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…
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