Moncrieff: 428-461; Patterson: 290-311
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel and Gilberte discuss Saint-Loup’s views of the war: “Robert had compared battles to plays in which it is not always easy to know what the author had intended, in which perhaps the author himself had changed his plan in mid-campaign.” Aeroplanes, “Every army will have to be a hundred-eyed Argus.” The Somme. “…[Saint-Loup] maintained that we return always to the methods of the ancients….These words did indeed give me a sense of that stagnation of the past through which in certain parts of the world, by virtue of a sort of specific gravity, it is indefinitely immobilised, so that it can be found after centuries exactly as it was.” “There is one aspect of war…which I think Robert was beginning to comprehend: war is human, it is something that is lived like a love or a hatred and could be told like the story of a novel, and consequently, if anyone goes about repeating that strategy it won’t help him in the least to understand war, since war is not a matter of strategy. The enemy has no more knowledge of our plans than we have of the objective pursued by the woman whom we love, and perhaps we do not even know what these plans ourselves.” Questionable motives. Gilberte is now close friends with Andree — why would the Marquise de Saint-Loup befriend her — Could it be because Andree’s husband had lived with Rachel before leaving her for Andree? Marcel learns that Rachel will be reciting poetry at the Guermantes’s party. The Princesse de Guermantes (who will always be Mme Verdurin to me) summons the crowd: “Yes, that’s it will forgather. We will summon the elan!” Her monocle. Gilberte expressed disbelief that Marcel would be attending such a party, “a great slaughter of the innocents…” Gilberte’s disdain for the former Mme Verdurin, a “newcomer” to the Guermantes family (at least compared to herself). Marcel’s plan: “…it was my intention to resume the next day, but this time with a purpose, a solitary life. So far from going into society, I would not even permit people to come and see me at home during my hours of work, for the duty of writing my book took precedence now of that of being polite or even kind.” Could he resist their pleadings? “Was it not, surely, in order to concern myself with them that I was going to live apart from these people who would complain that they did not see me, to concern myself with them in a more fundamental fashion than would have been possible in their presence, to seek to reveal them to themselves, to realise their potentialities…Was it more worthwhile that I should attempt to describe the graph, to educe the laws, of these gestures that they made, these remarks that they uttered, their very lives and natures?” Marcel wants what he dreamed of at Balbec, watching Albertine and the girls across the background of the sea, but, realizing that those girls were no more, and since “it hurt me to think that I was obliged to look for them within myself, since Time which changes human beings does not alter the image which we have preserved of them,” tells Gilberte that “I should always being invited to meet young girls, poor girls if possible, to whom I could give pleasure by quite small gifts, without expecting anything of them in return except that they should serve to renew within me the dreams and the sadnesses of my youth and perhaps, one improbable day, a single chaste kiss.” Hoping that the future Albertines would inspire him, but needing a barrier, some distance between them and him. “It was in this fashion that a sentiment of mystery had attached itself for me first to Gilberte, then to the Duchesse de Guermantes, then to Albertine and to many others.” The unknown women he had fallen in love with. The places associated with Gilberte and the Duchesse de Guermantes, “For my friendship with each one had been multiple, I had known her at different times whenshe had been a different woman for me and I myself had been a different person, steeped in dreams of a different colour.” The Duchesse of his childhood, the Duchesse who invited him to lunch. Several Duchesses de Guermantes, several Mme Swanns, “not merely separated but different, each one bedecked with the dreams which I had had at very different periods…” Gilberte now only exists as Mme de Saint-Loup. “In fact all the memories that went to make up the first Mlle Swann were withdrawn from the Gilberte of the present day and held at a distance from her by the forces of attraction of another universe, where, grouped around a phrase of Bergotte with which they formed a single whole, they were drenched with the scent of hawthorn.” The Duchess, her boredom with the Faubourg Saint-Germain and her friendship with Rachel. Her description of Charlus, “He has always been the image of my mother-in-law, but now the likeness is even more striking.” Underneath every Charlus there are fragments of a beautiful women. Time and forgetfulness help to renew old friendships. The progression from Jupien’s niece to Mme de Cambremer, “But all this combined had produced effects that were dazzling, while the causes were already remote and not merely unknown to many people but also forgotten by those who had once known them and whose minds now dwelt much more upon her present brilliance than upon the ignominy of her past, since people always accept a name at its current valuation. So that these drawing room transformations possessed a double interest: they were both a phenomenon of the memory and an effect of Lost Time. Rachel, despite her friendship with the Duchess had not forgotten that “It was in Mme de Guermantes’s house, it was at the hands of Mme de Guermantes herself, that she had inthepast suffered the most terrible humiliation of her life.” Mme Berma’s tea party, unattended because all her invited guests (with the exception of one) are at the Guermantes’s. Her sacrifice of her health for her children. Her continued dislike of Rachel. Rachel’s poetry recital: La Fontaine and Victor Hugo. The crowd at first is not sure how to respond, but opinion shifts to admiration. Gilberte’s response when asked if it had been one of La Fontaine’s fables that Rachel has recited: “”One quarter is the invention of the actress, a second is lunacy, a third is meaningless, and the rest is La Fontaine.”
Again, marvelous, as Marcel decides what he needs to do, past and present are tied together for us as well as for Marcel, and Rachel returns.
A couple of things I’m not sure about though.
1. “And far from thinking myself wretched — a belief which some of the greatest men have held — because of this life without friends or familiar talk that I should live, I realised that our powers of exaltation are being given a false direction when we expend them in friendship, because they are then diverted from those truths towards which they might have guided us to aim at a particular friendship which can lead to nothing.”
Have Marcel’s friendships with Saint-Loup, with Charlus, with the Duchess, with Bloch led to nothing? In a way I guess they have — they’ve all helped to introduce him to different artist and writers, and into the society that is now going to be his subject,but what exactly did he get from the friendships themselves? Was Proust right about this as well?
And is this right?
“Unfortunately, I should have to struggle against that habit of putting oneself in another person’s place which, if it favours the conception of a work of art, is an obstacle to its execution.”
And as we approach the end of the book, I think it might be appropriate for me to start sharing with you the endings of the various books on Proust that I’ve been referencing throughout out time here. This is from Howard Moss’s The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust:
“We have just read, of course, the very work Marcel is about to undertake. Like Finnegan’s Wake, Remembrance of Things Past is its own self-sealing device. Circular in structure, its end leads us back to its beginning. The word ‘time’ embedded in the first sentence of the book rings out grandly as the last word of the novel and brings us once again to where we started. The circle is not on a plane but exists in three — or to be true to Proust’s intentions, four — dimensions. His novel is architectural rather than linear, like the church of Saint-Hillaire at Combray which, conquering location by physical mass, derives its energy from the epochs of time that have seeped into its very cells. The material church, absorbing time, can no longer be divorced from it. Proust’s book is such a monument. Time is a substance as well as a process and all things are immersed in it.
Memory exists outside of time. The beautiful girls at Balbec are not necessarily the hideous, fat dowagers across the room, made monstrous by the years. Their youth dwells, as does our own, within ourselves. It has merely to be recaptured from time where it exists as an external moment.
The regaining of time is the true quest of mankind. ‘An instant liberated from the order of time has recreated in us man liberated from the same order.’ Time, more deceptive even than memory, can prevent us from knowing this. We assume chronology is succession. The young Marcel waiting in his bedroom for his mother to kiss him good night might easily have been forgotten. Yet, as Proust shows us, he holds the magic lantern that illuminates everything. We are taken back to Combray at this final party by means other than memory. Marcel meets, for the first time, Mlle de Saint-Loup, the daughter of Gilberte and Saint-Loup. She embodies the two early landscapes of himself. On his visit to Transonville to see Gilberte, Marcel has had an inkling of this. He discovers in old age that by taking a short-cut it is possible to get from Swann’s way to the Guermantes way. The separated kingdoms of his boyhood were a united empire always. In the person of Mlle de Saint-Loup, Swann’s way and the Guermantes way become one.
Marcel exhausts more than the illusions of love and society; he exhausts the illusion of personality. It is one thing to see that the physical surface of people and things is a delusion, it is quite another to see that, beyond the outwardly perceptible, we come upon a world equally illusory. Nothing exists until it is connected by memory to a former experience; the connection between the two non-realities gives them an existence. A starched napkin has no meaning in itself; Balbec and the sea are unforgettable. In the linkage of the two, Balbec and the sea are resurrected.
Love is a disease of the ideal but of enormous value because it informs us of the ideal. Without Albertine, there would be no Remembrance of Things Past. Similarly, sensation is valuable though mortal. It leads us to where immortality may be. Only intelligence is under attack in Proust as a mode of perception. But as only those people who have loved can speak of it as a delusion with authority, it is only through intelligence that one has the privilege of categorizing it. Explaining everything, Proust creates a universe that does not exclude the inexplicable.
Proust is the greatest of disenchanters. But only because he as so greatly enchanted. Remembrance of Things Past is a gigantic disappearing act in which the magician vanishes along with his magic in the service of illusion. He does so to prove to us that the illusory is real. By the time we reach the end of Remembrance of Things Past, Swann and the Duchesse de Guermantes, upon whom so much time and elucidation have been expended, are revealed at least for what they are. Two human beings in the boyhood of Marcel Proust he once conceived of as gods. Now the true god, the writer, paying homage to the deities of his childhood, secreting their lives from within himself, confers upon them a genuine immortality.”
Moncrieff: Pages 461-473 “Meanwhile, one of his friends having arrived…” through “make us more indulgent to those of others” Kindle locations: 5874-81/6017-25
Patterson: Pages 311-319 “But one of Bloch’s friends having arrived late…” through “…he was an old gentleman whom you met at her house, I think?” Kindle locations: 5584-90/5722-29