Moncrieff: 507-544; Clark: 348-373
by Dennis Abrams
Thomas Hardy, stone, and the stonemasons. Tombs, lines and parallels, “…in short all those novels which can be superimposed on one another like the houses piled up vertically on the rocky soil of the island.” Stendhal and “altitude symbolising the life of the spirit.” Dostoievsky’s women. The “new kind of beuaty that Dostoievsky brought to the world…” Dostoievsky and Mme de Sevigne, “instead of presenting things in their logical sequence, that is to say beginning with the cause, shows us first of all the effect, the illusion that strikes us.” Did Dostoievky ever murder anyone? “…perhaps it wasn’t necessary for him to be a criminal himself. I’m not a novelist, it’s possible that creative writers are tempted by certain forms of life of which they have no personal experience.” Self-esteem and pride in the characters of Dostoievsky. “…if Vinteuil’s phrases seemed to me to be the expression of certain states of soul analogous to that which I had experience when I tasted the madeleine soaked in tea, there was nothing to assure me that the vagueness of such states was a sign of their profundity rather than of our not having yet learned to analyse them, so that there might be something more real in them thanin other states. And yet that happiness, that sense of certainty in happiness while I was drinking the cup of tea, or when I smelt in the Champs-Elysees a smell of mouldering wood, was not an illusion.” The magic lantern. Collecting like Swann, “But did not my room contain a work of art more precious than all these…Albertine herself?” St. Ceclia at the piano. “But no, Albertine was for me not at all a work of art. I knew what it meant to admire a woman in an artistic fashion, having known Swann. For my own part, no matter who the woman might be, I was incapable of doing so, having no sort of power of detached observation, never knowing what it was that I saw…” “…when I began to regard Albertine as an angel musician glazed with a marvellous patina whom I congratulated myself upon possessing, it was not long before I found her uninteresting; I soon became bored in her company; but these moments were of brief duration: one loves that in which one pursues the inaccessible, one only loves what one does not possess, and very soon I began go realise once more that I did not possess Albertine.” Her inaccessible thoughts. Marcel’s insatiable curiosity in Albertine’s past life. “Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart.” Marcel realises he has not been entirely faithful. “As there is no knowledge, one might almost say that there is no jealousy, except of oneself. Observation counts for little. It is only from the pleasure that we ourselves have felt that we can derive knowledge and pain.” “…I realised that Albertine was not even for me (for if her body was in the power of mine, her thoughts eluded the grasp of my thoughts) the marvellous captive which I had thought to enrich my home…resembled, if anything, a mighty goddess of Time. And if I had to waste years of my life and much of my fortune for her sake — and provided that I can tell myself, which is by no means certain, alas, that she herself lost nothing — I have nothing to regret.” Albertine asleep, death. The end of winter, the beginning of spring. Marcel’s futile resolve to change his life; he learns that contrary to her previous statements that Albertine had visited Buttes-Chaumont three years earlier, and that her willingness to return to Paris from Balbec was due, at least in part, to the fact that she had learned that Andree would not be returning to Balbec. Albertine’s two traits: “one to console me, the other to make me wretched…” Albertine’s ability to use a single journey “for pleasing two people of whom she was generally fond.” Another of Albertine’s characteristics, ‘the swiftness with which she was seized by the irresistible temptation of a pleasure.” The apartment of Andree’s grandmother. Marcel’s desire to keep Albertine as long as he chose, and to allow her to leave only when he can take it calmly. Marcel’s life with Albertine is nothing but jealousy, pain and boredom, “If there had been any happiness in it, it could not last.” Dreams of Venice and the Fortuny gown. Goaded by Francoise, Marcel explodes in anger at Albertine, reproaching her for her ingratitude. His immediate remorse and apology. Albertine admits she would have been happy to see Mlle Veinteuil again at the Verdurins, “and now the admission of the pleasure she would have felt again turned my bones to water.” Marcel falsely tells Albertine that he had received anonymous letters accusing her of having a “relationship” with Andree, accusations that she vehemently denies. Marcel presses her for more information about her relationship with Andree. Marcel believes that Albertine will not leave him without warning, and won’t soon because in one week’s time she’ll be trying on the new Fortuny gowns and his mother will finally be returning to Paris. Albertine denies Marcel a good-night kiss. Cooing pigeons, cock’s crows, and premonitions of death. Marcel dares not call Albertine back for a good night kiss. Anxieties, two additional refusals of a kiss. The sound of Albertine’s window being opened, the bell, his grandmother, “Was this the approach of death?”
Much going on. I think I covered what I see as the important points in my synopsis, but in addition…
1. Did anyone else laugh when Marcel states, in his conversation with Albertine about Dostoievsky, “I’mnot a novelist…”? And did anyone else find it somewhat…surprising that Proust would enjoy reading Dostoievsky?
2. Once again, kisses denied.
3. Swann and Marcel. The collector of art and the collector of Albertine.
4. What are your thoughts on this passage?
“How many people, how many places (even places which did not concern her directly, vague haunts of pleasure where she might have enjoyed some pleasure, places where there are a great many people, where people brush against one) had Albertine — like a person who, shepherding all her escort, a whole crowd, past the barrier in front of her, secures their admission to the theatre — from the threshold of my imagination or of my memory, where I paid no attention to them, introduced into my heart! Now, the knowledge that I had of them was internal, immediate, spasmodic, painful. Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart.”
And finally, from Andre Aciman’s The Proust Project, Anka Muhlstein’s essay, “This Unknown Quality of a Unique World.”
“Marcel may believe he is analyzing the work of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, but in fact Proust has him discuss the Search itself. Though it may be questionable that the same scenes and characters recur throughout War and Peace, it is self-evident that they do so in the Search. I won’t linger over the similarities between the scenes caused by the jealousy of Swann, Robert de Saint-Loup, or Marcel. The suffering of all three men is enflamed by their unrelenting though unsuccessful interrogations of their mistresses. So, too, their torment disappears on the day they are no longer in love. In each case, love, and therefore jealousy, vanishes as inexplicably as it had appeared. More startling still is the likeness between two characters who would be horrified at the thought: Oriane, the aristocratic Duchess of Guermantes, and Madame Verdurin, who comes from ‘completely unknown bourgeois origins.’ At a quick glance, the only characteristic they have in common is that each reigns over a salon. The idea that they would ever exchange calling cards is inconceivable…until Time Regained.
Oriane’s salon is frequented by her family, who represent the best of Faubourg Saint-Germain, and certain men of prominence and distinction. Both she and her guests consider that having entree to her salon is a precious and much sought-after privilege. Because Madame Verdurin’s origins prevent her from being on familiar terms with the uppermost echelons of society, she concentrates on artists, scientists, scholars, politicians, and a rather motley crew of regulars. While the social makeup of the two salons is completely different, their underlying principles and mode of action are identical: both are based on slavish adulation of the hostess and the necessity of arbitrary and sometimes brutal exclusion.
The husband’s role is essential to cast the hostess in the most flattering light. Monsieur Verdurin repeatedly stresses his wife’s musicality and artistic taste, while the Duke of Guermantes glories in Oriane’s cultivation, always applauds her judgments, and is a past master at the art of circulating her latest witticism among the guests. Both ladies distrust other women — Madame Verdurin because she questions their absolute devotion; the duchess in order to apply with full rigor the principle of exclusion. It is convenient to let it be known that she doesn’t like women — other than family members — which exempts her from inviting the wives of some remarkable men she would like to attract.
The duchess and Madame Verdurin each pretend to be entirely objective about the works of art they own. Passionately believing that her Elstirs are the most beautiful and her Empire furniture the finest, Madame de Guermantes praises them with an air of impartiality that leaves no room for dispute. Madame Verdurin maintains that is impossible to find furniture in Beauvais tapestry or decorative bronzes equal to hers. However, the duchess and Madame Verdurin are most alike in their cruelty and in their steely refusal to forgo pleasure on account of a friend’s sorrow. Madame Verdurin relies on her husband to avoid talking about death, or, worse still, postponing a dinner for that reason. It is up to him to plead his wife’s oversensitive nature and forbid any mention of bereavement in her presence. When she cannot prevent the question from arising, as when her friend, Princess Sherbatoff, dies, she prefers to insist callously that she feels no sorrow, rather than cancel a reception and be forced to look sad all evening. Madame de Guermantes may be subtler, but she is no less determined to make social life her highest priority. When Charles Swann, her lifelong friend, tells her that he is going to die, rather than risk being late at a dinner by taking the time to console him, she chooses not to believe him, thereby obviating any possible conflict between friendship and frivolity. These two women, cruel in the face of death and even more cruel towards the living, unhesitatingly sacrifice those closes to them on the altar of their love of society. Thus Oriane makes Swann infinitely sad by refusing, shortly before his death, to let him introduce his daughter to her. There would be no more salons if every dying person were granted their wish, she avers; her counterpart, Madame Verdurin, enraged by the attention paid to Baron Charlus during a party he organized at her house, devastates him by turning Morel, the person he adores, against him…”
(I’m omitting the final two paragraphs of the essay so as not to reveal a major plot point…)
Moncrieff: “That day and the next we went out together…” through “I shall ring for you presently.” Pages 544-559; Kindle locations 7082-89/7271-78
Clark: “That day and the next we went out together…” through “I shall ring for you presently.” Pages 373-384; Kindle locations 6914-21/7091-97
As you’ll see, this takes us to the end of The Captive (or The Prisoner, depending on the edition you’re reading). Please post your thoughts, observations, questions, etc. as to where we stand now in the Search…