Moncrieff: 584-596; Clark: 401-410
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel wants to believe that Albertine left in the hope of “being summoned back on more favourable terms.” “When we find ourselves on the verge of despair and it seems as though God has forsaken us, we no longer hesitate to expect a miracle of him.” Unable to do anything on his own, Marcel brings in Robert Saint-Loup to search for Albertine. Marcel’s need to “prevent the fugitive creature from going to this place or to that.” Condemned to lie to Albertine in order to get her back. Sending Saint-Loup. Albertine’s photograph and Saint-Loup’s reaction: “His face expressed a stupefaction which amounted to stupidity. ‘Is this the girl you love?’ he said at length in a tone in which astonishment was curbed by his fear of offending me.” “I at once understood Robert’s astonishment, realising that it was the same as that which the sight of his mistress had provoked in me, the only difference being that I had recognized in her a woman whom I already knew, where he imagined that he had never seen Albertine. But no doubt the difference between our respective impressions of the same person was equally great.” Visual sensations of Albertine combined with taste, smell, touch, “more tender indefinable sensations had been added to them, and afterwards painful sensations.” The stratification of sensations was invisible to Robert, “What had struck Robert when his eyes fell upon Albertine’s photograph was not the thrill of wonderment that overcame the Trojan elders seeing Helen go by and saying, ‘One single glance from her eclipses all our ills,’ but precisely the opposite impression which may be expressed by: ‘What, it’s for this that he had worked himself into such a state, has grieved himself so, has done so many idiotic things!” “…the edifice of the sensations interposed between the face of the women and the eyes of her lover — the huge egg of pain which conceals it…” “…if the face which the lover saw for the first time is very far removed from that which he has seen since he has loved and suffered, it is, in the opposite sense, equally far from the face which may now be seen by the indifferent onlooker.” The difference in optics, physical appearance, character. “I recalled my own amazement, the first time I met [[Rachel] with Saint-Loup, at the thought that anybody could be tormented by not knowing what such a woman had been doing one evening, what she might have whispered to someone, why she had desired a rupture.” “…I was under no illusion as to what Saint-Loup might be thinking, or as to what anyone else than the lover himself may think. And I was not unduly distressed. Let us leave pretty women to men with no imagination.” Elstir’s portrait of Odette — was he her lover? Albertine at Balbec, skinny from too much exercise, wearing an ugly hat “which left visible only the tip of an ugly nose and, at a side-view, pale cheeks like white slugs…” virtually unrecognizable. 30,000 franc to Mme Bontemps’s husband’s election committee in exchange for Albertine’s return to marry Marcel. Saint-Loup hints that he will soon be marrying — the niece of the Prince de Guermantes? Would Albertine make a suitable friend for Saint-Loup’s wife? Marcel tells Francoise not to remove Albertine’s bed from the study, but instead to make it for her.
The key part of this section, I think, is the discussion of how Saint-Loup can’t possibly see Albertine in the same way that Marcel does, that the girl of whom he said “She must be wonderful,” was ‘just’ Albertine, “With the result that, if the face which the lover saw for the first time is very far removed from that which he has seen since has loved and suffered it is, in the opposite sense, equally far from the face which may now be seen by the indifferent observer.” It’s not that love is blind, it’s just that given the experiences that Marcel has had with Albertine, the shared sensations, history, etc., there is no way, as Proust teaches us, that Saint-Loup COULD see her in the same way. (And of course, as always in Proust, this is a lesson that Marcel should have learned earlier when the situations were reversed, when he could not understand how Saint-Loup could be in such anguish over “Rachel when from the Lord.”
He goes on to point out that “…we have no need to see for the first time the woman who has caused such ravages. Often we know her already, as my great-uncle knew Odette. So the difference in optics extends not only to people’s physical appearance but to their character, and to their individual importance. Is it more likely than not that the women who is causing the man who loves her to suffer has always behaved good-naturedly towards someone who was indifferent to her, as Odette, who was so cruel to Swann, had been the kind, attentive ‘lady in pink’ to my great-uncle, or indeed that the person whose every decision is computed in advance by the man who loves her, with as much dread as that of a deity, appears to be a person of no consequence, only too glad to do anything he asks, in the eyes of the man who does not love her, as Saint-Loup’s mistress had appeared to me who saw in her merely that ‘Rachel when from the Lord’ who had so repeatedly been offered to me.’
Is it any surprise then, of the Narrator’s dream not necessarily to travel, but to see the world completely through someone else’s eyes?
And..,30,000 francs for Albertine?
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: Saint-Loup could scarcely have been on the train…” through “The pleasure, so long lost, of having her with me was intoxicating.” Pages 596-621; Kindle locations 7702-9/8043-50
Clark: “Saint-Loup could barely have caught the train…” through “I was intoxicated by the prospect of recovering the long-lost sweetness of having her by my side.” Pages 410-429; Kindle locations 7748-7505/7827-34
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.