Moncrieff: 184-196; Clark: 128-136
by Dennis Abrams
The dairymaid stands before Marcel, and “stripped of all the desires and imaginings that had been aroused in me, was reduced to her mere self.” Stalling for time, Marcel asks her to hand him his copy of the Figaro. “‘What do you call that red knitted thing you’re wearing? It’s very pretty.’ She replied ‘It’s my sweater.'” Marcel reads in the Figaro that the actress Mlle Lea, the actress friend of the two young ladies who watched in the mirror of the casino at Balbec, would be appearing at the Trocaderoin Les Fourberies de Nerine that afternoon. “The flood of my anguish came out in torrents.” Albertine had talked about Lea at Balbec, denying rumors that she was a lesbian. “Oh no, she isn’t in the least that sort of woman.She’s a very nice person.” Albertine and her inability to keep her lies straight. “We remember the truth because it has a name, is rooted in the past, but a makeshift lie is quickly forgotten.” Despite being unaware as to whether Albertine knew Lea, “I must at all costs prevent prevent her from renewing this acquaintance or making the acquaintance of this stranger at the Trocadero.” Marcel’s inability to remember many of Albertine’s past statements: “One pays no attention to anything that one does not connect with the real life of the woman one loves, one forgets immediately what she has said to one about such and such an incident or such and such people we do not love, and her expression while saying it.” Marcel realizes the dairymaid is still there, and send her off with five francs. Marcel’s belief that because she did not go to the Verdurins, “that she would do nothing that was not blameless– that belief had vanished.” Marcel imagines Albertine renewing her acquaintance with Lea. The image of Albertine watching the two girls: “…I possessed in my memory only a series of Albertines, separate from each other, incomplete, a collection of profiles or snapshots, and so my jealousy was restricted to a discontinuous expression, at once fugitive and fixed, and to the people who had caused that expression to appear upon Albertine’s face. The difference in Albertine’s face when she knows she is being watched and wanted, and when is the one doing the watching and wanting: “Then, on the contrary, her intense and velvety gaze attached itself, glued itself, to the passer-by, so adhesive, so corrosive, that you felt that, in withdrawing, it must tear away the skin. But that look, which did at least give her a certain gravity, almost as though she were ill, seemed to me a pleasant relief after the vacant, blissful look she had worn in the presence of the two girls…But who knows whether, once my back was turned, Albertine would continue to suppress everything that was at such moments she held in suspension within herself, that radiated around her and gave me such anguish, whether, now that I was no longer there, she would not respond boldly to the advances of the two girls?” Marcel’s need for Albertine is revived. “Besides, even more than their faults while we are in love with them, there are their faults before we knew them, and first and foremost their nature.” How could Marcel be certain Albertine did not already know Lea, and that she would visit her in her dressing-room, or that Lea would recognize Albertine from Balbec and from the stage signal her to come backstage to make her acquaintance?
Once again, Marcel swept up in a swirl of jealousy begun with nothing more than an actress on stage at the Trocadero and…possibilities. Jealousy that, once again, revives his need for Albertine.
1. Loved this: “Memory, instead of being a duplicate, always present before one’s eyes, of the various events of one’s life, is rather a void from which at odd moments a chance resemblance enables one to resuscitate dead recollections, but even then there are innumerable little details which have not fallen into that potential reservoir of memory, and which will remain for ever unverifiable.”
2. And to continue the idea of jealousy as historian:
“…one’s jealousy, ransacking the past in search of a clue, can find nothing always retrospective, it is like a historian who has to write the history of a period for which he has no documents; always belated, it dashes like an enraged bull to the spot where it will not find the dazzling, arrogant creature who is tormenting it and whom the crowd admire for his splendour and cunning. Jealousy thrashes around in the void…”
3. And then there’s this:
“Albertine might deny specific betrayals, but by words that she let fall, more potent than her declarations to the contrary, by those looks alone, she had confessed to what she would have wished to hide far more than any specific facts, to what she would have let herself be killed sooner than admit: her natural tendency. For there is no one who will willingly deliver up his soul.”
4. And this: “Making endless conjectures, I sought to ward off my suffering without thereby realising my love.”
Proust brings us so far into Marcel’s anguish, the absurdity of his jealousy, based on little but conjecture, that one’s reaction, I think is always shifting — the tragicomedy of jealousy.
Also, I’m going to need to back to compare what Proust has to say about Odette’s lies vs. Albertine’s.
And finally, Patricia Nelson posted a response this afternoon that, for all those who don’t necessarily read all the comments, is well worth reading:
“I’ve been aghast at Marcel morbidly touching Albertine while she sleeps (or fibrillating alongside her) – like a grotesque fairy tale, Briar Rose not dead, but sleeping, Snow White in her glass coffin wakened from her coma by a princely kiss. Albertine is so improbably unconscious, either feigning sleep or drugged. The Kawabata comparison is brilliant. Marcel’s obsessive jealous irritation with Albertine feels like wretched boredom. Albertine is surely complicit, mocking, with her kittenish card playing on the bed, her chinchilla mules no doubt kicked aside. What does she want that she would put up with these ghastly kisses while she sleeps ‘like a watch that never stops, …like a creature of respiration.’
What a relief to open the window and hear the street cries for old clothes, fresh artichokes, winkles, snails, tinker’s repairing pots and pans, offers to clip dogs and cats. Marcel says he is submerged in a sea of unreality, he describes his pleasure in ‘getting outdoors without leaving my bed’ and hearing ‘the dangerous bustling world’ to which he does not want to entrust Albertine. Instead he plays with fulfilling her wishes as they imagine all the ‘trades and foodstuffs of Paris’ listening to the morning street vendors. It is as if Proust surfaced into Joyce’s quotidian. And the use in this section of the Latin mass as a reference for rhythm – the rag and bone man and the Gregorian chant – this reminds me of the mock ceremony beginning Joyce, the Latin is assumed to be utterly familiar. With this passage, suddenly a healthy appetite, robust passion for green beans, cream cheeses, ices.
Is everyone in Marcel’s life complicit with his fantasies? I think he has stated he is a man accustomed to depend on sleeping drugs, he mentions beauty and opium. His mother barely chides him over Albertine the endless houseguest. Francoise dutifully brings in (procures?) a little dairy girl to fulfill Marcel’s hopes for a pretty messenger. “You’ll see sir, she’s just like a Little Red Riding-Hood.” Of course, up close, the platinum blonde dairy girl is ‘reduced to her unvarnished self.’ ‘The curiosity of love is like our curiosity about place-names: always disappointed, it is always reborn and remains insatiable.” She is stripped of his imagination, ‘dead, pinned down’ – all these encounters are etherized like patients on a table.”
I think Patricia nails it very well here — I’ve been pondering the “Sleeping Beauty” idea myself, and I too, feel the release from claustrophobia when Marcel opens the window to the sounds of the world outside.
The question I have is this. The book we’re reading is The Prisoner. Who, exactly, is the prisoner: Marcel or Albertine?
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: “First of all, I must make certain that Lea was really going to perform at the Trocadero.” through “…half-human, half-winged, angel or peri, pursuing her course.” Pages 196-224; Kindle locations 2564-71/2932-39
Clark: “First, I had to be certain that Lea really was appearing at the Trocadero.” through “…half-human and half-winged, an angel or a peri, continuing her journey.” Pages 136-155; Kindle locations: 2777-83/3113
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.