Moncrieff: 196-224; Clark: 136-155
by Dennis Abrams
“First of all, I must make certain that Lea was really going to perform at the Trocadero.” Marcel send Francoise to the Trocadero to intercept Albertine with a note saying that he had received a letter from the woman who had made him so unhappy at Balbec, and asking her to come immediately, so “that they might take the air together, which might help me to recover from the shock.” Marcel realizes he does not know Albertine,”To tell the truth, I knew nothing that Albertine had done since I had come to know her, or even before.” Francoise does not realize that it is Marcel who has created Albertine’s position in the household, and not Albertine, that “play-actress…wily customer…who could twist [him] round her little finger.” Francoise daughter’s influence was “beginning to contaminate Francoise’s vocabulary.” Francoise won’t use the telephone, but a telephonist informs Marcel that Albertine would be coming home with Francoise. In addition, Marcel receives a note from Albertine confirming her return “My darling dear Marcel, I return less quickly than this cyclist, whose bike I should like to borrow in order to be with you sooner…” “I had a woman of my own, who, at the first word I sent her out of the blue, informed me deferentially by telephone that she was allowing herself to be brought home, at once.” Now that Marcel knows Albertine is coming home, he would be happy to postpone the moment of her return, and would be pleased to spend the time alone. Marcel contemplates going out and seeing the little shopgirls, midinettes and prostitutes strolling on the Bois. Marcel, to pass the time, sits down at the piano to play Vinteuil’s sonata. The “tide of sound” carries him back to Combray, and the time “when I myself had longed to become an artist.” A passage of the sonata, “although Vinteuil had been trying to express in it a fancy which would have been wholly foreign to Wagner, I could not help murmuring ‘Tristan.'” Marcel is struck by how much reality there is in the work of Wagner. Music helps Marcel descend into himself, “to discover new things, the variety I had sought in vain in life, in travel…” Marcel contemplates the attitude towards their work of nineteenth century authors. Marcel’s musings which had been wandering through musical moments, turns to the best performers, and ultimately to Morel. Morel, Charlus and algebra classes. Marcel leaves the piano to greet Albertine in the courtyard, and hears Morel screaming at his fiancee, Jupien’s niece, repeatedly calling her “grand pied de grue,” (you great slut). Albertine returns and she and Marcel go out for a drive. Albertine’s new ring, which she says she purchased from a hotel proprietor at Le Mans, which, thanks to Marcel, she could now afford. The dream of going out with a woman, or having tea with her, as inspired by a novel or memoirs, compared with the reality. “For, whenever we attempt to imitate something that has really existed, we forget that this something was brought about not by the desire to imitate but by an unconscious force which itself is also real…” The “rows of houses, a pink congelation of sunshine and cold, reminded me of my visits to Mme Swann in the soft light of her chrysanthemums.” The sight of a young fruit-seller, or a dairymaid, “whom my sufficient to launch upon exquisite adventures, on the threshold of a romance which I should never know.” The emotion caused by the women he sees is like that of seeing a goddess. “Now that Olympus no longer exists, its inhabitants dwell upon the earth.” Marcel learns that while he sleeps, Albertine reads his books. The Bois. Marcel decides not to tell Albertine that he will be going to the Verdurins that night to find out “who Albertine might have been hoping to meet there in the afternoon.” Life with Albertine has prevented Marcel from going to Venice,as well as “making the acquaintance of the young midinettes scattered about in the sunlight of this fine Sunday…” Marcel’s double standards.
This was an amazing section, I thought. A few thoughts…
1. Since Francoise tends to see things fairly clearly (most of the time) is she correct in her belief that Albertine is using Marcel? We know to what lengths Marcel is willing to go to manipulate Albertine to do what he wants. Is it possible that Albertine is playing the same games with Marcel, mentioning that Lea will be at the Trocadero, for instance, knowing how Marcel will react?
2. As Marcel himself notes after receiving word that Albertine will be returning with Francoise,”I was more of a master than I had supposed. More of a master, in other words, more of a slave.”
3. I loved the whole section with the ruminations on music and literature. I wonder how much Proust was thinking of his own work when he wrote this:
“I was struck by how much reality there is in the work of Wagner as I contemplated once more those insistent, fleeting themes which visit an act, recede only to return again and again, and sometimes distant, dormant, almost detached, are at other moments, while remaining vague, so pressing and close, so internal, so organic, so visceral, that they seem like the reprise not so much of a musical motif as of an attack of neuralgia.”
4. On the other hand, I’m not all together certain what to make of this:
“…I thought how markedly, all the same, these works partake of that quality of being– albeit marvelously — always incomplete, which is the characteristic of all the great works of the nineteenth century, that century whose greatest writers somehow botched their books, but,watching themselves work as though they were at once workman and judge, derived from this self-contemplation a new form of beauty, exterior and superior to the work itself,imposing on it a retroactive unity, a grandeur which it does not possess.”
In what ways did the nineteenth century’s great writers “botch” their books?”
4. And on another note, when did Marcel learn to play the piano?
5. I loved Charlus’s response to Morel regarding taking algebra lessons: “But there’s no need to have lessons, algebra isn’t a thing like swimming, or even English, you can learn it equally well from a book.” In contrast with poor Marcel who, “In the past it had often happened to me, on reading a book of memoirs or a novel in which a man is always going out with a woman, or having tea with her, to long to be able to do likewise. I had thought sometimes that I had succeeded in doing so, as for instance when I took Saint-Loup’s mistress out, to go to dine with her. But however much I summoned to my assistance the idea that I was actually impersonating the character I had envied in the novel, this idea assured me that I ought to find pleasure in Rachel’s company and yet afforded me none.”
5. Loved this, as Marcel, playing Vinteuil’s sonata, contemplates his former desire to become an artist:
“Could life console me for the loss of art? Was there in art a more profound reality, in which our true personality finds an impression that is not afforded it by the activities of life? For every great artist seems so different from all the rest, and gives us so strongly that sensation of individuality for which we seek in vain in our everyday existence!”
6. Albertine…because of her, Marcel has given up art, Venice, the possibilities of other women…
Moncrieff: “This is what the presence of Albertine, this was what my life with Albertine had deprived me of.” through “…it was quite useless therefore to ply her with questions.” Pages 224-235; Kindle locations 2932-39/3065-73
Clark: “There exactly was what Albertine’s presence, what my life with Albertine, was depriving me of.” through “There was therefore no point in asking her any questions.” Pages 155-163; Kindle locations 3113-20/3241-48