Moncrieff: 100-111; Clark: 70-78
by Dennis Abrams
Despite his promise to Albertine that he would “settle down to work,” while sleeping “the house had miraculously flown, I awoke in different weather beneath another clime…each day was for me a different country,” which only served to foster Marcel’s indolence. “Some times on days when the weather was beyond redemption, mere residence in the house, situated in the midst of a steady and continuous rain, had all the gliding ease, the soothing silence, the interest of a sea voyage; another time, on a bright day, to lie still in bed was to let the lights and shadows play around me as round a tree-trunk.” Since making his first resolution to become a writer, Marcel “had regarded each intervening day as non-existent.” Summer concerts. Marcel contemplates arriving in Balbec giving no thought to Albertine, and learning from Aime that Albertine was at Balbec. Marcel remembers that Aime thought that Albertine was “badly-behaved.” What did that mean? Vulgar behavior? Gomorrhan behaviour? “Was she with another girl, perhaps their arms were round one another’s waists, perhaps they were staring at other women, were indeed behaving in a manner which I had never seen Albertine adopt in my presence. Who was the other girl? Where had Aime met her, this odious Albertine?” Mlle Vinteuil and her friend are now forgotten, Marcel has a new suspicion: Could the other girl (who may or may not have existed) be a certain Elisabeth? The two girls Albertine had watched in the mirror at the Casino? Bloch’s cousin, Esther? “Such relations, had they been revealed to me by a third person, would have been enough almost to kill me, but since it was I who imagined them, I took care to add sufficient uncertainty to deaden the pain.” “Love is an incurable malady…” Marcel decides to write to Aime, “to try to see him, and then check his statement by talking to Albertine, making her confess.” Marcel asks Bloch for a photograph of his cousin, or to let him meet her. “How many persons, cities, roads jealousy makes us eager thus to know! It is a thirst for knowledge…” Marcel’s habit of nursing desires without action makes him postpone his inquest, “in any case, I would not mention the subject to my mistress this evening, for fear of making her think me jealous and so offending her.” Marcel forwards the photograph of Bloch’s cousin to Aime. Albertine refuses a pleasure: “Was that in order to reserve it for someone else, this afternoon perhaps?” Jealousy is endless, can be provoked by actions and memories; “There is no need for there to be two of you, it is enough to be alone in your room, thinking, for fresh betrayals by your mistress to come to light, even though she is dead.” Marcel’s hope for appeasement from Albertine, and the evenings when her kiss “very different from her usual kiss would no more sooth me than my mother’s kiss had soothed me long ago, on days when she was vexed with me, and I dared not call her back although I knew that I should be unable to sleep.” Albertine mentions her plan to go the next day to visit Mme Verdurin, “a visit to which, in itself I would have seen no objection. But evidently her object was to meet someone there, to prepare some future pleasure. Otherwise she would not have attached so much importance to this visit.” Marcel believes he sees through Albertine’s words and expressions. Marcel and Albertine see other girls in the street: “It is hard enough to say: ‘Why did you stare at her?’ but a great deal harder to say ‘Why did you not stare at her?'”
This is amazing, watching Marcel driving himself into bigger and bigger leaps of imagination, deeper jealousies.
Marcel is his own Iago.
A quick question:
When Marcel says “I remembered that Albertine had that morning refused me a pleasure which might indeed have tired her…” what exactly does he mean?
And, reading the lines “How many persons, cities, roads, jealousy makes us eager thus to know! It is a thirst for knowledge thanks to which, with regard to various isolated points, we end by acquiring every possible notion in turn except the one that we require.” reminded me of Harold Bloom’s observation, “That is why the governing metaphor for Swann and Marcel is the scholarly researcher, particularly the Ruskinian art historian. Torture by fact finding is Proust’s comic formula, since this is self-torment, and the facts themselves are essentially imaginative surmises.”
And finally, for the weekend, more from Clark’s introduction to The Prisoner, beginning with her discussion of homosexuality in the book in relationto Proust’s own:
“There is a temptingly easy explanation for the preponderance of this theme: Proust himself was a homosexual. Though he never admitted his orientation in his writings, it was an open secret among his Parisian friends, and the topic has been extensively explored by biographers since his death. From this it was a short step to interpreting the relationships in his novels as disguised versions of homosexual relationships in his life. As the joke went, ‘In Proust, you have to understand that all the girls are boys.’ In particular, The Prisoner was seen as a rewriting of Proust’s relationship with his chauffeur Alfred Agostinelli, to whom he undoubtedly had a strong, possessive attachment and with whom — though this is not certain — he may have had sexual relations. A certain amount of trivial gender reassignment does seem to be going on in The Prisoner: it is very curious that in the narrator’s Paris all the young people who bring goods to the house and whom he watches from the window, and all messengers except telegram boys, are girls: were there no delivery-boys in Paris in 1900? But one really cannot accept Albertine as a chauffeur in a wig. The narrator is too obviously fascinated by her femininity: her shape and colouring, her clothes, hair, speech, pursuits, her relationship to other women (and also, alas, other more stereotyped traits like her impulsiveness, fickleness with the truth). Proust had several close emotional friendships with women, and seems to have been particularly fascinated by young girls. It is almost as if in this book he seems to be conducting a thought-experiment, trying to imagine what it would be like to have such a being sharing one’s living-space.
The narrator’s physical relations with Albertine are shrouded in a mystery only partly explained by the conventions of what was and was not publishable in 1923. They have separate rooms, but clearly spend part of many nights in each other’s beds. They appear not to have penetrative sex…but see each other naked and caress each other in a clearly sexual way, using sexual language to excite each other. There is a thinly veiled description of the narrator reaching orgasm next to Albertine (but without her help), and it is suggested that she sometimes does so with his help…All this can be explained in commonsense terms by the fact that Albertine is an unmarried girl and the narrator wishes to keep open the possibility of her marrying someone else; he would not therefore wish to take her virginity. But it is an additional irony that the ‘shameful’ practices the narrator imputes to Albertine and her friends and the ones in which he himself engages with her should be so similar. Strange, too, is the way that throughout a relationship of considerable intimacy, the young people go on calling each other vous (the formal, polite mode of address) and not the tu whichwould be expected between lovers. This strangeness, and perhaps Albertine’s wish for a closer relationship, are pointed up when she signs a note to the narrator ‘Toute a vous, ton Albertine‘.
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: “To return to the girls whom we passed in the street…” through “…as soothing as that of a garden still silent before the break of day.” Pages 111-146; Kindle locations 1458-65/1911-18
Clark: “To return to the young passers-by…” through “…calming as that of a garden still silent before the break of day.” Pages 79-102; Kindle locations 1766-72/2181-87
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.