by Dennis Abrams
Today’s post was originally going to be my ruminations on my difficulty in writing coherently about In Search of Lost Time. Getting a perspective on it as a whole, while at the same time I’m enthralled with so many of the parts OF the whole — characters, style, structure, philosophy — all of which are so intertwined that trying to separate them reminds me of the scene towards the end in which Marcel ruminates about a relatively minor character but wonders, looking back, how large part of the tapestry of his life she actually was.
But fortunately, I don’t have to do that today. Of the many things I’ve loved about doing this blog, very high on the list are the comments from you out there, all of you who have been reading along with me. Today, I’d like to share for today’s post words from one our most loyal readers and posters, Patricia Nelson:
“I finished reading In Search of Lost Time on Sunday morning having begun it on November 2nd, 2009. Rationing and re-reading the last pages not even wanting to count the pages left. The final party at the Guermantes swirling into a pattern of resolution, revolving the ‘masks’ with an almost hectic flush, merciless portraits ultimately of love resolving kaleidoscopically around the utterly innocent undeveloped fragile new person Mlle de Saint-Loup through whom genealogy and geography radiate backward through her mother to ‘the way by Swann’ and Combray and through her father to Balbec where Marcel visualizes Robert by the shining sea. Is this the moment, really, the very heart of the story? “A life of Saint-Loup as portrayed by me would unfold in every sort of setting and involve the whole of my life.”
Psychology in space, the weaving of threads, time realized, re-shaped and re-actualized in the securer surroundings of a book, the vigorous grass of a fruitful work of art upon which we, the future readers, have spent a year as our déjeuner sur l’herbe.
I am struck by the echo of the psalms here, the Victor Hugo quote, the days are grass, the wind passes over them. And a fairy tale motif in Scheherazade securing another day by her story from the Sultan Shahriyar, and the unlucky thirteen at the barbaric festival of a dinner party, the utter contempt should one of the guests fail to turn up without time to invite another fourteenth, thinking of the thirteenth fairy godmother in Sleeping Beauty and the possibility that one’s book will endure one hundred years.
“But, as Elstir found with Chardin, one can remake something one loves only by renouncing it.” –The theme Harold Bloom understood in Anxiety of Influence, Proust’s entirely new art breaking the mold of past forms.
That evening in the garden at Combray at the beginning hearing Swann at the door, the ‘shy, oval, golden double tinkling of the little visitor’s bell.’ Now as we end, Proust reveals a different beginning, Swann leaving by the garden gate, its iron creak ‘resilient, ferruginous, inexhaustible, shrill and fresh.’
Finally, this is just ravishingly tender, a rush of compassion for Marcel/Proust, his hair still black, weak upon the stairs, exhausted by the novel that he can now see ahead, “putting up with the work like tiredness, accepting it like a rule, constructing it like a church, following it like a regime, overcoming it like an obstacle, winning it like a friendship, feeding it up like a child, creating it like a world…” The next thirteen years, until the end of his life, this work that he compares to cutting out a dress, preparing an aspic, a craft respected more by Francoise’s steady understanding of the work involved than by the critic who has the wrong end of the telescope.
Eric Karpeles may be right that in reaching the end, we should begin again. I reread the visit to Venice thinking it was a kind of miniature, set apart from the whole (what was I thinking?) – and found a prelude to these last pages, to the masked ball as Mme Sazerat fails to recognize in the aged Mme de Villeparisis the beautiful woman who had destroyed her father; to the shape of the novel as Marcel wanders ‘like a character in the Arabian Nights; to the tangled incidents which will, at last and with the perspective of the whole, form the cathedral – Gilberte’s misunderstood telegram informing Marcel of her marriage to Saint-Loup which Marcel reads as a telegram from the dead Albertine promising the future he now no longer wants. Reading it again, I felt astonished. I thought of Francoise patiently mending the worn notebook pages, of Marcel/Proust pinning the manuscript together and of the whole edifice shimmering like the beautiful nocturnal campo Marcel discovers in Venice which centers the labyrinth of little streets only to seemingly disappear the next day when he tries to find the way again but turns off course.
The final image in Karpeles’ Paintings in Proust is a heartbreaking sketch of Proust on his deathbed in 1922. Finishing these last pages one feels a privilege to be in attendance on Proust in reading In Search of Lost Time.”