Moncrieff: 668-699; Clark: 461-484
by Dennis Abrams
Albertine’s intelligence, “There could be no denying that I had known people whose intelligence was greater. But the infinitude of love, or its egoism, brings it about that the people whom we love are those whose intellectual and moral physiognomy is least objectively defined in our eyes; we alter them incessantly to suit our desires and fears…” Beginnings of guilt and regret: “…where I had been wrong was perhaps in not making a greater effort to know Albertine in herself…I ought to have sought to understand her character as that of an ordinary person, and thus perhaps, grasping the reasons for her persistence in keeping her secret from me, might have avoided prolonging between us…the conflict which led to her death.” Shame at having survived her. Marcel benefits from Albertine’s death, and the truths which are revealed by making him suffer. “One one wants to be understood because one wants to be loved, and ones to be loved because one loves.” Possessing a bit of Albertine’s intelligence is a step towards possessing her fully. “When we speak of the ‘niceness’ of a woman, we are doing no more perhaps than project outside ourselves the pleasure that we feel in seeing her…” Confiding in Albertine: “The fact is that confidence and conversation are ordinary things in themselves, and what does it matter if they are less than perfect if only there enters into them love, which alone is divine.” Albertine at her pianola. “I cannot even say that what I felt at the loss of all those moments of sweetness which nothing could ever restore to me was despair.” Marcel was more fortunate than Swann, he knew both a happiness and unhappiness with Albertine that Swann never did with Odette. “…nothing is ever repeats itself exactly, and the most analogous lives which, thanks to kinship of character and similarity of circumstances, we may select in order to represent them as symmetrical…” “…since from my prison she had escaped to go and killer herself on a horse which but for me she would have not owned…” The series of events that brought Marcel and Albertine together. “And yet if Swann had not spoken to me of Balbec, I should never have known this Albertine who had become so necessary, of love for whom my soul was no almost exclusively composed. Her life would perhaps have been longer, mine would have been devoid of what was now making it a martyrdom. And thus it seemed to me that, by my entirely selfish love, I had allowed Albertine to die just as I had murdered my grandmother.” Other women he could have fallen in love with if circumstances had permitted: Mlle de Stermaria. Albertine and Gilberte: “A man has almost always the same way of catching cold, of falling ill; that is to say, he requires for it to happen a particular combination of circumstances; it is natural that when he falls in love he should love a certain type of woman…” Marcel’s love for Albertine was not inevitable. “…very often, in order that we may discover that we may fall in love, the day of separation must first have come.” Marcel’s inability to possess Albertine completely: “Whatever our social position, however wise our precautions, when the truth is confessed we have no hold on the life of another person.” Why was Albertine afraid to confess the truth about her tastes to Marcel? Was it because early on in their relationship he stated his disgust for that kind of thing? Had she blushed? “The idea that one will die is more painful than dying, but less painful than the idea that another person is dead…” Marcel’s happiness that Albertine had written to him before she died, proving to him that she would have returned, “It seemed to me that it was not merely more soothing, but more beautiful also, that the event would have been incomplete without that message, would not have had so markedly the form of art and destiny.” Marcel, if Albertine had confessed her ‘tastes,’ would have allowed her to indulge in them. “And now she no longer existed anywhere; I could have scoured the earth from pole to pole without finding Albertine; the reality which had closed over her was once more unbroken, had obliterated every trace of the being who had sunk without a trace. She was now no more than a name.” Yet, every knowable aspect of Albertine lives within Marcel. Terror of being judged by the dead, the fear that they know all. The possibility of the immortality of the soul. Imagining their reunion. Marcel’s curiosity outlives Albertine’s death. The arbitrary nature of Marcel’s curiosity regarding Albertine and the bathhouse: “I might have sent Aime to many other places in Balbec, to many other towns in Balbec. But these other days, precisely because I did not know how she had spent them, did not present themselves to my imagination, had no existence for it.” Aime’s letter confirms Albertine’s tastes, the many girls she brought to the showers. New pain, images of Albertine, “All those images — a vista of a life of lies and iniquities such as I had never conceived — my suffering had immediately altered them in their very essence; I did not see them in the light that illuminates earthly spectacles, they were a fragment of another world, of an unknown and accursed place, a glimpse of Hell. Balbec is ruined for Marcel.
Pretty amazing section, watching Marcel (and the Narrator) begin to come to terms with Albertine’s death…denial, guilt…every quiver of thought, every zig, every zag…
1. This seems to me key — Marcel’s first response after reading Aimee’s letter:
“To understand how deeply these words penetrated my being, it must be remembered that the questions which I had been asking myself with regard to Albertine were not secondary, insignificant questions, questions of detail, the only questions in fact that one asks about anyone who is not oneself, whereby one is enabled to carry on, wrapped in the imperviousness of one’s thoughts, through the midst of suffering, falsehood, vice and death. No, in Albertine’s case they were essential question: In her heart of hearts what was she? What were her thoughts? What were her loves? Did she lie to me? Had my life with her been as lamentable as Swann’s life with Odette?”
2. Again, the parallels between Swann and Odette, Marcel and Albertine.
3. And again, the arbitrariness of love. If Swann hadn’t interested Marcel in Balbec, if Marcel hadn’t ended his relationship with Albertine, if Mlle de Stermaria had accepted Marcel’s invitation…If twentysome years ago, I had left my apartment two minutes earlier, or two minutes later, I never would have met… If one looks at almost all of one’s life decisions and events, the sheer…arbitrariness of it all can be shocking…
4. Thoughts on this?
“But after we have reached a certain age our loves, our mistresses, are begotten of our anguish; our past and the physical lesions in which it is recorded, determine our future.”
5. And finally — this is something we’ve discussed before, but doesn’t Albertine’s behavior in the bathhouse at Balbec seem much more like the behavior of a gay man than a young bisexual girl?
Moncrieff: “It is one of the faculties of jealousy to reveal to us…” through “‘Oh, it’s too heavenly,’ and I’ve seen the bite.” Pages 699-713; Kindle locations 9039-46/9207-14
Clark: “One of the effects of jealousy is to make us discover…” through “…you told her, ‘I’m in heaven,’ I saw the love bite.'” Pages 484-494; Kindle locations 8790-96/8950-57