Moncrieff: 533-567; 382-406
by Dennis Abrams
Aime, who hadn’t read Charlus’s letter to the end, regrets what might have been. Is Charlus’s relationship with Morel merely Platonic? Marcel spends his days in excursions with Albertine, who had decided to take up painting again. Summer heat. The birds in the forest of Chantepie. Marcel doesn’t stay with Albertine while she paints the church of Saint-Jean-de-la-Haise, “For she had alarmed me by saying to me of this church as of other monuments and of certain pictures: ‘What a pleasure it would be to see it with you!; this pleasure was one that I did not feel myself capable of giving her. I felt it myself in front of beautiful things only if I was alone or pretended to be alone and did not speak.” While Albertine paints, Marcel would go in the carriage to pay a visit on the Verdurins or the Cambremers or even back to Balbec to spend time with his mother. To please Albertine, and to make touring easier, Marcel (after the toque and veil he had ordered arrived), surprises Albertine with the news that he had taken a car and driver. The car reduces distances and alters perceptions of landscapes and time. Marcel and Albertine stop at La Raspeliere to pay a call on the Verdurins. The Verdurins know the surrounding landscape in ways that are deeper than the Cambremers, who “From force of habit, lack of imagination, want of interest in a country which seemed hackneyed because it was so near…when they left their home went always to the same places and by the same roads.” The beauty of the Verdurins’ view, and the benches placed at the best vantage points. Meeting people at the Verdurins’ while in the country: “…and the charm of the setting enhanced in my eyes, not merely the pleasantness of the occasion but the merits of the visitors. A meeting with some society person, which in Paris would have given me no pleasure but which at La Raspeliere, whither he or she had come from a distance via Feterne or the forest of Chantepie, changed in character and importance, became an agreeable incident.” The Verdurins, desperate for company, beg Marcel and Albertine to stay for tea, but they refuse. Mme Verdurin begs to be allowed to accompany Marcel and Albertine on their outing, and after trying to politely say ‘no” Marcel “refused point-blank, whispering in Mme Verdurin’s ear that because of some trouble which had befallen Albertine and about which she wished to consult me, it was absolutely essential that I should be alone with her. The Mistress looked furious: ‘All right, we shan’t come,’ she said to me in a voice trembling with rage.” Marcel worries that he had “irrevocably offended her,” but, not willing to lose a member of the circle, she reminds him not to “let her down” on the next Wednesday, to be sure to come by train with the others (not by car which is dangerous at night), and sends them on their way with a slice of tart and some shortbread. Automobiles alter our perception of time and space. Mme de Villeparisis, Beaumont, the road, and the changes wrought by arriving by car instead of by carriage, “so Beaumont, suddenly linked with places from which I supposed it be so distinct, lost its mystery and took its place in the district, making me think with terror that Madame Bovary and the Sanseverina might have seemed to me like ordinary people, had I met them elsewhere than in the close atmosphere of a novel.” Train travel vs. automobile. “…many of the sorrows of my life in Paris in the following year, much of my trouble over Albertine, would have been avoided,” if Marcel had known that his chaffeur was also friends with both Charlus and Morel. Morel and Charlus have a meal on the coast. The roses must be removed from the table. Morel tells Charlus “what I’d like would be to find a girl who was absolutely pure, make her fall in love with me, and take her virginity…but once the little operation was performed, I’d ditch her that very evening.” Morel’s fantasy excites Charlus: “The idea of Morel’s ‘ditching’ without compunction a girl whom he had outraged had enabled him to enjoy an abrupt and consummate pleasure.” Charlus criticizes Morel’s style of playing. Morel begins to overrate his own importance, and treats Charlus rudely. While Albertine is at the church painting, Marcel’s thoughts are solely of her. Nature reminds Marcel that the trees he sees would outlive him and: “I seemed to be receiving from them a silent counsel to set myself to work at last, before the hour of eternal rest had yet struck.” The pursuit of phantoms. Albertine’s opinion of the restoration of the church. Marcel’s jealousy of the waiter at Rivebelle: he decides never to go there again. Marcel considers leaving Albertine. Marcel’s mother suggests to him that he’s spending too much money on and too much time with Albertine.
My apologies that the synopsis is so long, but there was much to go back over.
1. It seems to me that the introduction of the automobile does more than alter Marcel’s perceptions of time, travel, and distance. For us, the reader, it seems to yank us suddenly into a more modern world.
2. Confession time: I almost felt sorry for Mme Verdurin, and her desparate need for company. What can her life be like with M Verdurin?
3. The scene with Morel and Charlus. Um…any comments?
A couple of passages, both about travel by automobile, time, and changing perceptions:
“We set off again, escorted for a moment by the little houses that came running to meet us with their flowers. This face of the countryside seemed to us entirely changed, for in the topographical image that we form in our minds of separate places the notion of space is far from being the most important factor. We have said that the notion of time segregates them even further. It is not the only factor. Certain places, which see always in isolation seem to us to have no common measure with the rest, to be almost outside the world, like those people whom we have known in exceptional periods our life, in the army of during our childhood, and whom we do not connect with anything.”
It is the same thing, I suppose, when we see, let’s say, the person who cuts our hair inline at the grocery store. We know the face, but outside of the context in which we know them…
And this quote, which answers the question I was wondering about the moment Marcel announced the arrival of the automobile:
“It may be thought that my love of enchanted journeys by train ought to have kept me from sharing Albertine’s wonder at the motor-car which takes even an invalid wherever he wishes to go and prevents one from thinking — as I had done hitherto — of the actual side as the individual mark, the irreplaceable essence of irremovable beauties. And doubtless this site was not, for the motor-car, as it had formerly been for the railway train when I had come from Paris to Balbec, a goal exempt from the contingencies of ordinary life, almost ideal at the moment of departure and remaining so at the moment of arrival where nobody lives and which bears only the name of the town, the station, with its promise at least of accessibility to the place of which it is, as it were, the materialisation. No, the motor-car did not convey us thus by magic into a town which we saw at first as the collectivity summed up in its name, and with the illusions of a spectator in a theatre. It took us backstage into the streets, stopped to ask an inhabitant the way. But, as compensation for so homely a mode of progress, there are the gropings of the chauffeur himself, uncertain of his way and going back over his tracks, the ‘general post’ of the perspective which sets a castle dancing about with a hill, a church and the sea, while one draws nearer to it however much it tries to huddle beneath its age-old foliage; those ever-narrowing circles described by the motor-car round a spellbound town which darts off in every direction to escape, and which finally it swoops straight down upon in the depath of the valley where it lies prone on the gound; so that this site, this unique point, which on the one hand the motor-car seems to have stripped of the mystery of express trains, on the other hand it gives us the impression of discovering, of pinpointing for ourselves as with a compass, and helps us to feel with a more lovingly exploring hand, with a more delicate precision, the true geometry, the beautiful proportions of the earth.”
I’ll never look at driving in the same way.
And finally this passage, which struck me as unutterably and beautifully sad, and central to the book’s meaning:
“It was natural, and yet it was not without importance; they reminded me that it was my fate to pursue only phantoms, creatures whose reality existed to a great extend in my imagination; for there are people — and this had been my case since youth — for whom all the things that have a fixed value, assessable by others, fortune, success, high positions, do not count; what they must have is phantoms. They sacrifice all the rest, devote all their efforts, make everything else subservient to the pursuit of some phantom. But this soon fades away; then they run after another only to return later on to the first. It was not the first time I had gone in quest of Albertine, the girl I had seen that first year silhouetted against the sea. Other women, it is true, had been interposed between the Albertine whom I had first loved and the one whom I rarely left now; other women, notably the Duchesse de Guermantes. But, the reader will say, why torment yourself so much with regard to Gilberte, why take such trouble over Mme de Guermantes, if, having become the latter, it is with the sole result of thinking no more of her, but only of Albertine? Swann, before his death, might have answered the question, he who had been a connoisseur of phantoms. Of phantoms pursued, forgotten, sought anew, sometimes for a single meeting, in order to establish contact with an unreal life which at once faded away, these Balbec roads were full.”
Moncrieff: Page 567 “My life with Albertine, a life devoid of keen pleasures…” through Page 576 “…with a smile of love and longing.”
Sturrock: Page 406 “My life with Albertine, a live devoid of great pleasures…” through Page 413 “eyes made to smile by love and envy.”