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.
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