Moncrieff: 524-533; Sturrock: 375-382
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel’s mother could not understand Charlus’s assiduity in visiting the Verdurins. M. de Charlus arrives at the Grant Hotel to dine in a private room with “the footman of a lady who was a cousin of the Cambremers.” Charlus compares the waitstaff with the chorus from Racine. Charlus’s disappointment that the footman “who regarded his mincing ways as a mark of his superiority,” was not the footman he had in mind when he wrote the letter inviting him to dine, expecting the other footman, “someone more virile…an extremely rustic type of peasant.” Charlus asks “his” footman if there is anyone he can introduce him to, and is “vexed” when he is offered “The Prince de Guermantes,” a man so advanced in years, one moreover to whom he had no need to apply to a footman for an introduction,” and “began to explain to him again what he wanted, the style, the type, a jockey, for instance, and so on.” An attempt to cover up his conversation when the notary walked by. The other residents of the hotel take the footman for a “fashionable foreigner,” while the other servants know him as one of them, “as one convict recognises another…” Francoise, despite her failing eyesight, recognizes the footman as a fellow servant, “and seeing M. de Charlus arm in arm with him, assumed an appalled expression, as though all of a sudden slanders which she had heard repeated and had not believed had acquired a distressing verisimilitude in her eyes.” Aime, who because of odd circumstances (he had been in bed when Charlus had come to the hotel the previous season and asked for him to bring the volume of Bergotte to Marcel, and had been busy waiting tables and so was unable to go out to Charlus’s carriage when he called at the inn where Marcel was having lunch with Saint-Loup and Rachel) had never actually met Charlus, who was interested in Aime, who, it turns out, “never repulsed the advances made to him by a strange lady or gentleman…for business must come first.” Aime shows Marcel a strange letter he received from Charlus the year before, telling him “I found your face frankly antipathetic,” and informing him how much he resembled a deceased friend to whom he had been “deeply attached,” and that he had hoped that that they could become “friends’ before going of on a tirade on how insulted he was that Aime had “turned down” the opportunities to meet with him “‘To my request that you should fetch me a book you sent the reply that you were obliged to go out. And this morning when I sent to ask you to come to my carriage, you then, if I may so speak without blasphemy, denied me for the third time…At the very most you could spare me the trouble of coming to your restaurant to make a fourth futile overture to which my patience will not extend.’ (Here M. de Charlus gave his address, stated the hours at which he would be at home, etc.) ‘Farewell, Monsieur…I am convinced that if, one day, you think of this incident again, it will not be without a feeling of some regret and remorse.”
Poor Aime. Receiving that letter from Charlus, a man he’s never met, accusing him of purposely ignoring HIM…the written equivalent of the tirade that Charlus unleashed on Marcel in The Guermantes Way after Marcel’s dinner with the Duc and Duchess. I wonder if this approach ever worked?
From the website tempsperdu, I found this tentative chronology of In Search of Lost Time, which while not necessarily totally accurate (time throughout the work is rather sketchy and nebulous) does, I think, give a much needed rough guideline:
In Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, Gérard Genette maps some of the particular difficulties in establishing the chronology of the novel (it is “neither clear nor coherent”), and provides the following “indicative chronology,” which I find mostly convincing (90-92).
- Swann in Love: 1877-78
- [Births of the Narrator and Gilberte: 1878]
- Combray I: 1883-1892
- Gilberte: 1892-spring 1895
- Balbec I: summer 1897
- Guermantes: autumn 1897-summer 1899
- Balbec II: summer 1900
- Albertine: autumn 1900-beginning 1902
- Venice: spring 1902
- Tansonville: 1903?
- The War: 1914 and 1916
- Matinée Guermantes: about 1925
And from a different angle:
- Overture: after 1925
- “Combray I”: 1883-1892
- Episode of the madeleine: 1904
- “Combray II”: 1883-1892
- “Swann in Love”: 1877-78
- [Births of the Narrator and Gilberte: 1878]
- “Place-Names: The Name”: 1892-1895
- Bois de Boulogne episode: 1903
Within A Budding Grove:
- “Madame Swann at Home”: 1892-1895
- “Place-Names: The Place”: 1897
The Guermantes Way:
Sodom and Gomorrah:
I chose not to take this chronology any further, simply because I did not want to give away any plot points.
And to wrap up for the week, a bit more from Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist:
“So there is time, and there is memory. Proust’s fiction, which is mostly nonfiction, explores how time mutates memory. Just before Marcel takes a sip of his lime-flower tea, he issues a bleak warning to his reader: ‘It is a labor in vain to attempt to recapture memory: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile…” Why does Proust think the past is so elusive? Why is the act of remembering a ‘labor in vain’?
These questions cut to the core of Proust’s theory of memory. Simply put, he believed that our recollections were phony. Although they felt real, they were actually elaborate fabrications. Take the madeleine. Proust realized that the moment we finish eating the cookie, leaving behind a collection of crumbs on a porcelain plate, we begin warmping the memory of the cookie to fit our own personal narrative. We bend the facts to suit our story, as ‘our intelligence reworks the experience.’ Proust warns us to treat the reality of our memories carefully, and with a degree of skepticism.
Even within the text itself, the Proustian narrator is constantly altering his remembered descriptions of things and people, particularly his lover Albertine. Over the course of the novel, Albertine’s beauty mark migrates from her chin to her lip to a bit of cheekbone just below her eye. In any other novel, such sloppiness would be considered a mistake. But in the Search, the instability and inaccuracy of memory is the moral. Proust wants us to know that we will never know where Albertine’s beauty mark really is. ‘I am obliged to depict errors,’ Proust wrote in a letter to Jacques Riviere, ‘without feeling compelled to say that I consider them to be errors.’ Because every memory is full of errors, there’s no need to keep track.
The strange twist in the story is that science is discovering the molecular truth behind these Proustian theories. Memory is fallible. Our remembrance of things past is imperfect.
The dishonesty of memory was first scientifically documented by Freud, by accident. In the course of his psychotherapy, he dealt with a staggering number of women who traced their nervous hysterias back to sexual abuse in their childhoods. To explain their confessions, Freud was forced to confront two equally dismaying scenarios. either the women were lying, or sexual molestation was disturbingly common in bourgeois Vienna. In the end, Freud realized that the real answer was beyond the reach of his clinic. The psychotherapist would never discover what really happened, for the moment the women ‘remembered’ their sexual abuse, they also created sincere memories. Even if their tales of abuse were fabrications, the women weren’t technically lying, since they believed every word of it. Our recollections are cynical things, designed by the brain to always feel true, regardless of whether or not they actually occurred.
For most of the twentieth century, neuroscience followed Freud’s pose of indifference. It wasn’t interested in investigating the fictionality of memory, or how the act of remembering might alter a memory. Scientists assumed that memories are just shelved away in the brain, like dusty old books in a library. But this naive approach eventually exhausted itself. In order to investigate the reality of our past, in order to understand memory as we actually experience it, scientists needed to confront the specter of memory’s lie.”
More next week, if you’re interested. Let me know.
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: Page 533 “Aime had not even read this letter to the end…” through Page 567 “…but simply that it should be possible to meet one of you without the other.”
Sturrock: Page 382 “Aime had not even read this letter to the end…” through Page 406 “…but just so that it’s not impossible to meet one of you without the other.”
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.