to clarion peals of music.   It was, in fact, principally from my bedroom that I took in the life of the outer world during this period.”  Bloch, who had heard the sounds of conversation coming from Marcel’s bedroom in the evening, is shocked to later learn that Albertine had been living there, Marcel “having concealed her presence from everybody…”   Late night kisses from Albertine, “she used to slide her tongue between my lips like a portion of daily bread, a nourishing food…”   Marcel and Albertine’s adjoining bathrooms, “the windows, so that their occupants might not be visible from without, were not smooth and transparent but crinkled with an artificial and old-fashioned hoar-frost.   All of a sudden, the sun would colour this muslin glass, gild it, and, gently disclosing in my person an earlier young man whom habit had long concealed, would intoxicate me with memories, as though I were in the heart of the country amidst golden foliage in which even a bird was not lacking.”  Albertine’s bad taste in music.  Many mornings, Marcel would stay in bed as long as possible; even ringing the bell for Francoise was too much effort.   Now that he has her, Marcel is bored with Albertine, and “was indeed clearly conscious that I was not in love…”  The little people inside Marcel, whose company he prefers to Albertine.  Ringing for Francoise, opening the Figaro in the hope of finding “an article, or so-called article, which I had sent to the editor, and which was no more than a slightly revised version of the page that had recently come to light, written long ago in Dr. Percepied’s carriage, as I gazed at the spires of Martinville.  Mamma’s letter, her disapproval  mixed with tolerance of Albertine living in the house.  Mme Bontemp’s approval of the situation.  Mamma will be away at Combray for months.  Legrandin’s kindness in caring for Marcel’s great-aunt until his mother arrives, “Snobbery is a grave disease, but it is localised and does not utterly corrupt the soul.”  New rules for Albertine.  Francoise’s traditionalism.


Well, that didn’t take long did it:

“But this calm which my mistress procured for me was an assuagement of suffering rather than a joy. Not that it did not enable me to taste many joys from which the intensity of my anguish had debarred me, but, far from my owning them to Albertine, who in any case I no longer found very pretty and with whom I was bored, with whom I was indeed clearly conscious that I was not in love, I tasted these joys on the contrary when Albertine was not with me.”

Yet, if she had gone to Trieste…


I’m not sure how many of you read the comments, but Clint White left this one yesterday in response to my asking on Friday for your impressions, evaluations, etc., and I think it’s very well worth posting:

“As for your questions about impressions, evaluations, difficulties, experiences vs. expectations, and such… I am finding Proust far, far funnier than I expected (which seems to be a not uncommon reaction). Also, I am surprised at how clean the writing is. Having heard of the marathon sentences, I guess I expected more stream of consciousness, run on sentences with little or no structure. Instead I’m finding that virtually every sentence, while perhaps a cascade of numerous clauses, is well constructed. Thoughts which open a sentence may be interrupted for a while with various dependent clauses, but eventually Proust returns to finish off those opening thoughts by the end of the sentence. I like that. Along these lines, I absolutely love how we keep happening upon people, places, and events that we knew before. I like how Francoise, Aimee, and others show up from time to time. Here in the final pages of of “Sodom and Gomorrah” we are recalled to a moment from the early part of “Swann’s Way” and from moments in “Budding Grove”. Like clauses in his sentences, these earlier parts of the narrative don’t simply trail off; they may be interrupted for a while by other parts, but they keep coming back.”

I was particularly struck by Clint’s idea (which, alas, had never occured to me) of the book being similar in structure to Proust’s sentences, where clauses (or characters) that may seem to have been dropped or forgotten or interrupted, return once again.

Thanks, Clint!


And finally, a brief excerpt from Edmund Wilson’s essay on Proust from his collection Axel’s Castle, regarding the two volumes we are just beginning:

“The episode with Albertine upon which Proust put so much labor and which he intended for the climax of his book, has not been one of the most popular sections, and it is certainly one of the most trying to read.  Albertine is seen in so many varying moods, made the subject of so many ideas, dissociated into so many different images, and her lover describes at such unconscionable length the writhings of his own sensibility, that we sometimes feel ourselves going under in the gray horizonless ocean of analysis and lose sight of Proust’s unwavering objective grasp of the characters of both lovers which make the catastrophe inevitable.  Furthermore, the episode of Albertine does not supply us with any of the things which we ordinarily expect from love affairs in novels: it is quite without tenderness, glamour or romance — the relation between Albertine and her lover seems to involve neither idealism nor enjoyment.  But this is also its particular strength: it is one of the most original studies of love in fiction and, in spite of the highly special conditions under which it is made to take place, we recognize it as an inescapable truth.  And it ends by moving us in a curious way…”


Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 11 “Among the reasons which led Mamma to write me a letter every day…” through Page 22 “…in keeping watch on my behalf.”

Clark: Page 10 through Page 17 “…relying on others to do my surveillance for me.”


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Moncrieff:   692-724; Sturrock:  492-514

by Dennis Abrams

Saint-Loup gets off the train, Marcel realizes that Albertine has done everything she can to spare Marcel any uneasiness, placing herself so that “she could not even unintentionally brush against Robert, almost too far away even to shake hands with him…”  Summer is drawing to a close.  “Incarville, which had filled my mind with so many dreams in the past, what I saw, as though its old sandstone wall had become transparent, was the comfortable house of an uncle of M. de Cambremer…So that it was not merely the place-names of this district that had lost their initial mystery, but the places themselves.”  Stops at train stations “were a setting for social intercourse like any other…” Stops along the way, the journey itself was now reduced to “a series of visits.”   “The benefit that I did at least derive from it was that of looking at things only from a practical point of view.  The idea of marrying Albertine appeared to be madness.”   Intermittences of the heart II: Marcel informs his mother of his intention not to marry Albertine and to stop seeing her altogether.  Marcel decides that he wants to be free to be with Andree when she arrives at Balbec in a few days, “not to marry her if I did not wish to do so, to be able to go to Venice, but at the same to have her entirely to myself in the meantime…” and plans to tell Andree that it’s too bad she hadn’t arrived earlier, that he’s unhappy in his other love, “and you will help to console me….for in this way I should give Andree the impression that I was not really in love with her; hence she would not grow tired of me and I should take a joyful and pleasant advantage of her affection.”   Returning home from La Raspliere, Marcel tells Albertine that on his next visit, he wants Mme Verdurin to “let him here some things by a musician whose work she knows very well…I should like to know if the rest of his work is published…his name is Vinteuil.”   Albertine informs Marcel that Vinteuil’s daughter and her “friend” are like big sisters to her, that the happiest years of her life were spent with them at Trieste, and that she’s planning to join them in a few weeks at Cherbourg, before setting out on a cruise together.   On hearing this, “an image stirred in [Marcel’s] heart, an image which I had kept in reserve for so many years that even I had been able to guess, when I stored it up long ago, that it had a noxious power, I should have supposed that in the course of time it had entirely lost it; preserved alive in the depths of my being…”  Orestes.  Memory of the scene at Montjouvain “concealed behind a bush where (as when I had complacently listened to the account of Swann’s love affairs) I had perilously allowed to  open up within me the fatal and inevitably painful road of Knowledge.”  Horror at the notion “of Albertine as the friend of Mlle Vinteuil and of Mlle Vinteuil’s friend, a practicing and professional Sapphist…”   Marcel pleads with Albertine to spend the night with him at Balbec.  “The truth of what Cottard had said to me in the casino at Incarville was now confirmed beyond a shadow of doubt.  What I had long dreaded, had vaguely suspected of Albertine, what my instinct deduced from her whole personality and my reason controlled by my despair had gradually made me repudiate, was true!   Marcel sees Albertine in a new light.   Marcel visits Albertine in her room at the Grand Hotel, and tells her that he is unhappy because of a woman he was to have married in Paris.  Albertine promises “‘I shan’t leave you any more, I’m going to spend all my time here,’…offering me, in fact — and alone could offer it — the sole remedy for the poison that was consuming me…” Marcel wants nothing more than to stop Albertine from boarding the boat with Mlle Vinteuil and her friend. Marcel imagines Albertine surrendering herself “with her strange, deep laugh,” to Mlle Vinteuil’s friend.  Jealousy.  Desire to lock Albertine away. Marcel asks Albertine to come live with him in Paris.  Albertine initially objects, and then gives in.   The manager’s unhappiness that Marcel is leaving immediately, and Marcel’s desire to keep Albertine away from Bloch’s sisters.  The women he has loved and love’s source:  “It was as though a virtue that had no connexion with them had been artificially attached to them by nature, and that this virtue, this quasi-electric power, had the effect upon me of exciting my love, that is to say of controlling all my actions and causing all my sufferings.  But from this, the beauty, or the intelligence, or the kindness of these women was entirely distinct.”  Watching the sunrise.  Marcel informs his mother of his intentions:  “…I absolutely must marry Albertine.”

Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Proust’s comic irony — just as soon as he realizes how much Albertine distances herself from Saint-Loup to assuage his jealousy, just as he prepares to dump her for the possibility of Andree, Marcel learns about Mlle Vinteuil and her friend, and his world turns upside-down.

Marcel’s semi-self-awareness:

“Being, in spite of myself, still pursued in my jealousy by the memory of Saint-Loup’s relations with ‘Rachael when from the Lord’ and of Swann’s with Odette, I was too inclined to believe that, once I was in love, I could not be loved in return, and that pecuniary interest alone could attach a woman to me.  No doubt it was foolish to judge Albertine by Odette and Rachel.  But it was not her I was afraid of, it was myself; it was the feelings that I was capable of inspiring that my jealousy made me underestimate.  And from this judgment, possibly erroneous, sprang no doubt many of the calamities that were to befall us.”


I loved this:

“The notion of Albertine as the friend of Mlle Veinteuil and of Mlle Vinteuil’s friend, a practicing and professional Sapphist, was as momentous, compared to what I had imagined when I had doubted her most, as are the telephones that soar over streets, cities, fields, seas, linking one country to another, compared to the little acousticon of the 1889 Exhibition, which was barely expected to transmit sound from one end of a house to the other.”

And this, while rather horrifying…

“Today, in order that Albertine might not go to Trieste, I would have endured every possible torment, and if that proved insufficient, would have inflicted torments on her, would have isolated her, kept her under lock and key, would have taken from her the little money that she had so that it should be physically impossible for her to make the journey.”

And this…

“It was Trieste, it was that unknown world in which I could feel that Albertine took a delight, in which were her memories, her friendships, her childhood loves, that exhaled that hostile, inexplicable atmosphere, like that atmosphere that used to float up to my bedroom at Combray, from the dining-room in whichI could hear, talking and laughing with strangers amid the clatter of knives and forks, Mamma who would not be coming upstairs to say good-night to me; like the atmosphere that for Swann, had filled the houses to which Odette went at night in search of inconceivable joys.  It was no longer as of a delightful place where the people were pensive, the sunsets golden, the church bells melancholy, that I thought now of Trieste, but as of an accursed city which I should have liked to see instantaneously burned down and eliminated from the real world.”

Like Sodom and Gomorrah?

Why do I have the all too uncomfortable feeling that, in different circumstances, Marcel would be more than happy to keep Albertine in a burka?


A brief re-cap of what we saw in Sodom and Gomorrah:

Marcel witnessing Charlus with Jupien.

The dinner reception at the Princesse de Guermantes.

A visit from Albertine.

Marcel’s return to Balbec.

The first intermittency of the heart:  Marcel’s grief over his grandmother’s death.

Marcel renews his relationship with Albertine.

Charlus and Morel.

The Verdurins at La Raspeliere, Charlus becomes one of the “faithful.”

Albertine’s revelation about her long friendship with Mlle Vinteuil and her friend.

Marcel’s jealousy, and his decision to marry Albertine.

And finally, from Samuel Beckett’s study Proust, his look at the changing relationship between Marcel and Albertine.  I’m going to begin this quote starting with his description of Albertine’s phone call in Paris to Marcel, when she attempts to beg off coming to visit him:

“But when she telephones to explain, when he knows that she is on her way, then he wonders how he could have seen in this vulgar Albertine, similar, even inferior to so many others, a source of comfort and salvation that no miracle could replace.  ‘One only loves that which is not possessed, one only loves that in which one pursues the inaccessible.’

The second visit to Balbec, inaugurated by the retrospective loss and mourning of his grandmother, completes the transformation of a creature of surface into a creature of depth– unfathomable, accomplishes the solidification of a profile.  From the moment that Dr. Cottard sees Albertine and her friend Andree (one of the band) dancing together in the Casino at Incarville and pompously diagnoses a case of sexual perversion, dates the ‘reciprocal torture’ of their relations.   From this point lies and counterlies, pursuit and evasion, and on the part of the narrator a love for Albertine whose intensity is related in direct proportion to the success of her prevarications.  Because Albertine is not only a liar as all those that believe themselves loved are liars:  she is a natural liar.  A succession of incidents consolidate the narrator’s doubt on the chapter of Albertine, that is to say, exasperate his love for her.  She fails to keep an appointment, she lies about an appointment with a mythical friend of her aunt at Infreville, she stares at the reflection in a mirror of Mlle Bloch and her cousin, two practising Sapphists, and then denies having seen them.  Then, the narrator’s jealousy and sense of impotence being at their height, their follows a lull, and he is calmed by the docility of an always available Albertine.  He becomes indifferent to this new creature who opposes no further resistance.  He resolves to break with her, and announces his decision to his mother. Returning one evening with Albertine in the ‘tacot’ from a party at La Raspliere he goes over in his mind the formulae of separation.  He happens to mention that he is interested in the music of Vinteuil.  Albertine, whose taste in music is as primitive as her appreciation of painting and architecture is developed, hopes to create a favourable impression, declares that she is perfectly familiar with the music of Vinteuil, thanks to her intimacy with Mlle Vinteuil and her friend, the actress Lea.  In a paroxysm of jealousy the narrator is back again at Montjouvain, the horrified spectator of those two Lesbians flavouring their pleasure in a sadistic act of desecration at the expense of M Vinteuil himself, who has been dead some time.  And this vision of Montjouvain seems to come like Orestes to avenge the murder of Agamemmon.  And he thinks of his grandmother and of his cruelties towards her. Albertine, so remote and detached from his heart a moment before, is now not merely an obsession, but part of himself, within him, and the movement she makes to descend from the train threatens to tear open his body.    He forces her to accompany him to Balbec.  The strand and the waves exist no more, the summer is dead.  The sea is a veil that cannot hide the horror of Montjouvain, the intolerable vision of sadistic lubricity and a photograph defiled. He sees in Albertine another Rachel and another Odette, and the sterility and mockery of an affection dictated by interest.  He sees his life as a succession of joyless dawns, poisoned by the torture of memory and isolation.  The next morning he brings Albertine to Paris and locks her up in his house.”

Monday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 1:  “At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall…” through Page 11 “…even more than to punish us.”

Clark:  Sorry, my copy hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s through Page 10.


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Moncrieff:  682-692; Sturrock: 485-492

by Dennis Abrams

At Beausoliel or Doncieres, Saint-Loup or one of his friends would board the train with an invitation from Captain de Borodino.  Marcel’s jealousy of Saint-Loup:  “…the whole of the time he was with us I contrived, without letting anyone notice, to keep Albertine a prisoner under my unnecessarily vigilant eye.”  During one such protracted stop, Bloch boards the train and invites Marcel to get out and say hello to his father who is waiting in his carriage, “But I could not bear to leave Albertine in the train with Saint-Loup; they might, while my back was turned, get into conversation, go into another compartment, smile at one another, touch one another; my eyes, glued to Albertine, could not detach themselves from her so long as Saint-Loup was there.”  Marcel refuses Bloch’s request, and Bloch, who sees the kind of people (Charlus among them) that Marcel is traveling with is angered, “I was sorry to appear lacking in comradeship, and even more so for the reason for which Bloch supposed that I was lacking in it, and  to feel that he imagined that I was not the same towards my middle-class friends when I was with people of ‘birth.'”  Marcel would rather appear to be a snob than confess his jealousy of Albertine.   Misunderstandings that can destroy friendships.  Marcel reveals his disappointment with Bloch that, at a luncheon he had at Mme Bontemps, he didn’t join in the chorus of praise for Marcel.  “It is not that I admire you less than the ravening dogs with whom I had been bidden to feed.  But I admire you because I admire you, and they admire you without understanding you.”  Pudor, daughter of Kronion.  Bloch’s belief that “I was incapable of depriving myself for a second of the company of smart people, but that, jealous of the advances that they might make to him (M. de Charlus, for instance), I was trying to put a spoke in his wheel and to prevent him from making friends with them…”  Charlus’s interest in Bloch, and his attempts not to appear interested. Charlus goes on an anti-Semitic tirade:  “As soon as a Jew has enough money to buy a place in the country he always chooses one that is called Priory, Abbey, Minster, Chantry…When they perform in Holy Week those indecent spectacles that are called ‘the Passion,’ half the audience are Jews, exulting in the thought that they are about to hang Christ a second time on the Cross, at least in effigy…”  The tirade continues when Charlus learns that Bloch’s father’s office was in the Rue des Blancs-Manteaux:  “Oh, isn’t that the last word in perversity!…What sacrilege!   To think that these White Mantles polluted by M. Bloch were those of the mendicant friars, styled Serfs of the Blessed Virgin, whom Saint Louis established there…”  Charlus pulls back a bit before continuing:  “‘Of course,’ he went on in a lofty, grandiloquent tone suited to the discussion of aesthetic matters, and giving, by an unconscious atavistic reflex, the air of an old Louis XIII musketeer to his uplifted face:  ‘I take an interest in all that sort of thing only from the point of view of art.  Politics are not in my line, and I cannot condemn wholesale, because Bloch belongs to it, a nation that numbers Spinoza among its illustrious sons.   And I admire Rembrandt too much not to realise the beauty that can be derived from frequenting the synagogue.  But after all, a ghetto is all the finer the more homogeneous and complete it is.”  Charlus suggests that Bloch could take them to see the Church of the White Mantles.  Morel, noticing the impression that Bloch made on Charlus, “murmured his thanks in my ear for having ‘given him the push,’ adding cynically:   ‘He wanted to stay, it’s all jealousy, he’d like to take my place.  Just like a Yid!'”


Marcel would rather appear to be a snob than appear to be jealous?  Marcel is too jealous to leave Albertine with Saint-Loup on a public train for just a few minutes because they might smile at each other?

And Charlus’s interest in Bloch?  And that venemous diatribe?  What was going on with this story?

“It was there, by the way, that there lived a strange Jew who boiled the Host, after which I think theyboiledhim, which is stranger still since it seems to suggest that the body of a Jew can be equivalent to the Body of Our Lord.”


And of course there’s this:

“So it is that in theory we find that we ought always to explain ourselves frankly, to avoid misunderstandings.  But very often life arranges these in such a way that, in order to dispel them, in the rare circumstances in which it might be possible to do so, we must real either — something that would annoy our friend even more than the imaginary wrong that he imputes to us, or a secret the disclosure of which — and this was my predicament — appears to us even worse than the misunderstanding.”

And, for those you who were wondering who “sacred Pudor” was…

Seneca, Hercules Furens 686 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
“[Description of the Underworld :] The foul pool of Cocytus’ sluggish stream lies here; here the vulture, there the dole-bringing owl utters its cry, and the sad omen of the gruesome screech-owl sounds. The leaves shudder, black with gloomy foliage where sluggish Sopor [Hypnos, sleep] clings to the overhanging yew, where sad Fames [Limos, hunger] lies with wasted jaws, and Pudor [Aidos, shame], too late, hides her guilt-burdened face. Metus [Deimos, dread] stalks there, gloomy Pavor [Phobos, fear] and gnashing Dolor [Algos, pain], sable Luctus [Penthos, grief], tottering Morbus [disease] and iron-girt Bella [Enyo, war]; and last of all slow Senectus [Geras, age] supports his steps upon a staff.”

And finally…I read this essay by J.P. Smith at one of my favorite sites, “The Millions,” on reading Proust in French, and thought it would make excellent weekend reading:



Weekend’s Reading:

Both translations — we’re finishing Sodom and Gomorrah.  If you get a chance over the weekend, post something…your assessment of the books so far, your evaluation of Sodom and Gomorrah, favorite characters, least favorite characters, what pushes you forward, what you have problems with, how it compares with what you thought it would be, things you’d like to see in my posts…whatever you’d like.   Even if you’ve NEVER posted, make your voice heard!

Enjoy.  And enjoy your weekend.

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Moncrieff: 668-681; Sturrock: 475-485

by Dennis Abrams

“The anger of the Cambremer’s was extreme…”  After Marcel mentions Balzac’s Scenes de la vie de province,” to Charlus and making comparisons to the Cambremers, he learns that Brichot is in love with Mme de Cambremer.  Charlus, due to a “certain equivocally paternal tone in addressing all young men…gave the lie to the womanising views which he expressed.”   After Brichot accepts several invitations to lunch at the Cambremer’s, Mme Verdurin “decided that it was time to put a stop to these proceedings.”  Their one hour talk, in which Mme Verdurin pointed out to Brichot “that Mme de Cambremer cared nothing for him, that he was the laughing-stock of her drawing-room, that he would be dishonouring his old age and compromising his situation in the academic world.”  Her victory, and Brichot’s grief which “was such that for two days it was thought that he would lose his sight altogether, and in any case his disease had taken a leap forward from which it never retreated.”   The Cambremers, who are still furious at Morel, invite Charlus to dinner, but after he ignores the invitation they realize “they had committed a gaffe,” and invite Morel as well, who is instructed by Charlus, smiling at the proof of his power, to accept on both of their behalf. M. and Mme Fere, “out of the top drawer.”  The Cambremer’s excitement on being able to introduce to Charlus to the Feres.  The night of the dinner, only Morel attends, bringing Charlus’s regrets:  “‘The Baron can’t come. He’s not feeling very well, at least I think that’s the reason…I haven’t seen him this week,’ he added, these last words completing the despair of Mme de Cambremer, who had told M. and Mme Fere that Morel saw Charlus at every hour of the day.”    M. de Cambremer, wanting to see his house again accepts an invitation from the Verdurins, but this time, Mme de Cambremer claims illness and does not attend.  The Cambremers and the Verdurins are scarcely on speaking terms.  Complaints from the Cambremers about Charlus’s alleged Dreyfusism and Mme Verdurin’s excessive familiarity — just because she rents their house does not mean she’s entitled to be their friend.   Night time carriage rides to the train station, the length of the journey to La Raspeliere.  Darkened carriages allow for caresses between Marcel and Albertine.  M. de Cambremer’s satisfaction that Marcel is suffering from spasms.  Mme de Cambremer’s concern that Albertine has acted “rather weirdly.”    The wife of a banker, and Marcel’s sense that it “was inserted merely to put me off the scent.”   The night train home awakens in Marcel “the desire to travel, to lead a new life, and so made me want to abandon my intention of marrying Albertine, and even to break off our relations for good…”    More etymologies from Brichot.


Now that was a lot of social manuvering.  Morel angers the Cambremers, the Cambremers anger Charlus, Charlus angers the Cambremers, Mme de Cambremer angers the Verdurins, the Verdurins anger the Cambremers, Brichot angers Mme Verdurin, Mme Verdurin saddens Brichot.  That’s a lot for around ten pages of constantly fascinating prose.  And that’s not even taking into account the subtle maneuvering going on between Marcel and Albertine.

I really loved this one, extraordinarily long sentence, which seemed to capture the very rhythms of travel:

“Once we were in the carriages which had come to meet us, we no longer had any idea where we were; the roads were not lighted; we could tell by the louder noise of the wheels that we were passing through a village, we thought we had arrived, we found ourselves once more in the open country, we heard bells in the distance, we forgot that we were in evening dress, and we had almost fallen asleep when, at the end of this long stretch of darkness which, what with the distance we had travelled and the hitches and delays inseparable from railway journeys, seemed to have carried us on to a late hour of the night and almost half-way back to Paris, suddenly, after the crunching of the carriage wheels over a finer gravel had revealed to us that we had turned into the drive, there burst forth, reintroducing us into a social existence, the dazzling lights of the drawing-room, then of the dining-room where we were suddenly taken aback by hearing eight o’clock strike when we imagined it was long past, while the endless dishes and vintage wines would circulate among the men in tails and the women with bare arms, at a dinner glittering with light like a real metropolitan dinner-party but surrounded, and thereby changed in character, by the strange and sombre double veil which, diverted from their primal solemnity, the nocturnal, rural, maritime hours of the journey there and back had woven for it.”


Thursday’s Reading:

Moncrieff: Page 682 “During these homeward journeys…” through Page 692 “…It might have swept them clean.”

Sturrock: Page 485 “During thesehomeward journeys…” through Page 492 “…It would have been a new broom.”


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