Moncrieff: 656-668; Clark: 453-461
by Dennis Abrams
Colors and memories of Albertine, “the particular ideas of Albertine that I successively formed, of the physical aspect in which I pictured her at each of those moments, the degree of frequency with which I had seen her during that season, which itself appeared consequently more or less dispersed or compact, the anxieties which she might have caused me by keeping me waiting, the desire which I had for her at such and such a moment, the hopes formed and shattered…” Changes of weather “each brought me back a different Albertine. “We exist only by virtue of what we possess, we possess only what is really present to us, and many of our memories, our moods, our ideas sail away on a voyage of their own until they are lost to sight.” Awakening brings “a whole fleet of memories which had come to cruise upon the surface of my clearest consciousness and which I could distinguish perfectly…In an instant, Albertine’s name, her death, had changed their meaning; her betrayals had suddenly resumed their old importance.” “How could she had seemed dead to me when now, in order to think of her, I had at my disposal only those same images one or other of which I used to recall when she was alive!” The mythological wheel of her bicycle, her warrior tunic of waterproof, her head turbaned and dressed with snakes. Things Marcel can no longer do because Albertine is dead. The many Albertines, the equivalent number of Marcels, “The complexity of my love, of my person, multiplied and diversified my sufferings.” By merely thinking of her, Marcel is able to bring Albertine, but, curiously, “her infidelities could never be those of a dead woman, the moment at which she had committed them becoming the present moment, not only for Albertine, but for that one of my various selves thus suddenly evoked who happened to be thinking of her.” Memories, jealousy, and the pain of the amputee. A remembered bath-wrap at Balbec, Albertine’s blush, and two friends of Lea’s. Aimee is sent to make inquiries. The impossibility of a conversation with Albertine, tenderness, “and immediately, by an abrupt transition, from the torments of jealousy I passed to the despair of separation. The dining room which once seemed unattractive takes on a new charm. An invitation from the Verdurins brings thoughts of his first visit there, that Brichot and Mme Verdurin were still alive and Albertine was not, and of the evening Brichot accompanied Marcel home and the light from Albertine’s room.
A section that I found sometimes difficult to read, but well worth the effort. I found myself drawn to the last paragraph of this section, as Marcel remembers coming home with Brichot after his evening at the Verdurins and looking up at the light from Albertine’s room:
“Then, when I thought of the void which I should now find on returning home, when I realised that never again would I see Albertine’s window from below, that its light was extinguished for ever, I remembered how that evening, on leaving Brichot, I had felt irritated and regretful at my inability to roam the streets and make love elsewhere, and I saw how greatly I had been mistaken, that it was only because of the treasure whose reflexions came down to me from above had seemed to be entirely in my possession that I had failed to appreciate its value, so that it appeared necessarily inferior to pleasures, however slight, whose value I estimated in seeking to imagine them. I understood how much this light, which seemed to me to issue from a prison, contained for me a plentitude of life and sweetness, this light which had intoxicated me for a moment, and then on the evening when Albertine had slept under the same roof as me, at Balbec, had appeared for ever impossible. I was perceiving that this life I had led in Paris, in a home of mine which was also a home of hers, was precisely the realisation of that profound peace I had dreamt of.”
And for the weekend, a section from Joshua Landy’s Philosophy as Fiction:
“Extending outward from the case of Agostinelli, we can posit as a general working hypothesis that the most fruitful way to approach Proust’s novel is as a piece of literature penned by a man who has doubts about the power of his imagination. Proust, I am suggesting, wishes to be a novelist, not an autobiographer; it is just that his capacity for ex nihilo creation happens, in his own opinion, to be somewhat limited. ‘Everything is fictional, at the cost of great effort, for I have no imagination,’ says a voice in the Carnet de 1908, a voice I am tempted to hear as belonging to Proust himself (in the Carnet, it is not always easy to determine which of the annotations are fragments of the novel-in-progress and which reflect Proust’s process and plans). Proust, that is, strives to fabricate a pure fiction, and seems to take pride in the fact that ‘everything has been invented by me in accordance with the requirements of my theme [ma demonstration]. If we are able, nevertheless, to detect elements of reality behind the ‘demonstration,’ it is because he has simply not had the energy to do any better: ‘through excess of fatigue,’ he writes, ‘for purely material details, I spare myself the trouble of making things up for my hero and take some real traits from myself.’
We should, I think, take his word for it. For the longer Proust worked, the less auto-biographical his output became. Between Contre Saint-Beuve and the Recherche, he removed the narrator’s younger brother, leaving Marcel an only child…between ‘Impressions de route en automobile’ (1907) and the steeples passage in the novel, he replaced Agostinelliwith an anonymous coachman and Caen with the fictional Martinville; and between typescript and printed page, he routinely eliminated the word ‘Marcel,’ amending the text. Only two mentions of the name remains, and the first, far from establishing an identity between author and narrator makes it, if anything, even less likely. ‘Then she would find her tongue,’ it runs, referring to Albertine waking from a nap,’ and say ‘My –‘ or ‘My darling –‘ followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would be ‘My Marcel,’ or ‘My darling Marcel.'”
This little passage, discreetly buried in the fifth volume of the novel, is truly an extraordinary literary event, a dazzling flash of Proustian brilliance. For in fictional worlds, epistemological access only works in one direction; narrators are allowed to know things about characters (their future for example), but not vice versa; and authors are allowed to know things about narrators, but not the other way around. Here, by contrast, it appears — quite scandalously — as though the narrator knows what his maker is called (Molly Bloom’s ‘O Jamesy let me up out of this,’ in James Joyce’s Ulysees is the only contemporary parallel of which I am aware.) To put int less paradoxically, Proust’s sentence mixes together two voices, two implicit first-person pronouns. Whereas the ‘I’ behind ‘my Christian name’ belongs to Marcel, the ‘I’ behind ‘if we give’ pertains to Proust. And so it effects a demarcation between author and narrator both in content and in form, content explicitly noting that their names need not be alike, form showing that their voices (and intentions) collide and conflict within the very texture of the prose. Ironically then, the very statement that seems to seal the equivalence between Proust and Marcel actually drives them further apart.”
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: “Remembering the conversation I had had with Albertine…” through “before arriving at a Balbec which I did not yet know.” Pages 668-699; Kindle locations 8642-49/9032-39
Clark: “I would never been able to console myself if the conversation…” through “which I had yet to get to know.” Pages 461-484; Kindle locations 8395-8402/8790-96
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.