Moncrieff: 485-497; Clark: 332-341
by Dennis Abrams
Albertine asleep: “It was indeed a dead woman that I saw when, presently, I entered her room. She had fallen asleep as soon as she lay down; her sheets, wrapped round her body like a shroud, had assumed, with their elegant folds, the rigidity of stone. ” The expressionless body lying there…the logarithmic table it constituted.” The anguish caused by Albertine’s allegory of death, “which in another person, in herself five years earlier or five years later, would have left me quite indifferent.” Marcel still hasn’t taken off his fur lined coat since coming home from the Verdurins. What is Albertine a allegory of? Marcel’s love? His death? Marcel warns Francoise to be quiet in the morning and let Albertine sleep. Marcel’s fear that Francoise “might treat Albertine with insolence, and that this might introduce complications into our life.” Unable to sleep, Marcel tries “to understand Albertine’s true state of mind.” “Was it a real peril that I had averted by that wretched farce which I had played, and notwithstanding her assurance that she was so happy living with me, had she at certain moments a longing for freedom, or on the contrary was I to believe what she said? Which of these two hypotheses was the truth?” M de Charlus’s guidance in the art of lying. The art of the bluff. Bluffing and war. In the period that followed, Marcel never threatened to leave Albertine “unless in response to a hankering for a baleful freedom on her part, a hankering which she did not express to me, but which seemed to me to be implied by mysterious dissatisfactions, certain words, certain gestures, for which it could be the only possible explanation and for which she refused to give me any other.” Marcel receives a letter from his mother, questioning his intentions with Albertine by quoting (of course) Mme de Sevigne. Esther’s photograph. Marcel’s desire to see the photo Albertine had given Esther: “How was she dressed in it? Perhaps in a low-cut dress. Who knew whether they had not been photographed together?” Francoise’s distrust and dislike of Albertine. Francoise’s perceptiveness, her innuendos, her ability to see how much Marcel is spending and tipping, despite her poor eyesight. Marcel begins to fear that Albertine will leave the house for good, Albertine’s attempts to restore his peace of mind. Old French for the yacht, Albertine’s collection.
I loved Marcel’s (or was it the Narrator’s) response to the letter from his mother:
“‘Why do I go on seeking after a mysterious soul, interpreting a face, and feeling myself surrounded by presentiments which I dare not explore?’ I asked myself. ‘I’ve been dreaming, the matter is quite simple. I am an indecisive young man, and it is a case of one of those marriages as to which it takes time to find out whether they will happen or not. There is nothing in this peculiar to Albertine.’ This thought brought me immense but short-lived relief. Very soon I said to myself: ‘One can of course reduce everything, if one regards it in its social aspect, to the most commonplace item of newspaper gossip. From outside, it is perhaps thus that I myself would look at it. But I know very well that what is true, what at least is also true, is everything that I have thought, what I have read in Albertine’s eyes, the fears that torment me, the problem that I continually put to myself with regard to Albertine. The story of the hesitant suitor and the broken engagement may correspond to this, as the report of a theatrical performance made by an intelligent reporter may give us the subject of one of Ibsen’s plays. But there is something beyond those facts that are reported. It is true that this other thing exists perhaps, were we capable of seeing it, in all hesitant suitors and in all engagements that drag on, because there is perhaps an element of mystery in everyday life.’ It was possible for me to neglect it in the lives of other people, but Albertine’s life and my own I was living from within.”
Two things: The virtual throwaway line: “But I know very well that what is true, what at least is also true…”
“…an element of mystery in everyday life.” One of Proust’s gifts to us.
I just started reading Joshua Landy’s book Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception and Knowledge in Proust, and wanted to share this:
“The main trajectory of A la recherche du temps perdu consists, as we have just seen, in Marcel’s learning to abandon the quest for objective truth — for the way in which objects, and particularly people, are in themselves, outside of any (specific) observer — and to focus instead on subjective truth, on his own inner nature, the very perspective that made accurate knowledge of the external world so elusive (and so seemingly desirable) in the first place. There is, however, a further component to Marcel’s Bildung. He must learn not only that knowledge is sometimes inaccessible (and, where accessible, almost always dissatisfying), but also that is sometimes unendurable, that “truth, which is not compatible with happiness or with physical health, is not always compatible even with life.” Shifting spires are not enough to complete an education: Marcel requires love, and in particular jealous love, to teach him the necessity of illusion and imagination in a happy life; to teach him, also, the fragility of our beneficent fantasies, and the convoluted strategies that can sometimes be required for their preservation. Astonishingly, and yet in the end quite plausibly, it turns out that one of the best ways of remaining in the dark is to head straight for the light, that a quest for knowledge may be the single most effective way of keeping our ignorance intact. To explain how this absurdity can be justified is the task of the present chapter.
Early in the fifth volume, we find Marcel living in Paris with his lover and ‘prisoner,’ Albertine Simonet. Albertine has given him cause for concern — her reticence, her conflicting statements, her circle of acquaintances all suggest to Marcel that she may be ‘guilty’ of infidelity, both hetero-and homo-sexual — and he monitors her movements, accordingly, with the energy and enthusiasm of a trainee inquisitor. Yet so far no conclusive evidence, either for or against such ‘guilt,’ has come to light. How is he to reach a verdict? It is certainly not by an appeal to precedent. Granted, he has heard in detail how the famous courtesan Odette de Crecy repeatedly betrayed Charles Swann (without ever entirely eradicating his belief in her fidelity) and having seen his friend Robert de Saint-Loup take up with a person of equally dubious pedigree, an actress Marcel once knew as a twenty-franc prostitute. But the examples of Odette and Rachel fail to help him; if anything, they add to the confusion, raising the possibility that he is unfairly tarring Albertine with the same brush.
Nor can Marcel rely on his own unaided faculties, any more than he can rely on second-hand information. While truths about the world of social groups and physical objects may be culled by the intellect and truths about the self by intuition (via impressions), there is no organ, as Nietzsche would say for truth concerning other human beings taken individually. Unless they are creative artists, we recall, there is no way of accessing their genuine nature, no way of learning that ‘which cannot be transmitted in talk, even from friend to friend, from master to disciple, from lover to mistress, that ineffable something which differentiates qualitatively what each of us has felt and what he is obliged to leave behind at the threshold of the phrases in which he can communicate with others only by limiting himself to externals, common to all and of no interest.”
Moncrieff: “In the matter of dress…” through “She took me home like that four or five times, perhaps more, and that’s all.” Pages 497-507; Kindle locations 6479-86/6608-15
Clark: “As far as dress was concerned…” through “She took me home like that four or five times, maybe a bit more, and that’s all.” Pages 341-348; Kindle locations 6347-55/6476-84