by Dennis Abrams
Greetings everybody. I’m still in the process of sorting out my thoughts on both the book we just finished as well as In Search of Lost Time as a whole.
But I want to say this right off the bat. I finished reading the final pages of Time Regained Saturday afternoon, meaning that today is the first time in well over a year that I haven’t sat down after my “real” work is finished to read the day’s assignment and prepare my post. And I’m embarrassed to say that I’m already missing his voice. It’s a voice that’s been talking me to on a daily basis, and now it’s not there. So something seems to be missing.
One of the things I appreciated about using the Moncrieff et al translations (with the exception of Lydia Davis’s brilliant translation of Swann’s Way) was that the voice, that inimitable voice remained uniform throughout the reading experience. It is the translation I used when I read In Search of Lost Time for the first time ten years ago, and, while I enjoyed dipping into and sampling the Penguin translations, to my ear, my inner ear, its the one that sounds like Proust to me. And as I sit here writing this, there’s a part of me that wants to pick up one of the books at random and dip into it, just to hear him say something, anything,(at this point I reached over, grabbed a book which turned out to be Sodom and Gomorrah, and opened to this):
“There were still few people at Balbec, few girls. Sometimes I would see one standing on the beach, one devoid of charm and yet whom various coincidences seemed to identify as a girl whom I had been in despair at not being able to approach when she emerged with her friends from the riding school or gymnasium. If it was the same one (and I took care not to mention the matter to Albertine), then the girl that I had thought so intoxicating did not exist. But I could not arrive at any certainty, for the faces of these girls did not fill a constant space, did not present a constant form upon the beach, contracted, dilated, transmogrified as they were by my own expectancy, the anxiousness of my desire, or by a sense of self-sufficient well-being, the different colors they wore, the rapidity of their walk of their stillness.”
How long ago and far away that seems!
From The Proust Project, Diane Johnson’s essay “The Arrival of Old Age”
“Jealousy is Marcel Proust’s avowed subject, perhaps almost as much as memory is, an emotion that dominates his work most obviously in the lives of his creations — say of Swann in his obsession with Odette, or Marcel himself in his obsession with Albertine. It comes in different forms. Sexual jealousy is everywhere. We know about all of it because Marcel, acutely aware of and fascinated by all the permutations of jealousy, recounts in detail the harrowed feelings of his characters and his own.
But there is another form, social jealousy, or envy, and envy is in fact in Proust the more powerful emotion. We see it in the competitive gatherings, tense dinners, and nervous changes of clothes that fill the immense novel. Proust’s is a society where jealousy is an acknowledged wellspring of behavior, bien sur; but there is an undercurrent of this constriction emotion that perhaps Marcel is even unaware of, so organically does it color even the simplest and wittiest of his observations. Take a passage like this one, written in the last volume about a party he attended:
‘I had the surprise of talking to men and women whom I remembered as unendurable, and who had now, I found, lost almost every one of their defects, possibly because life, by disappointing or by gratifying their desires, had rid them of most of their conceit or their bitterness.’
On the surface, this is the most genial of observations, in which Marcel seems to find his acquaintance uniformly smoothed out into acceptability after the rocky courses of their lives during the long time has known them; but the phrase that alerts us is that he ‘remembered [them] as unendurable.’ This is Marcel’s judgment alone, inadvertently revealing that he had liked neither the self-confident, whose assurance he envied, nor the bitter, though the latter, presumably, he had not envied so much then as now when he remarks on their enviable, gratified condition. He had, however, judged them harshly all along: unbearable.
Where there is envy, can malice be far behind?
For the companion and product of envy is malice, and it is both that we sense in Marcel’s remarks here: the desire for what others have, hence the malice, the hint of schadenfreude with which he has tracked their progress.
But perhaps Proust the great writer, all-knowing about himself as about others, is concerned not to spare Marcel along with everybody else. Perhaps the writer’s Olympian penetration obliges him to expose Marcel even as Marcel wittily indicts others. In the cork-lined room, envy and malice give way to artistic penetration.”
Thoughts? Comments? Keep them coming!