Moncrieff: 554-559; Clark: 373-384
by Dennis Abrams
Outings with Albertine (and without Andree) completely restore Marcel’s peace of mind, although he is no longer receiving kisses or “carnal satisfactions.” Things change with spring: “Resigning myself to idleness, resigning myself to chastity, to tasting pleasure only with a woman I did not love, resigning myself to remaining shut up in my room, to not traveling, all this was possible in the old world where we had been only yesterday, the empty world of winter, but not any longer in this new leafy world, in which I had awoken like a young Adam…” Albertine’s presence, grim-faced and sullen, weighs on Marcel. Instead of going to Venice, and instead of going to the Louvre to look at Venetian pictures and the Luxembourg to see the Elstirs that the Princesse de Guermantes had recently sold (the Pleasures of the Dance might awaken desires in Albertine for “a life of fireworks and suburban pleasure-grounds”), Marcel and Albertine go to Versailles. The Fortuny coat over a Fortuny dressing-gown. The buzzing of a wasp, an aeroplane: “I had at least been able to attach the buzzing to its cause, to that little insect throbbing up there in the sky, probably six thousand feet above me.” Albertine’s glances; the pastry cook’s disinterest. The pastry-cook’s stupidity. The ride home, the moonlight: “Albertine admired the moonlight. I dared not tell her that I would have admired it more if I had been alone, or in quest of an unknown woman.” Albertine’s life “was covered in a network of alternating, fugitive, often contradictory desires. Her falsehoods. Base admissions. “But, even allowing for her lies, it was incredible how spasmodic her life was, how fugitive her strongest desires.” The smell of petrol from a passing car brings to Marcel memories of driving the country roads outside of Balbec. Marcel’s desire to go to Venice “reawakened by the Fortuny gown in blue and gold,that spread before me another spring, a spring not leafy at all but on the contrary suddenly stripped of its trees and flowers by the name I had just murmured to myself: ‘Venice.” A decision: “Yes, I must go, the time had come. Now that Albertine no longer appeared to be angry with me, the possession of her no longer seemed to me a treasure in exchange for which one is prepared to sacrifice every other…Now that life with Albertine had become possible once again, I felt that I could derive nothing from it but misery, since she did not love me; better to part from her to the gentle solace of her acquiescence, which I could prolong in memory.” Plans to ensure that when Albertine leaves, she won’t go anywhere that will upset him. Marcel rings for Francoise to go out and buy him a guidebook and a timetable. The Narrator points out that Marcel had forgotten that once upon a time Balbec, too, was “a desire he had attained without any satisfaction.” Francoise comes to the room, and informs Marcel that she had not wanted to disturb him before he rang, but early that morning Albertine had packed her bags and “at nine o’clock off she went.” Marcel’s indifference to Albertine vanishes.
So it finally happened. We knew it would happen. We feared it would happen. We hoped it would happen. It still, though, came as a shock. It is, of course, what the whole book seemed to be leading to (what other ending was possible)/
I have to say that for me, The Captive was a remarkable experience. In it, despite the fact that even compared to the preceding volumes, very little actually happens (Marcel keeps Albertine in his parent’s apartment, he is jealous, Albertine goes to Versailles, Marcel keeps Albertine from meeting Lea at the Trocadero, Bergotte dies, the Verdurin’s give a concert of previously unknown music by Vinteuil performed by Morel and afterwards drive Charlus from their midst, spring returns and Albertine disappears — did I miss anything?) the reading experience itself was so deep and rich, the characters continue to grow and amaze us (Charlus! Mme Verdurin! Marcel!) and the “set pieces,” Bergotte’s death, the Verdurin’s concert and rejection of Charlus, rank, at least for me, among the greatest in literature.
What are your feelings? I know that there is a whole school of criticism that thinks that this volume and the next are not as strong as the others, but…has there ever been as thorough (too thorough perhaps), unblinking look at jealousy, love, and…the impossibility of love?
And to end, from The Proust Project, “Mademoiselle Albertine Has Gone,” by Daniel Mark Epstein:
“Proust foreshadowed this disaster long before, in The Guermantes Way, when he declared that ‘when you come to live with a woman you will soon cease to see anything of what made you love her, though it is true that the two sundered elements can be reunited by jealousy.’ There the comment is a glib digression — not until The Captive does Marcel narrate the traumatic experience. His mistress comes to live with him in the spring; by the following spring his jealousy has made their life unendurable.
He is so suspicious of Albertine he virtually keeps her prisoner. Forced to prevaricate in order to steal moments of freedom, she thus becomes what he had most feared — a liar, a dissembler. Maybe she is unfaithful to him. Before, she had been honest, constant, and devoted. Even as she changes we sense that she changes as much to please him — by offering him fuel for his jealousy– as to save herself from his tyranny.
When at least he catches her in a petty lie, he decides to leave her, since his life with Albertine “was on the one hand, when [he] was not jealous, nothing but boredom, and on the other hand, when [he] was jealous, nothing but pain.’ She leaves him first, thus depriving him of the satisfaction.
Proust constructed his bildungsroman from the outside in — the first and final volumes were written first, then the middle of the novel was expanded to fit the love story of Marcel and Albertine. She absorbs more of his attention than does any other character. Thus the question ‘Who is Albertine?’ begins to haunt both Marcel and the reader soon after the beautiful girl makes her appearance in Balbec — ‘the dark one with the plump cheeks, who was wheeling a bicycle.’
She is Marcel’s ‘anima’ — the feminine element of the psyche that Goethe called ‘The Eternal Feminine.’ Throughout the novel Marcel struggles to free his anima from what Carl Jung calls ‘the devouring aspect of the mother image.’ A man must find some ‘means of freeing the psychic energy attached to the mother-son relationship in order to achieve a more adult relations to woman…’ Jung writes. And the freedom of this energy ‘is necessary for any true creative achievement.’
Of course Albertine is first and foremost a fully realized character, and only subliminally an allegorical figure, otherwise her final escape would not be so deeply moving.
In this novel where reflection supersedes action, the reader may lose sight of Proust’s powers as a ‘dramatist.’ The emphatic placement of Albertine’s liberation, darkening the close of The Captive and illuminating the opening of The Fugitive, underscores Proust’s artistic purpose. The seamless transition between these books constitutes a classic scene of what Aristotle calls anagnorisis (recognition) and peripeteia (sudden reversal of circumstances). Only after the tragedy of Marcel’s love life has come to an end, and he has thoroughly mourned its passing in The Fugitive, will the aspiring writer be capable of accessing his mature psychic energies. In this singular soul’s journey, the hero must renounce human love before he can assume his role in Time Regained as an artist, a comedian, and a critic of culture.”
I’m not certain that I agree with all of this (did Marcel really make a liar of Albertine?) but an interesting piece nonetheless.
Moncrieff: “Mademoiselle Albertine has gone!” through “…but this time it was indeed meant as a signal.” Pages 563-574; Kindle locations 7280-85/7421-28
Clark: “Miss Albertine has left!” through “…but this time having indeed the sense of a signal, and Albertine had thus premeditated her escape for some time.” Pages 387-394; Kindle locations 7097-7103/7230-36