Moncrieff and Patterson: Through to the end…
by Dennis Abrams
“At every moment of our lives we are surrounded by things and people which once were endowed with a rich emotional significance that they no longer possess.” Six degrees: The paintings on the walls by Elstir, the same Elstir who introduced Marcel to Albertine, it was in the house of Mme Verdurin (now the Princesse de Guermantes) that Marcel was about to meet Gilberte and Robert’s daughter, who he was going to ask to be Albertine’s successor in his life, it was in Mme Verdurin’s house that he had visited with Albertine, “And to complete the process by which all my various pasts were fused into a single mass Mme Verdurin, like Gilberte, had married a Guermantes.” It is “impossible to depict our relationship with anyone whom we have even slightly known without passing in review, one after another, the most different settings of our life…And surely the awareness of all these different planes within which, since in this last hour, at this party, I had recaptured it, Time seemed to dispose the different elements of my life, had, by making me reflect that in a book which tried to tell the story of a life it would be necessary to use not the two-dimensional psychology which we normally use but a quit different sort of three-dimensional psychology, adding a new beauty to those resurrections of the past which my memory had effected while I was following my thoughts alone in the library, since memory by itself, when it introduces the past, unmodified, into the present — the past just as it was when it was itself the present — suppresses the mighty dimension of Time which is the dimension in which life is lived.” Meeting Robert and Gilberte’s daughter: “…I was astonished to see at her side a girl of about sixteen, whose tall figure was a measure of that distance which I had been reluctant to see. Time, colourless and inapprehensible Time, so that I was almost able to see it and touch it, had materialised itself in this girl…” Her nose, “thrust slightly forward in the form of a beak and curved, perhaps not in the least like that of Swann but like Saint-Loup’s.” “The idea of Time was of value to me for yet another reason: it was a spur, it told me that it was time to begin if I wished to attain what I had sometimes perceived in the course of my life, in brief lightning-flashes, on the Guermantes way and in my drives in the carriage of Mme de Villeparisis, at those moments of perception which had made me thing that life was worth living. How much more worth living did it appear to me now, now that I seemed to see that this life that we live in half-darkness can be illumined, this life that at every moment we distort can be restored to its true pristine shape, that a life, in short, can be realised within the confines of a book!” The difficulty and glory of the task ahead. Unfinished cathedrals. “…it seemed to me that they would not be ‘my’ readers but the readers of their own selves, my book being a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers — it would be my book, but with its help I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves. So that I should not ask them to praise me or to censure me, but simply to tell me whether ‘it really is like that,” I should ask them whether the words that they read within themselves are the same as those which I have written…” Francoise would help Marcel in his work, in the organization of his ‘paperies.’ Her appreciation of his efforts. The book would be made of many impressions, “…so that I should be making my book in the same way that Francoise made that boeuf a la mode which M. de Norpois had found so delicious, just because she had enriched its jelly with so many carefully chosen pieces of meat.” Time raises another question: Was there still time to write the book and was Marcel in a “fit condition to undertake the task?” The danger of the body to the mind. “The mind immures the mind within a fortress, presently on all sides the fortress is besieged and, inevitably, the mind has to surrender.” The danger of accidents. Mining the mind, “I knew that my brain was like a basin of rock rich in minerals, in which lay vast and varied ores of great price. But should I have time to exploit them?” “But by a strange coincidence, this rational fear of danger was taking shape in my mind at a moment when I had finally become indifferent to the idea of death….For I realised that dying was not something new, but that on the contrary since my childhood I had already died many times. To take a comparatively recent period, had I not clung to Albertine more tenaciously than to my own life…Yet now I no longer loved her, I was no longer the person who loved her but a different person who did not love her, and it was when I had become a new person that I had ceased to love her. And yet I did not suffer from having become this new person, from no longer loving Albertine, and surely the prospect of no longer having a body could not from any point of view seem to me as sad as it had then seemed to me that of one day no longer loving Albertine…these successive deaths, so feared by the self which they were destined to annihilate, so painless, so unimportant once they were accomplished and the self that feared them was no longer there to feel them, had taught me by now that it would be the merest folly to be frightened of death.” Fear of suffering his grandmother’s fate. of having a cerebral haemorrhage and not being able to complete his task. A brief illness; a loss of memory, of the power of thought. An invitation from Mme Mole, the death of Mme Sazerat’s son. The social self, the immorality of the man who does not attend a dinner party he said that he would, “…death or a serious illness is an acceptable excuse for failing to attend — and then only provided that one has given notice in good time of one’s intention to die…” The social self loses its memory, the self that “which had the glimpse of the task that lay before it, on the contrary, still remembered.” Marcel shows a few sketches of his work, but nobody understands them.” Microscope vs. telescope. In his youth he had a certain facility, but “instead of working I had lived a life of idleness, of pleasures and distractions, of ill health and cosseting and eccentricities, and I was embarking upon my labour of construction almost at the point of death, without knowing anything of my trade.” “I had become indifferent to everything.” Indifference to the “verdict which might be passed on my work by the best minds of the age, and this not because I relegated to some future after my death the admiration which it seemed to me that my work ought to receive. The best minds of posterity might think what they chose…” “The loss of my memory helped me a little by creating gaps in my obligations, they were more than made good by the claims of my work.” “The idea of death took up permanent residence within me in the way that love sometimes does.” The gap between illness and death. “No doubt my books too, like my fleshly being would in the end one day die. But death is a thing that we must resign ourselves to. We accept the thought that in ten years ourselves, in a hundred years our books, will have ceased to exist. Eternal duration is promised no more to men’s works than to men.” Marcel is like a dying soldier with a task to accomplish, “but my task was longer than his, my works had to reach more than a single person.” Marcel will write at night, perhaps for a hundred nights, perhaps for a thousand. His book will be as long as the Arabian Nights, but “entirely different.” Marcel asks: Is there still time to complete his task? Was it too late? His book will have impressed upon it “that form of which as a child I had had a presentiment in the church at Combray but which ordinarily, throughout our lives, is invisible to us: the form of Time.” Errors due to shifting perspectives, but “at least I should not fail to portray man, in this universe, as endowed with the length not of his body but of his years and as obliged — a task more and more enormous and at the end to great for his strength — to drag them with him wherever he goes…This notion of Time embodies, of years past but not separated from us, it was now my intention to emphasise as strongly as possible in my work.” The sound of the garden gate at Combray, “And as I cast my mind over all the events which were ranged in an unbroken series between the moment of my childhood when I had first heard its sound and the Guermantes party, I was terrified to think that it was indeed this same bell which rang within me and that nothing that I could do would alter its jangling notes.” “…to hear it better it was into my own depths that I had to redescend. And this could only be because its peal had always been there, inside me, and not this sound only but also, between that distant moment and the present one, unrolled in all its vast length, the whole of that past which I was not aware that I carried about within me .” “And it is because they contain thus within themselves the hours of the past that human bodies have the power to hurt so terribly those who love them, because they contain the memories of so many joys and desires already effaced for them, but still cruel for the lover who contemplates and prolongs in the dimension of Time the beloved body of which he is jealous, so jealous that he may even wish for its destruction.” “Profound Albertine, whom I saw sleeping and who was dead.” “And I felt, as I say, a sensation of weariness and almost of terror at the thought that all this length of Time had not only, without interruption, been lived, experienced, secreted by me, that it was my life, was in fact me, but also that I was compelled so long as I was alive to keep it attached to me, that it supported me and that, perched on its giddy summit, I could not myself make a movement without displacing it. A feeling of vertigo seized me as I looked down beneath me, yet within me, as though from a height, which was my own height, of many leagues, at the long series of the years.” The Duc de Guermantes, “…the almost unmanageable summit of his eighty-three years, as though men spend their lives perched upon living stilts which never cease to grow until sometimes they become taller than church steeples, making it in the end both difficult and perilous for them to walk and raising them to an eminence from which suddenly they fall.” “So, if I were given long enough to accomplish my work, I should not fail,k even if the effect were to make them resemble monsters, to describe men as occupying so considerable a place, compared with the restricted place which is reserved for them in space, a place on the contrary prolonged past measure, for simultaneously, like giants plunged into the years, they touch the distant epochs through which they have lived; between which so many days have come to range themselves — in Time.”
“For a long time I would go to bed early. Sometimes, the candle barely out, my eyes closed so quickly that I did not have time to tell myself: ‘I’m falling asleep.'”
I realize that my synopsis barely qualifies as a synopsis, but given the riches of the last 30 pages of Time Regained, I could see no way around it — what not to write about, what not to quote, what not to emphasize?
In brief (there will be a lot more throughout the week) I found myself profoundly moved, once again, by the idea of Time in all its dimensions personified in Saint-Loup and Gilberte’s daughter. and the final section with the sound of the garden gate at Combray, the length of time between the first time that Marcel heard it and the Guermantes’s party, and the idea of the “whole of that past which I was not aware that I had carried about within me.”
Keep coming back — I’ll be posting at least throughout this week my final thoughts as I put them together, the thoughts of other critics — and I hope that all of you will contribute as well — in the comments section please let me know what you thought of the book, of the blog, of what reading Proust meant to you.
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I’ll see you all tomorrow.