Archive for September, 2010

Moncrieff:  723-735; Clark:  502-511

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel has not yet reached the stage where Albertine is forgotten.  Memory revives grief; grief revives memories of love.  “But even now various preoccupations could bring about a separation — from a dead woman this time — in which she left me more indifferent.”  “Often it was in the most obscure recesses of myself, when I could no longer form any clear idea of Albertine, that a name would come by chance to stimulate painful reactions which I supposed to be no longer possible…But as a rule these occasion — for an illness or a war can always last far longer than the most prophetic wisdom has calculated — took me unawares and caused me such violent attacks that I thought far more of protecting against suffering than of appealing to them for a memory.”  A word did not even have to be connected to revive a memory.  The dream life can seem real.  Dreams of Albertine, while Grandmother “moved to and fro across the room”:  Albertine telling Marcel she was doing nothing wrong, and that ‘she had merely, the day before, kissed Mlle Vinteuil on the lips…And since, now that Albertine was dead, I no longer kept her a prisoner in my house as in the last months of her life, her visit to Mlle Vinteuil perturbed me.”  “…I was wrong to let myself be disturbed by this, since, according to what we are told, the dead can feel nothing, can do nothing.  People say so, but this did not alter the fact that my grandmother, who was dead, had continued nevertheless to live for many years, and at that moment was walking to and fro in my room.”  “…I was startled by the thought that the creature invoked by memory to whom all these remarks were addressed no longer bore any relation to reality, that death had destroyed the various parts of the face to which the continual thrust of the will to live, now abolished, had alone given the unity of a person.”  Marcel attempts to read a much loved Bergotte, and is struck by his capacity to cry as much for the character who never existed outside of Bergotte’s imagination as he could for Albertine.  Terror at the fragility of love.  The inability to look at a map; the memory of place-names:  “There was no watering place in the neighbourhood of Balbec in which I did not see her, with the result that that country, like a mythological land which had been preserved, restored to me, living and cruel, the most ancient, the most charming legends, those that had been most obliterated by my love.”  The the theater of the Balbec hotel.  Unable to read newspapers:  the chain of words that led to memories of Albertine, every new memory revives Marcel’s jealousy.  Marcel’s inability to imagine or enter into Albertine’s thoughts, feelings and desires.  Marcel’s belief that it would have been easier for him if Albertine had loved Saint-Loup rather than other women.”

I’ll put together something longer for the weekend post regarding the section we’ve been reading (which is, despite it’s period of…doldrums?  repetitiveness?  feeling of being trapped with Marcel in his room?  rather extraordinary), but in the meantime, I thought this passage from yesterday’s reading was central:

(Although a quick aside, is Marcel the only straight man who ever existed who can’t stand the thought of his beloved making love with another woman?)

“Days in the past cover up little by little those that preceded them and are themselves buried beneath those that follow them.  But each past day has remained deposited in us, as in a vast library where, even of the oldest books, there is a copy which doubtless nobody will ever ask to see.  And yet should this day from the past, traversing the translucency of the intervening epochs, rise to the surface and spread itself inside us until it covers us entirely, then for a moment names resume their former meaning, people their former aspect, we ourselves our state of mind at the time, and we feel, with a vague suffering which however is endurable and will not last for long, the problems which have long ago become insoluble and which caused us such anguish at the time.  Our ego is composed of the superimposition of our successive states.  But this superimposition isnot unalterable like the stratification of a mountain.  Incessant upheavals raise to the surface ancient deposits.  I found myself once more after the party at the Princesse de Guermantes’s, awaiting Albertine’s arrival.  What had she been doing that evening?  Had she been unfaithful to me?  With whom?  Aime’s revelations, even if I accepted them, in no way diminished for me the anxious, despairing interest of this unexpected question, as though each different Albertine, each new memory, set a  special problem of jealousy, to which the solutions of the other problems did not apply.”


Thursday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “For the first time she seemed to me beautiful…” through “or other gifts that I had received from Gilberte.”  Pages 735-752; Kindle locations 9489-95/9695-9701

Clark:  “For the first time she seemed beautiful…” through “the agate marble or other gifts of Gilberte’s.”  Pages 511-522; Kindle locations 9235-42/9436-39


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Moncrieff:  713-723;  Clark:  495-502

by Dennis Abrams

The fragmentation of Albertine into many Albertines, “that was her sole mode of existence in me.”  “…the continuously changing shape of the hours in which she had appeared to me, a shape which remained that of my memory as the curve of the projection of my magic lantern depended on the curve of the coloured slides…”    The vicious Albertine is replaced with others:  “the Albertine who enjoyed talking to me about Saint-Simon in her room, the Albertine who on the night I had told her we must part had said to me so sadly:  ‘This pianola, this room, to think that I shall never see any of these things again…Then I was no longer alone; I felt the barrier that separated us vanish.”  The good Albertine is the person who provided the antidote to the sufferings caused by other Albertines.  Perhaps Albertine had lied to Marcel, “had concealed her tastes from me, in order not to make me unhappy.  I had comfort of hearing this Albertine say so.”  “The two chief errors in one’s relations with another person are, having oneself a kind heart, or else being in love with that other person.”  “The moments which I had lived through with this Albertine were so precious to me that I did not want to let any of them escape me.”  The scarf.  Marcel’s grief has so many forms it’s unrecognizable.  Marcel’s desire to experience a great love, to find a woman to live with him, which he takes as a sign that he no longer loved Albertine was, in fact, a sign that he loved her still.  “Now, freed, she had taken flight again; men, women followed her.  But she lived in me.”  Longer and longer periods when he doesn’t think of Albertine, “…I was well aware that if I could extend the intervals between my thoughts of Albertine, I should have ceased to love her if the gap had been too wide; I should have become indifferent to her as I was now indifferent to my grandmother.”  The idea of Albertine’s death loses its novelty, becomes natural.  Andree was now a substitute, “a by-road, a connecting link which brought me indirectly to Albertine.”  Is it lingering love or heart disease?  “Doubtless, since I was a man, one of those amphibious creatures who are plunged simultaneously in the past and in the reality of the present, there still existed in me a contradiction between the living memory of Albertine and my consciousness of her death.”  The idea of Albertine’s death forms the basis for Marcel’s unconscious musings.  Which Albertine was the true reality?  “I would be assaulted by the onrush of one of my suspicions when the image of her tender presence had withdrawn too far from me to be able to bring me its remedial balm.”  Albertine’s betrayals were never remote, and the memories do not recede uniformly.  “I underwent the martyrdom of living in the constant company of an idea quite as novel as the idea that Albertine was dead (until then I had always started from the idea that she was alive),with an idea which I should have supposed it to be equally impossible to endure and which, without my noticing it, was gradually forming the basis of my consciousness, substituting itself for the idea that Albertine was innocent; the idea that she was guilty.”  “One is cured of suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”  “I had to live with the idea of Albertine’s death, with the idea of her misdeeds, in order for these ideas to become habitual, that is to say in order to be able to be able to forget these ideas and in the end forget Albertine herself.”

Every once in a while, you run (or at least I run) into one of those phrases so interminable, so hard to decipher, that I understand completely why some people find Proust unreadable:

“The betrayals had made me suffer because, however remote the year in which they had occurred, to me they were not remote, that is to say when I pictured them to myself less vividly, for the remoteness of a thing is in proportion rather to the visual power of the memory that is looking at it than to the real duration of the intervening days, as the memory of last night’s dream may seem to us more distant in its imprecision and dimness than an event which is many years old.”

Excuse me?

But again, there are passages like that make it all worthwhile:

“We fall in love for a smile, a look, a shoulder.  That is enough; then, in the long hours of hope or sorrow, we fabricate a person, we compose a character.  And when later on we see much of the beloved being, we can no more, whatever the cruel reality that confronts us, divest the woman with that look, that shoulder, of the sweet nature and loving character with which we have endowed her than we can, when she has grown old, eliminate her youthful face from a person whom we have known since her girlhood.”

Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “I had not yet reached that stage.”  through “…Andree came to see me.”  Pages 723-735, Kindle locations 9334-41/9489-95

Clark:  “I had not yet reached that stage.” through “…when Andree came to see me, some time after Albertine’s death.”  Pages 502-511; Kindle locations 9082-89/9235-42


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Moncrieff:  699-713; Clark:  484-494

by Dennis Abrams

“It is one of the faculties of jealousy to reveal to us the extent to which the reality of external facts and the sentiments of the heart are an unknown element which lends itself to endless suppositions. We imagine that we know exactly what things are and what people think, for the simple reason that we do not care about them. But as soon as we have the desire to know, as the jealous man has, then it becomes a dizzy kaleidoscope in which we can no longer distinguish anything.”  Albertine’s wish to go to Saint-Mars-le-Vetu — was it “because she had made the acquaintance of some peasant girl who lived there?”  Marcel’s pain at not being able to tell Albertine what he had learned about her:  “To have so desperately desired that Albertine — who no longer existed — should know that I had heard the story of the baths!  This again was one of the consequences of our inability, when we have to consider the fact of death, to picture to ourselves anything but life.”  When we imagine what happens after our own death, we imagine it happening to our living self.  The absurdity of the hope of posthumous fame.  “I saw myself astray in life as on an endless beach where I was alone and where, in whatever direction I might turn, I would never meet her.”  Memories of his grandmother calling the bath-attendant “…a woman who must suffer from a disease of mendacity,” brings comfort to Marcel — maybe she was lying about Albertine?  But with the comfort comes new pain, “Then my tenderness could revive anew, but, simultaneously with it, a sorrow at being parted from Albertine which made me perhaps even more wretched than I had been during the recent hours when it had been jealousy that tormented me.”  The sound of the lift, perhaps it had all been a dream.  Inability to concentrate, to read newspapers, “Each impression called up an impression that was identical but marred, because Albertine’s existence had been excised from it, so that I never had the heart to live these mutilated minutes to the end.”  Marcel’s jealousy revives:  he sends Aime to investigate in the neighborhood of Mme Bontemp’s villa.  “When one’s mistress is alive, a large proportion of the thoughts which form what one calls one’s love comes to one during the hours when she is not by one’s side.”   A year wasted.   A letter from Aime — a young laundry girl confirms that Albertine would hold her arm particularly tightly, but nothing more.  A second letter from Aime — the young laundry-girl, after a few drinks, confirmed that she and her friends had enjoyed tickling and further relations with Albertine at a bathing spot on the bank of the Loire.  “Oh, it’s too heavenly.”  Aime goes to bed with the laundry-girl to confirm exactly what she and Albertine had done.  The cruelty of not having Albertine to console him.  Albertine’s vice has turned her into a stranger, into a different Albertine.  Elstir’s nude female bathers, Albertine’s thigh, sexual possibilities — quasi-algebraic abbreviations.  Marcel’s regret that he should never see Albertine again, the regret of not being able to say to her that he knew everything about the laundry-girl on the bank of the Loire.”  Questioning his own torment — Albertine’s gone, she no longer exists, she isn’t telling herself that you know, she isn’t telling herself that you don’t know.  But the torment continues,”Hence, at those moments, if I could have succeeded in evoking her by table-turning as Bergotte had at one time thought possible, or in meeting her in the other life as the abbe X thought, I would have wished to do so only in order to say to her: ‘I know about the laundry girl.  You said to her, ‘Oh, it’s too heavenly,’ and I’ve seen the bite.”

How many times per page does Marcel (or the Narrator) say “Albertine was dead.”  “She no longer existed.”  Is he trying to convince himself?

1.  Loved this and broke my heart:

“Hence death does not make any great difference.  When Aime returned, I asked him to go down to Chatellerault, and thus by virtue not only of my thoughts, my sorrows, the emotion caused me bya name connected, however remotely, with a certain person, but also of all my actions, the inquiries that I undertook, the use that I made of my money, all of which was devoted to the discovery of Albertine’s actions, I may say that throughout the whole of that year my life remained fully occupied with a love affair, a veritable liaison.  And she who was its object was dead.”

Yet, in some ways, the pain and suffering ultimately helped him.

“But in the case of the woman one loves, in order to rid oneself of the pain one feels at the thought that such a thing is possible, one wants to know not only what she has done, but what she felt what she was doing it, what she thought of what she was doing; then, probing even more deeply, through the intensity of one’s pain, one arrives at the mystery, the quintessence.  I suffered to the very depths of my being, in my body and in my heart, far more thanthe pain of losing my life would have made me suffer, from this curiosity to which all the force of my intelligence and my unconscious contributed; and thus it was into the core of Albertine’s own being that I now projected everything that I learned about her.  And thepainthat the revelation of her vice had thus driven into me to such a depth was to render me, much later, a final service.  Like the harm that I had done my grandmother, the harm that Albertine had done me was a last bond between her and myself which outlived memory even, for with the conversation of energy which belongs to everything that is physical, suffering has no need of the lessons of memory.  Thus a man who has forgotten the glorious nights spent by moonlight in the woods, suffers still from the rheumatism which he then contracted.”

Tuesday’s reading:

Moncrieff:  “What came to my rescue against this image of the laundry-girl…” through “and in the end forget Albertine herself.”  Pages 713-723; Kindle locations 9207-14/9334-41

Clark:  “What I fell back on to help me fight against this image of the laundry-girl…” through “…and finally forget Albertine herself.”  Pages 495-502; Kindle locations 8963-70/9082-89


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Moncrieff:  668-699; Clark:  461-484

by Dennis Abrams

Albertine’s intelligence, “There could be no denying that I had known people whose intelligence was greater.  But the infinitude of love, or its egoism, brings it about that the people whom we love are those whose intellectual and moral physiognomy is least objectively defined in our eyes; we alter them incessantly to suit our desires and fears…”   Beginnings of guilt and regret:  “…where I had been wrong was perhaps in not making a greater effort to know Albertine in herself…I ought to have sought to understand her character as that of an ordinary person, and thus perhaps, grasping the reasons for her persistence in keeping her secret from me, might have avoided prolonging between us…the conflict which led to her death.”  Shame at having survived her.   Marcel benefits from Albertine’s death, and the truths which are revealed by making him suffer.  “One one wants to be understood because one wants to be loved, and ones to be loved because one loves.”  Possessing a bit of Albertine’s intelligence is a step towards possessing her fully.  “When we speak of the ‘niceness’ of a woman, we are doing no more perhaps than project outside ourselves the pleasure that we feel in seeing her…”  Confiding in Albertine:  “The fact is that confidence and conversation are ordinary things in themselves, and what does it matter if they are less than perfect if only there enters into them love, which alone is divine.”  Albertine at her pianola.  “I cannot even say that what I felt at the loss of all those moments of sweetness which nothing could ever restore to me was despair.”  Marcel was more fortunate than Swann, he knew both a happiness and unhappiness with Albertine that Swann never did with Odette.  “…nothing is ever repeats itself exactly, and the most analogous lives which, thanks to kinship of character and similarity of circumstances, we may select in order to represent them as symmetrical…”   “…since from my prison she had escaped to go and killer herself on a horse which but for me she would have not owned…”  The series of events that brought Marcel and Albertine together.   “And yet if Swann had not spoken to me of Balbec, I should never have known this Albertine who had become so necessary, of love for whom my soul was no almost exclusively composed.  Her life would perhaps have been longer, mine would have been devoid of what was now making it a martyrdom.  And thus it seemed to me that, by my entirely selfish love, I had allowed Albertine to die just as I had murdered my grandmother.”   Other women he could have fallen in love with if circumstances had permitted:  Mlle de Stermaria.  Albertine and Gilberte:  “A man has almost always the same way of catching cold, of falling ill; that is to say, he requires for it to happen a particular combination of circumstances; it is natural that when he falls in love he should love a certain type of woman…”   Marcel’s love for Albertine was not inevitable.  “…very often, in order that we may discover that we may fall in love, the day of separation must first have come.”  Marcel’s inability to possess Albertine completely:  “Whatever our social position, however wise our precautions, when the truth is confessed we have no hold on the life of another person.”  Why was Albertine afraid to confess the truth about her tastes to Marcel?  Was it because early on in their relationship he stated his disgust for that kind of thing?   Had she blushed?  “The idea that one will die is more painful than dying, but less painful than the idea that another person is dead…” Marcel’s happiness that Albertine had written to him before she died, proving to him that she would have returned, “It seemed to me that it was not merely more soothing, but more beautiful also, that the event would have been incomplete without that message, would not have had so markedly the form of art and destiny.”  Marcel, if Albertine had confessed her ‘tastes,’ would have allowed her to indulge in them.  “And now she no longer existed anywhere; I could have scoured the earth from pole to pole without finding Albertine; the reality which had closed over her was once more unbroken, had obliterated every trace of the being who had sunk without a trace.  She was now no more than a name.”  Yet, every knowable aspect of Albertine lives within Marcel.  Terror of being judged by the dead, the fear that they know all.  The possibility of the immortality of the soul.  Imagining their reunion.   Marcel’s curiosity outlives Albertine’s death.   The arbitrary nature of Marcel’s curiosity regarding Albertine and the bathhouse:  “I might have sent Aime to many other places in Balbec, to many other towns in Balbec.  But these other days, precisely because I did not know how she had spent them, did not present themselves to my imagination, had no existence for it.”  Aime’s letter confirms Albertine’s tastes, the many girls she brought to the showers.  New pain, images of Albertine, “All those images — a vista of a life of lies and iniquities such as I had never conceived — my suffering had immediately altered them in their very essence; I did not see them in the light that illuminates earthly spectacles, they were a fragment of another world, of an unknown and accursed place, a glimpse of Hell. Balbec is ruined for Marcel.

Pretty amazing section, watching Marcel (and the Narrator) begin to come to terms with Albertine’s death…denial, guilt…every quiver of thought, every zig, every zag…

1.  This seems to me key — Marcel’s first response after reading Aimee’s letter:

“To understand how deeply these words penetrated my being, it must be remembered that the questions which I had been asking myself with regard to Albertine were not secondary, insignificant questions, questions of detail, the only questions in fact that one asks about anyone who is not oneself, whereby one is enabled to carry on, wrapped in the imperviousness of one’s thoughts, through the midst of suffering, falsehood, vice and death.  No, in Albertine’s case they were essential question:  In her heart of hearts what was she?  What were her thoughts?  What were her loves?  Did she lie to me?  Had my life with her been as lamentable as Swann’s life with Odette?”

2.  Again, the parallels between Swann and Odette, Marcel and Albertine.

3.  And again, the arbitrariness of love.  If Swann hadn’t interested Marcel in Balbec, if Marcel hadn’t ended his relationship with Albertine, if Mlle de Stermaria had accepted Marcel’s invitation…If twentysome years ago, I had left my apartment two minutes earlier, or two minutes later, I never would have met…  If one looks at almost all of one’s life decisions and events, the sheer…arbitrariness of it all can be shocking…

4.  Thoughts on this?

“But after we have reached a certain age our loves, our mistresses, are begotten of our anguish; our past and the physical lesions in which it is recorded, determine our future.”

5.  And finally — this is something we’ve discussed before, but doesn’t Albertine’s behavior in the bathhouse at Balbec seem much more like the behavior of a gay man than a young bisexual girl?

Monday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “It is one of the faculties of jealousy to reveal to us…” through “‘Oh, it’s too heavenly,’ and I’ve seen the bite.”  Pages 699-713; Kindle locations 9039-46/9207-14

Clark:  “One of the effects of jealousy is to make us discover…” through “…you told her, ‘I’m in heaven,’ I saw the love bite.'”  Pages 484-494; Kindle locations 8790-96/8950-57


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Moncrieff:  656-668; Clark:  453-461

by Dennis Abrams

Colors and memories of Albertine, “the particular ideas of Albertine that I successively formed, of the physical aspect in which I pictured her at each of those moments, the degree of frequency with which I had seen her during that season, which itself appeared consequently more or less dispersed or compact, the anxieties which she might have caused me by keeping me waiting, the desire which I had for her at such and such a moment, the hopes formed and shattered…”  Changes of weather “each brought me back a different Albertine.  “We exist only by virtue of what we possess, we possess only what is really present to us, and many of our memories, our moods, our ideas sail away on a voyage of their own until they are lost to sight.”  Awakening brings “a whole fleet of memories which had come to cruise upon the surface of my clearest consciousness and which I could distinguish perfectly…In an instant, Albertine’s name, her death, had changed their meaning; her betrayals had suddenly resumed their old importance.”  “How could she had seemed dead to me when now, in order to think of her, I had at my disposal only those same images one or other of which I used to recall when she was alive!”  The mythological wheel of her bicycle, her warrior tunic of waterproof, her head turbaned and dressed with snakes.  Things Marcel can no longer do because Albertine is dead.  The many Albertines, the equivalent number of Marcels, “The complexity of my love, of my person, multiplied and diversified my sufferings.”  By merely thinking of her, Marcel is able to bring Albertine, but, curiously, “her infidelities could never be those of a dead woman, the moment at which she had committed them becoming the present moment, not only for Albertine, but for that one of my various selves thus suddenly evoked who happened to be thinking of her.”   Memories, jealousy, and the pain of the amputee.  A remembered bath-wrap at Balbec, Albertine’s blush, and two friends of Lea’s.  Aimee is sent to make inquiries.  The impossibility of a conversation with Albertine, tenderness, “and immediately, by an abrupt transition, from the torments of jealousy I passed to the despair of separation.  The dining room which once seemed unattractive takes on a new charm. An invitation from the Verdurins brings thoughts of his first visit there, that Brichot and Mme Verdurin were still alive and Albertine was not, and of the evening Brichot accompanied Marcel home and the light from Albertine’s room.


A section that I found sometimes difficult to read, but well worth the effort.  I found myself drawn to the last paragraph of this section, as Marcel remembers coming home with Brichot after his evening at the Verdurins and looking up at the light from Albertine’s room:

“Then, when I thought of the void which I should now find on returning home, when I realised that never again would I see Albertine’s window from below, that its light was extinguished for ever, I remembered how that evening, on leaving Brichot, I had felt irritated and regretful at my inability to roam the streets and make love elsewhere, and I saw how greatly I had been mistaken, that it was only because of the treasure whose reflexions came down to me from above had seemed to be entirely in my possession that I had failed to appreciate its value, so that it appeared necessarily inferior to pleasures, however slight, whose value I estimated in seeking to imagine them.  I understood how much this light, which seemed to me to issue from a prison, contained for me a plentitude of life and sweetness, this light which had intoxicated me for a moment, and then on the evening when Albertine had slept under the same roof as me, at Balbec, had appeared for ever impossible.  I was perceiving that this life I had led in Paris, in a home of mine which was also a home of hers, was precisely the realisation of that profound peace I had dreamt of.”


And for the weekend, a section from Joshua Landy’s Philosophy as Fiction:

“Extending outward from the case of Agostinelli, we can posit as a general working hypothesis that the most fruitful way to approach Proust’s novel is as a piece of literature penned by a man who has doubts about the power of his imagination.  Proust, I am suggesting, wishes to be a novelist, not an autobiographer; it is just that his capacity for ex nihilo creation happens, in his own opinion, to be somewhat limited.  ‘Everything is fictional, at the cost of great effort, for I have no imagination,’ says a voice in the Carnet de 1908, a voice I am tempted to hear as belonging to Proust himself (in the Carnet, it is not always easy to determine which of the annotations are fragments of the novel-in-progress and which reflect Proust’s process and plans).  Proust, that is, strives to fabricate a pure fiction, and seems to take pride in the fact that ‘everything has been invented by me in accordance with the requirements of my theme [ma demonstration].  If we are able, nevertheless, to detect elements of reality behind the ‘demonstration,’ it is because he has simply not had the energy to do any better:  ‘through excess of fatigue,’ he writes, ‘for purely material details, I spare myself the trouble of making things up for my hero and take some real traits from myself.’

We should, I think, take his word for it.  For the longer Proust worked, the less auto-biographical his output became.  Between Contre Saint-Beuve and the Recherche, he removed the narrator’s younger brother, leaving Marcel an only child…between ‘Impressions de route en automobile’ (1907) and the steeples passage in the novel, he replaced Agostinelliwith an anonymous coachman and Caen with the fictional Martinville; and between typescript and printed page, he routinely eliminated the word ‘Marcel,’ amending the text.  Only two mentions of the name remains, and the first, far from establishing an identity between author and narrator makes it, if anything, even less likely.  ‘Then she would find her tongue,’ it runs, referring to Albertine waking from a nap,’ and say ‘My –‘ or ‘My darling –‘ followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would be ‘My Marcel,’ or ‘My darling Marcel.'”

This little passage, discreetly buried in the fifth volume of the novel, is truly an extraordinary literary event, a dazzling flash of Proustian brilliance.  For in fictional worlds, epistemological access only works in one direction; narrators are allowed to know things about characters (their future for example), but not vice versa; and authors are allowed to know things about narrators, but not the other way around.  Here, by contrast, it appears — quite scandalously — as though the narrator knows what his maker is called (Molly Bloom’s ‘O Jamesy let me up out of this,’ in James Joyce’s Ulysees is the only contemporary parallel of which I am aware.)  To put int less paradoxically, Proust’s sentence mixes together two voices, two implicit first-person pronouns.  Whereas the ‘I’ behind ‘my Christian name’ belongs to Marcel, the ‘I’ behind ‘if we give’ pertains to Proust.  And so it effects a demarcation between author and narrator both in content and in form, content explicitly noting that their names need not be alike, form showing that their voices (and intentions) collide and conflict within the very texture of the prose.  Ironically then, the very statement that seems to seal the equivalence between Proust and Marcel actually drives them further apart.”

The Weekend’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “Remembering the conversation I had had with Albertine…” through “before arriving at a Balbec which I did not yet know.”  Pages 668-699; Kindle locations 8642-49/9032-39

Clark:  “I would never been able to console myself if the conversation…” through “which I had yet to get to know.”  Pages 461-484; Kindle locations 8395-8402/8790-96

Enjoy.  And enjoy your weekend.

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Moncrieff:  644-656; Clark:  445-553

by Dennis Abrams

“For the death of Albertine to have been able to eliminate my suffering, the shock of the fall would have had to kill her not only in Touraine but in myself.  There, she had never been more alive.”  “In order to be consoled I would have to forget, not one, but innumerable Albertines.  When I had succeeded in bearing the grief of losing this Albertine, I must begin again with another, with a hundred others.”  Marcel’s life is altered.  Summer is at hand; memories of times with Albertine, moments from the past are recalled by identical moments in the present.  Evening is something to be avoided: “The cool evening air was rising; it was sunset; in my memory, at the end of a road which we had taken, she and I, on our way home, I saw it now, beyond the furthest village, like some distant place, inaccessible that evening, which we would spend at Balbec, together.  Together then; now I must stop short on the brink of that same abyss:  she was dead.  It was not enough to draw the curtains…”  Francoise does not even pretend to grieve Albertine’s death, “Her attitude towards Albertine was perhaps akin to her attitude towards Eulalie, and, now that my mistress could no longer derive any profit from me, Francoise had ceased to hate her,” but worries about Marcel’s tears.  Complete darkness reminds Marcel of times in the carriage, after dinner, in the woods of Chantepie.  Hope for and fear of forgetfulness.  Sounds from the street.  With the dawn new pain over Albertine “cold, implacable, and compact, glinted like a dagger thrust into my heart.”  Marcel no longer wants to go to Venice, “Albertine had seemed to me an obstacle interposed between me and all other things, because she was for me their container, and it was from her alone, as from a vase that I would receive them.  Now that this vase was shattered, I no longer felt that I had the courage to grasp things, and there was not one of them from which I did not turn away, despondent, preferring not to taste it.”  Marcel fears the return of winter, because with it will come memories of the beginning of desire for and anxiety over Albertine.  “Linked as it was to each of the seasons, in order for me to discard the memory of Albertine I should have had to forget them all…I should have had to renounce the entire universe.”  “…to the memory even of hours that were purely natural would inevitably be added the psychological background that makes each of them a thing apart…later on, I should hear the goatherd’s horn,on a first fine almost Italian morning, that same day would blend alternately with its sunshine the anxiety of knowing that Albertine was at the Trocadero, possibly with Lea…”  Francoise bring Albertine home from the Trocadero, changing emotions and meaning.  “But much later, when I went back gradually, in reverse order, over the times through which I had passed before I had come to love Albertine so much, when my healed heart could detach itself without suffering from Albertine dead, then I was able to recall at length without suffering that day on which Albertine had gone shopping with Francoise instead of remaining at the Trocadero; I recalled it with pleasure as belonging to an emotional season which I had not known until then; I recalled it at last exactly, no longer injecting it with suffering, but rather, on the contrary, as we recall certain days in summer which we found too hot while they lasted, and from which only after they have passed do we extract their unalloyed essence of pure gold and indestructible azure.”

An extraordinary section, as Marcel’s jealousy over Albertine transforms itself into a new pain, a new kind of suffering.  But Marcel’s suffering, like his pleasure, will pass.

The key passage from this section:

“I had now only one hope left for the future — a hope far more poignant than any fear — and that was that I might forget Albertine.  I knew that I should forget her one day; I had forgotten Gilberte and Mme de Guermantes; I had forgotten my grandmother.  And it is our most just and cruel punishment for that forgetfulness, as total and as tranquil as the oblivion of the graveyard, through which we have detached ourselves from those we no longer love, that we should recognise it to be inevitable in the case of those we love still.”

The loves I’ve forgotten, the pain and sorrow over them I’ve forgotten…

Thursday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “So that these few years imposed upon my memory of Albertine…” through “…that profound peace I had dreamt of.”  Pages 656-668; Kindle locations 8502-9/8642-49

Clark:  “In this way these few years not only imposed upon the memory of Albertine…” through “…of that profound peace of which I had dreamed.”  Pages 453-461; Kindle locations 8254-60/8395-8402


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Moncrieff:  633-644; Clark:  437-445

by Dennis Abrams

Saint-Loup arrives.  Marcel overhears his conversation with one of the Duchesse de Guermantes’s footmen, and his “cruel Machiavellian words,” shake Marcel’s confidence in him and [Marcel} wondered whether a person who was capable of acting so cruelly towards some poor wretch might not have played the part of a traitor towards me on his mission to Mme Bontemps.”  Saint-Loup’s failure didn’t mean that Marcel himself might not succeed.  Saint-Loup’s words and Marcel’s reaction:  “At these words, shed, passage, drawing-room, and before he had even finished uttering them, my heart was convulsed more instantaneously than by an electric current, for the force that circles the earth most times in a second is not electricity but pain.”  The words make Albertine’s house a reality:  “In a shed one girl can hide with another.  And in that drawing-room, who knew what Albertine did when her aunt was not there?  Had I then imagined the house in which she was living as incapable of possessing either a shed or a drawing-room?”  Marcel’s folly in “having left Albertine for a week in that accursed place whose existence (instead of its mere possibility) had just been revealed to me.”  Albertine’s singing and happiness.  Saint-Loup defends his efforts, but “I heaped reproaches on him:  he had tried to do me a service and had not succeeded.”   Girls arriving at the Bontemps house, an actress friend of Rachel’s.  Albertine’s women vs. Marcel’s thoughts of other women.  Marcel decides to wait for Albertine’s reply and to go get her himself if she does not return on her own, “Besides, was it not better for me to go down in person, now that I had discovered Saint-Loup’s hitherto unsuspected duplicity?  Might he not, for all I knew, have organised a plot to separate me from Albertine?  Marcel imagines, as Swann did with Odette,  that the death of Albertine would bring an end to his suffering.  The suppression of suffering.”  “Can I really have believed it, have believed that death merely strikes out what exists, and leaves everything else in its place, that it removes the pain from the heart of him for whom the other’s existence has ceased to be anything but a source of pain, that it removes the pain and puts nothing in its place?”   Marcel sends a telegram to Albertine, begging her to return on any terms, “telling her she could do whatever she liked, that I asked only to be allowed to take her in my arms for a minute three times a week, before she went to bed.  And if she had said once a week only, I would have accepted the restriction.”  A telegram from Mme Bontemps, informing Marcel that Albertine had died in a riding accident.  A “suffering until then unimagined, that of realising that she would not come back.”  “Had I then for a long past time pledged her every minute of my life until my death?  I had indeed!  This future indissolubly blended with hers was something I had never had the vision to perceive, but now that it had just been demolished, I could feel the place that it occupied in my gaping heart.”  Francoise, not knowing what has happened, brings to Marcel two letters from Albertine written shortly before her death.  In the first letter, she writes of her approval of Marcel’s plan to bring Andree into his home and to eventually marry her.  In the second, she begs Marcel to take her back, telling him “I shall abide by your decision, but I beg you not to be long in making it known to me; you can imagine how impatiently I shall be waiting.  If it is to tell me to return, I shall take the train at once.  Yours with all my heart, Albertine.”


I’m going to put Albertine’s death aside for the time being (I have a feeling that Marcel will be discussing it for quite a while) and go back briefly to something I brought up last week.  Depending on the translation you’re reading, Berma either (a) performed, or (b) died.  I asked Eric Karpeles (author of Paintings in Proust and translator of Proust’s Overcoat, both of which are well worth your time) if he could shed some light on the subject:

This confusion bears direct relation to the fact that when Proust died in 1922, the last three volumes had not yet been brought to press; had he edited these pages himself, as conscientiously (and expansively) as he did the first four volumes, he would certainly have quickly made this factual correction and seen it merely as an oversight on his part. Remember also that there are variants for all of his texts, in his hand and in typescript, which made editing these books after his death an exceedingly delicate job.

The character of the aging actress Berma, like a leitmotif, suggests the poignant and increasingly significant theme to the dying Proust of artists and mortality. In the final volume, which he had written before he wrote “The Fugitive,” la Berma gets to play a dramatic scene offstage when she is abandoned by her children. So there is no question of a reconsideration of the plot, of his having decided to kill her off, then resuscitate her for “Time Regained.”

In the manuscript Moncrieff used for translation, the sentence read:

“J’ouvris le journal. Il annonçait une représentation de la Berma.” (I opened the newspaper. It announced a performance by Berma.)

This version bore a correction made in the hand of Robert Proust, Marcel’s younger brother, who took over the editing of the last volumes when his brother died. Robert saw it as a mistake and corrected it. Moncrieff accepted that correction and used it for his translation.

Clark is working from the 1989 Tadié 4-volume “definitive” edition, in which is written:

“Il annonçait la mort de la Berma.” (It announced the death of Berma.)

In his notes, Tadié remarks, that his editorial team “has not preserved the correction, made by Robert Proust, no doubt based on his awareness that Berma emerges again in ‘Time Regained.'” Clark worked directly from the Tadié edition, and so kept in the original oversight as dictated by the definitive edition. Tadié was attempting to present Proust’s novel as it appeared in Proust’s hand. Confusing and misleading perhaps, but he was trying to return to an authenticity of manuscript.

Berma is dead; long live Berma.


Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “For the death of Albertine to have been able to eliminate my suffering…” through “…their unalloyed essence of pure gold and indestructible azure.”  Pages 644-656; Kindle edition 8347-54/8502–9

Clark:  “For Albertine’s death to have suppressed my suffering…” through “…hallmarked gold and the indelible lapis lazuli.”  Pages 445-453; Kindle edition 8113-19/8254-60


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