Moncrieff: 902-936; Clark: 628-658
by Dennis Abrams
Gilberte is convinced that the name “Marquis de Saint-Loup” was “a thousand times grander than ‘Duc d’Orleans.” The Princesse de Parme helped to arrange the Cambremer marriage with the approval of Charlus and Legrandin. It is hinted that Jupien’s niece is, in fact, the natural daughter of Charlus. Fallout from the marriages: Legrandin’s pleasures become Platonic, “consisting chiefly in friendships, in time-consuming conversations, which, making him spend almost all his time among the people, left him very little for the life of society,” Mme de Cambremer now that she knows the Duchesse de Guermantes, becomes indifferent to her. “…the fabulous charm which her hostess imagined to exist in the Duchesse de Guermantes vanished as soon as she found herself sought after by her, and she received her out of politeness rather than pleasure,’ and Gilberte, who during the first few months of her marriage “had been happy to open her doors to the most select society,” grows contemptuous of it, and her salon falls out of favor. “Everything that seems to us imperishable tends towards decay; a position in society, like anything else, is not created once and for all, but,just as much as the power of an empire, is continually rebuilding itself by a sort of perpetual process of creation…The creation of the world did not occur at the beginning of time, it occurs every day.” Saint-Loup appears to be happy staying at home with his wife, whom he loves and to whom he owed his great fortune. Mlle d’Oloron dies of typhoid a few weeks after her marriage: “The great thing, after all, is to have a grand marriage.” Funeral notices and sham titles. Charlus and the widower Cambremer. Marcel and his mother arrive in Paris, still discussing the two marriages. Would grandmother have approved? Marcel’s mother finally reaches the conclusion that “this news would not have surprised my grandmother, since it confirmed her predictions. She wanted to see it as a confirmation of my grandmother’s foresight, proof that she had been even more profound, more perceptive, more sagacious than we had thought.” Would Swann have been happy that his daughter had become a Guermantes, or unhappy that she had given up her father’s name and become Mlle de Forcheville? Dining room conversations. Old friends from Combray disparage Gilberte and Odette. Marcel and Gilberte become friends again, and “if she was always ready to come see me, never in a hurry to leave me, it was because the obstacle had vanished: my love.” Marcel prepares to leave for a visit to Tansonville, leaving his new mistress, his Albertine substitute, under the care of a friend who does not sleep with women: “For even if one love has passed into oblivion, it may determine the form of the love that is to follow it…They become the pattern, if not of all our loves, at least of certain of our loves which alternate among themselves.” Gilberte’s unhappiness at Saint-Loup’s unfaithfulness: “Robert, a true nephew of M. de Charlus, went about openly with women whom he compromised, whom the world believed and whom Gilberte on the whole believed to be his mistresses.” Marcel learns from Jupien that Morel has left Charlus for his nephew, Robert Saint-Loup: “No, however despicably — there’s no other word for it — he deserted the Baron, that was his business. But to take up with the nephew! There are some things that just aren’t done.” Saint-Loup’s mother, Mme de Marsantes, forces a reconciliation between her son and daughter-in-law: “She belonged to a world in which perennial inbreeding and the impoverishment of patrimonies constantly bring out, in the realm of the passions as in that of pecuniary interest, inherited vices and compromises.” Saint-Loup could have married Albertine, and been able to indulge his sexual desires. Rachel’s continuing influence over Saint-Loup. Saint-Loup eying the waiter at Balbec while ordering Gilberte’s dinner. Did Saint-Loup’s sexual tastes go back as far as Marcel’s first visit to Balbec? The lift-boy. Who is lying? Saint-Loup’s blush when Bloch spoke of the lift-boy. The physical similarities between Rachel and Morel. Saint-Loup is still supporting Rachel financially. The money trail from Gilberte to Saint-Loup to Mme Swann. Marcel’s pain at the change in Saint-Loup, despite the fact that “Personally, I found it absolutely immaterial from a moral point of view whether one took one’s pleasure with a man or with a woman, and only too natural and human that one should take it where one could find it…But I wept when I reflect that I had once so great an affection for a different Saint-Loup, an affection which, I sensed all too clearly from the cold and evasive manner which he now adopted, he no longer felt for me, since men, now that they were capable of arousing his desires, could no longer inspire his friendship.”
[And for those of you reading the Moncrieff translation, this last section is included in the Clark version]
Walks by himself and with Gilberte at Combray. “…now on my way to Guermantes, how could I have avoided experiencing even more strongly than ever the feeling that I would never be capable of writing, adding to the realization that my imagination and sensitivity had weakened, when I saw how little curiosity Combray inspired in me?” Marcel chats with Gilberte, which he finds very pleasant. “And yet it was not all that easy. In so many individuals there are different, dissimilar layers, the character of the father, the character of the mother; we traverse first one, then the other. But the next day the order of the layering is reversed. And ultimately we no longer knows who could separate the parts and who could be trusted to sit in judgment. Gilberte was like one of those countries with which we dare not conclude an alliance because they change government too often. Yet basically we are wrong. However discontinuous the life of an individual, memory establishes within him a sort of identity, with the result that he does not want to break promises that he remembers even if he did not sign them himself.” Gilberte suggests that “‘If you’d like we could still go out one afternoon to walk towards Guermantes, but we could walk past Meseglise, it’s the prettiest route,’ a sentence which overturned all the ideas of my childhood by revealing that the two ways were not as irreconcilable as I had thought.” Gilberte confesses her childhood love and desire for Marcel. “And suddenly I thought that the real Gilberte and the real Albertine were perhaps those who offered themselves up in a single glance, one by a hedgerow of pink hawthorn, the other on the beach….I pictured Gilberte again in my memory. I could have drawn the rectangle of light shed by the sun beneath the hawthornes, the spade that the little girl held in her hand, the lingering look that she cast in my direction. Except that, given the crude gesture which accompanied it, I had seen it as a look of contempt, because what I wanted seemed to be something of which little girls knew nothing and complied with only in my imagination, during my hours of solitary desire. Even less could I have imagined that, so easily and so swiftly, almost under my grandfather’s nose, one of them might have been so bold as to spell it out…Thus after so many years I had to touch up the image that I recalled so well, an operation which made me relatively happy by showing me the uncrossable abyss which I had at that time believed to exist between me and a certain kind of little girl with golden hair was as imaginary as the abyss described by Pascal, and which I found poetical because of the long series of years I needed to cross in order to perform this operation…”
I’d like to end today’s post with an essay by Louis Begley, “My Mother and I Would Enter the Baptistery,” from The Proust Project, which, I think, sums up the experience of The Fugitive better than I could ever hope to:
“As The Fugitive, the penultimate volume of the Search, opens, Albertine has asked for her trunks and left. Her letter of farewell, if it is to be believed, announces a definite rupture. Summoned by the distraught Marcel, who will stage-manage his every move, Robert de Saint-Loup attempts to bring her back. In vain: Albertine has been killed in a riding accident. Marcel believes he must soon follow her to the grave. However, sometime later, when his mother takes him on his long-delayed first trip to Venice, he realizes that in the meantime his indifference to Albertine has become absolute. She has survived as a bundle of thoughts; time has changed Marcel into a new man, those thoughts have no power to move him. Love for Albertine, just as his earlier love for Gilberte, has succumbed to what Proust calls the general law of oblivion.
That the setting for this bleak and cruel discovery should be Venice is a masterstroke of irony. Ever since his father, on doctor’s orders, canceled an Easter trip there, Venice has exercised a special power over Marcel’s imagination — as the city of Titian and Giorgione and Gothic architecture, and also as an aquatic Baghdad in which, like a character out of the Arabian Tales, he would find nocturnal adventures. To go there, with Albertine, is out of the question: she would escape his surveillance in Venice more easily than in Paris. But when his jealousy slackens sufficiently for the tedium of cohabitation to be felt, he regrets wasting in her presence the time he could have spent in Venice. In fact, at the very instant Francoise tells Marcel of Albertine’s sudden departure, he is preparing to go to Venice alone, without saying goodbye.
Soon after the Venetian episode, Gilberte marries Saint-Loup. Their union obliterates the geographical and class distinctions that are among Marcel’s founding myths. Saint-Loup is a Guermantes. The Swann and Guermantes families being thus linked, the opposites represented by the destinations of the ritual afternoon walks undertaken in the golden age of Combray, du cote de chez Swann and du cote de Guermantes, are no longer irreconcilable. In fact, the shortcut that Gilberte shows Marcel makes the distance between Swann’s property and the ducal fief negligible. The upheaval does not stop there. Saint-Loup’s tender and respectful attention for Marcel and for the grandmother, since the first visit to Balbec, has been one of the happier themes of the Search. But Saint-Loup’s marriage to Gilberte coincides with another discovery: Saint-Loup, like his uncle, Baron de Charlus, is relentlessly homosexual. Men’s sexual leanings are of no concern to Marcel. However, Saint-Loup’s betrayal of Gilberte with Charlie Morel, Charlus’s tormentor and former lover, is another matter. It shows Saint-Loup to be so vilely false that Marcel is brought to the point of tears, although he tells himself that he does not believe in friendship, and did not feel any for Saint-Loup.
The passage by Proust that I have chosen is a metaphor, of extraordinary power, for the universal disillusionment and devastation recorded in The Fugitive. As Marcel ponders the near certainty that his mother’s train will pull out of the station while he, strangely paralyzed by a vulgar street song, will remain in Venice, alone with the knowledge that he has wounded his mother, the unearthly beauty of the palaces lining both sides of the Grand Canal vanishes. Stage lights illuminating a painted set have been dimmed. Marcel is no longer able to breathe life into ‘the lifeless heaps of marble.’ Only the dolorous image of the mother withstands the devastation.
In fact, Marcel will get to the station in time and rejoin his equally anguished mother. Her role is almost concluded; she will not appear in Time Regained, the last volume of the Search. Venice will. And it will do so in the great epiphany scene, when the reawakened memory of the uneven paving stones in the baptistery of St. Mark’s enables Marcel to penetrate the mysteries first hinted at by the taste of a madeleine, and to confirm the reality of his literary vocation.”
1. It would make me very happy if you all drop a line in the comments, describing your thoughts as we begin the final volume. Share with the group!
2. And…now that we’re about to begin the final volume, it’s time, I’m afraid, to start thinking about our next project (that is, of course, if you’re interested in one). I’m thinking maybe Shakespeare (in the order the plays were written perhaps). Milton’s Paradise Lost? Montaigne? Short stories of Borges? Ulysses? The Tale of Genji? Let me know what you think…
Moncrieff: Pages 1-16 “I should have no occasion to dwell upon this visit…” through “it would only be because he himself had suffered some great disaster,” (This section contains the material that came at the end of the Clark translation of The Fugitive which I summarized above) Kindle locations 39-45/227-34
Patterson: Pages 3-7 “All day long, in that slightly too bucolic residence,” through “or else something terrible would have to have happened to prevent him.” Kindle locations 211-17/285-92 (You all get off easy today to allow the Moncrieff readers to catch up.)