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Marcel Proust

Posted 12/20/2016 7:09pm by Eugene Wyatt.

"... —was no longer Albertine’s future, it was her past. Her past? That is the wrong word, since for jealousy there can be neither past nor future, and what it imagines is invariably the present."

The Fugitive, Marcel Proust; translated by Moncrieff, Kilmartin, Enright in the Modern Library Edition, P. 662 


"... –ce n’était plus l’Avenir d’Albertine, c’était son Passé. Son Passé? C’est mal dire puisque pour la jalousie il n’est ni passé ni avenir et que ce qu’elle imagine est toujours le Présent."

Albertine disparue, Marcel Proust, Edition Humanis, Loc 45166

Posted 4/12/2016 6:09pm by Eugene Wyatt.

also read the playscript adapted by Harold Pinter and Di Trevis from his The Proust Screenplay called Remembrance Of Things Past.

The playscript has all the problems of the screenplay and worse, i.e. it tries to cover too much of the novel and becomes even more choppy. There are obvious short cuts in dialogue that make those-who-know-the-novel blush. Furthermore the playscript only quotes Proust in the third person of his characters; it ignores the voice that that he is famous for: his older reflective Narrator in the first person.

Because it was a produced play (in 2000 at the Cottesloe Theatre at the Royal National Theatre) it necessarily ignores the voice that Proust is remembered for; there is no space for his older Narrator except in a chorus like the Greek (Aeschylus, etc.) tragedies or possibly in the more modern musicals.

Posted 4/8/2016 5:35pm by Eugene Wyatt.

I read Harold Pinter's adapted screenplay of Marcel Proust's novel À la recherche du temps perdu called The Proust Screenplay. Here is Harold Pinter from the Introduction:

Early in 1972 Nicole Stéphane, who owned the film rights to À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, asked Joseph Losey if he would like to work on a film version of the book. He asked me if I was interested.

For three months I read À la Recherche du Temps Perdu every day. I took hundreds of notes while reading but was left at the end quite baffled as to how to approach a task of such magnitude. The one thing of which I was certain was that it would be wrong to attempt to make a film centred around one or two volumes, La Prisonnière or Sodome et Gomorrhe, for example. If the thing was to be done at all, one would have to try to distil the whole work, to incorporate the major themes of the book into an integrated whole. We decided that the architecture of the film should be based on two main and contrasting principles: one, a movement, chiefly narrative, towards disillusion, and the other, more intermittent, towards revelation, rising to where time that was lost is found, and fixed forever in art.

In Le Temps Retrouvé, Marcel, in his forties, hears the bell of his childhood. His childhood, long forgotten, is suddenly present within him, but his consciousness of himself as a child, his memory of the experience, is more real, more acute than the experience itself.

Working on À la Recherche du Temps Perdu was the best working year of my life.

The money to make the film was never found.

Collected Screenplays 2, Harold Pinter 2000, Introduction,  pages vii-viii.

As much as I loved his adaption of The Servant (Pinter for Losey, 1963), I find that The Proust Screenplay tries to cover the entire novel—500,000 words, the longest fictional work ever written—and it fails, undoubtably. Reading the screenplay feels like one is glancing over the synopses in the rear of the 6 volumes of the Modern Library Edition; it contains the structure but little of his writing. Harold Pinter rarely quotes what Marcel Proust is celebrated for:

J’étais dans une de ces périodes de la jeunesse, dépourvues d’un amour particulier, vacantes, où partout –comme un amoureux la femme dont il est épris –on désire, on cherche, on voit la beauté.

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurMarcel Proust 1919, Humanis Edition, Loc 14214.

I was passing through one of those periods of our youth, unprovided with any one definite love, vacant, in which at all times and in all places —as a lover the woman by whose charms he is smitten —we desire, we seek, we see Beauty. 

Within A Budding Grove, Marcel Proust 1919 and translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1924, Loc 6279.

Marcel Proust's quoted passage is just before Albertine is introduced. Thoughout the novel she is an enigma. Writing the screenplay, I would have focused on Albertine, spanning Vol. 2 to Vol. 5, and I would have quoted extensively Proust too. To differ from screenwriting per se, I would have the director write the 'screenplay' to detail the camera angles and what the director exposes to the camera: occasionally that will be an atemporal documentary realism (as the author writes nonfiction from time to time) while living with Marcel Proust's V.O. narration.

I would write a shooting script rather than a screenplay, which has been already done by Harold Pinter, and present it to the audience as images, both fictional and non-fictional, in the midst of Proust's quoted voice-over narration for a movie called Albertine.

Posted 4/5/2016 6:55am by Eugene Wyatt.

It was promptly settled between us that he (Saint-Loup) and I were to be great friends for ever, and he would say ‘our friendship’ as though he were speaking of some important and delightful thing which had an existence independent of ourselves, and which he soon called —not counting his love for his mistress —the great joy of his life. These words made me rather uncomfortable and I was at a loss for an answer, for I did not feel when I was with him and talked to him —and no doubt it would have been the same with everyone else —any of that happiness which it was, on the other hand, possible for me to experience when I was by myself. For alone, at times, I felt surging from the depths of my being one or other of those impressions which gave me a delicious sense of comfort. But as soon as I was with some one else, when I began to talk to a friend, my mind at once ‘turned about,’ it was towards the listener and not myself that it directed its thoughts, and when they followed this outward course they brought me no pleasure. Once I had left Saint-Loup, I managed, with the help of words, to put more or less in order the confused minutes that I had spent with him; I told myself that I had a good friend, that a good friend was a rare thing, and I tasted, when I felt myself surrounded by ‘goods’ that were difficult to acquire, what was precisely the opposite of the pleasure that was natural to me, the opposite of the pleasure of having extracted from myself and brought to light something that was hidden in my inner darkness. If I had spent two or three hours in conversation with Saint-Loup, and he had expressed his admiration of what I had said to him, I felt a sort of remorse, or regret, or weariness at not having been left alone and ready, at last, to begin my work. But I told myself that one is not given intelligence for one’s own benefit only, that the greatest of men have longed for appreciation, that I could not regard as wasted hours in which I had built up an exalted idea of myself in the mind of my friend; I had no difficulty in persuading myself that I ought to be happy in consequence, and I hoped all the more anxiously that this happiness might never be taken from me simply because I had not yet been conscious of it. We fear more than the loss of everything else the disappearance of the ‘goods’ that have remained beyond our reach, because our heart has not taken possession of them. I felt that I was capable of exemplifying the virtues of friendship better than most people (because I should always place the good of my friends before those personal interests to which other people were devoted but which did not count for me), but not of finding happiness in a feeling which, instead of multiplying the differences that there were between my nature and those of other people —as there are among all of us —would cancel them. At the same time my mind was distinguishing in Saint-Loup a personality more collective than his own, that of the ‘noble’; which like an indwelling spirit moved his limbs, ordered his gestures and his actions; then, at such moments, although in his company, I was as much alone as I should have been gazing at a landscape the harmony of which I could understand. He was no more then than an object the properties of which, in my musing contemplations, I sought to explore. The perpetual discovery in him of this pre-existent, this aeonial creature, this aristocrat who was just what Robert aspired not to be, gave me a keen delight, but one that was intellectual and not social. In the moral and physical agility which gave so much grace to his kindnesses, in the ease with which he offered my grandmother his carriage and made her get into it, in the alacrity with which he sprang from the box, when he was afraid that I might be cold, to spread his own cloak over my shoulders, I felt not only the inherited litheness of the mighty hunters who had been for generations the ancestors of this young man who made no pretence save to intellectuality, their scorn of wealth which, subsisting in him side by side with his enjoyment of it simply because it enabled him to entertain his friends more lavishly, made him so carelessly shower his riches at their feet; I felt in him especially the certainty or the illusion in the minds of those great lords of being ‘better than other people,’ thanks to which they had not been able to hand down to Saint-Loup that anxiety to shew that one is ‘just as good that dread of seeming inferior, of which he was indeed wholly unconscious, but which mars with so much ugliness, so much awkwardness, the most sincere overtures of a plebeian. Sometimes I found fault with myself for thus taking pleasure in my friend as in a work of art, that is to say in regarding the play of all the parts of his being as harmoniously ordered by a general idea from which they depended but which he did not know, so that it added nothing to his own good qualities, to that personal value, intellectual and moral, to which he attached so high a price.

Within A Budding Grove translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1924, Loc 5419.

Posted 4/3/2016 4:48pm by Eugene Wyatt.

From Proust, Woolf and Modern Fiction, Pericles Lewis, The Romanic Review Volume 99 Number 1, Columbia University,

Letter from Virginia Woolf to Roger Fry on May 6, 1922,

'But Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that! I cry. And at the moment such is the astonishing vibration and saturation and intensify cation that he procures—there’s something sexual in it—that I feel I can write like that and seize my pen and then I can’twrite like that. Scarcely anyone so stimulates the nerves of language in me: it becomes an obsession.'*
* ... At this point, Woolf was reading Proust in the original, but she probably later read C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation of at least some volumes.

And again, to Roger Fry on October 3, 1922, 

'My great adventure is really Proust. Well – what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped – and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical – like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined.'

The Letters of Virginia Woolf, ed. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautman (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975–1980), vol. 2.
Woolf ... had returned to work on Mrs. Dalloway, when, on February 10, 1923, she wrote in her diary, “I wonder if this next lap will be influenced by Proust? I think his French language, tradition, &c, prevents that: yet his command of every resource is so extravagant that one can hardly fail to profit, & must not flinch, through cowardice.”
Nonetheless, it seems to me that Proust served as an important model for Woolf’s own fiction, and that one of his functions for her was to counter-balance the influence of Woolf’s own most famous English-language contemporary, James Joyce. Much has been made in Woolf criticism of Woolf’s antagonism toward and anxiety about the influence of Joyce. She compares Joyce unfavorably to Proust in a letter to Fry of Oct. 3, 1922. “My great adventure,” she writes, “is really Proust.” ...
... The pleasure becomes physical—like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined. Far otherwise is it with Ulysses; to which I bind myself like a martyr to a stake, and have thank God, now finished—My martyrdom is over.
A diary entry (from September 6, 1922) documents her rejection of Joyce:
I finished Ulysses, & think it a mis-fire. Genius it has I think; but of the inferior water. The book is diffuse. It is brackish. It is pretentious. It is underbred, not only in the obvious sense, but in the literary sense. A first rate writer, I mean, respects writing too much to be tricky; startling; doing stunts. I’m reminded all the time of some callow board school boy . . . full of wits & powers, but so self-conscious & egotistical that he loses his head, becomes extravagant, mannered, uproarious, ill at ease, makes kindly people feel sorry for him, & stern ones merely annoyed; & one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely.
The Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. Anne Olivier Bell (San Diego: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1977–1984) vol. 2. 
Posted 3/18/2016 7:42pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Si un être peut être le produit d’un sol dont on goûte en lui le charme particulier, plus encore que la paysanne que j’avais tant désiré voir apparaître quand j’errais seul du côté de Méséglise, dans les bois de Roussainville, ce devait être la grande fille que je vis sortir de cette maison et, sur le sentier qu’illuminait obliquement le soleil levant, venir vers la gare en portant une jarre de lait. Dans la vallée à qui ces hauteurs cachaient le reste du monde, elle ne devait jamais voir personne que dans ces trains qui ne s’arrêtaient qu’un instant. Elle longea les wagons, offrant du café au lait à quelques voyageurs réveillés. Empourpré des reflets du matin, son visage était plus rose que le ciel. Je ressentis devant elle ce désir de vivre qui renaît en nous chaque fois que nous prenons de nouveau conscience de la beauté et du bonheur. Nous oublions toujours qu’ils sont individuels et, leur substituant dans notre esprit un type de convention que nous formons en faisant une sorte de moyenne entre les différents visages qui nous ont plu, entre les plaisirs que nous avons connus, nous n’avons que des images abstraites qui sont languissantes et fades parce qu’il leur manque précisément ce caractère d’une chose nouvelle, différente de ce que nous avons connu, ce caractère qui est propre à la beauté et au bonheur. Et nous portons sur la vie un jugement pessimiste et que nous supposons juste, car nous avons cru y faire entrer en ligne de compte le bonheur et la beauté quand nous les avons omis et remplacés par des synthèses où d’eux il n’y a pas un seul atome. C’est ainsi que bâille d’avance d’ennui un lettré à qui on parle d’un nouveau « beau livre », parce qu’il imagine une sorte de composé de tous les beaux livres qu’il a lus, tandis qu’un beau livre est particulier, imprévisible, et n’est pas fait de la somme de tous les chefs-d’œuvre précédents mais de quelque chose que s’être parfaitement assimilé cette somme ne suffit nullement à faire trouver, car c’est justement en dehors d’elle. Dès qu’il a eu connaissance de cette nouvelle œuvre, le lettré, tout à l’heure blasé, se sent de l’intérêt pour la réalité qu’elle dépeint. Telle, étrangère aux modèles de beauté que dessinait ma pensée quand je me trouvais seul, la belle fille me donna aussitôt le goût d’un certain bonheur (seule forme, toujours particulière, sous laquelle nous puissions connaître le goût du bonheur), d’un bonheur qui se réaliserait en vivant auprès d’elle. Mais ici encore la cessation momentanée de l’Habitude agissait pour une grande part. Je faisais bénéficier la marchande de lait de ce que c’était mon être complet, apte à goûter de vives jouissances, qui était en face d’elle. C’est d’ordinaire avec notre être réduit au minimum que nous vivons, la plupart de nos facultés restent endormies parce qu’elles se reposent sur l’habitude qui sait ce qu’il y a à faire et n’a pas besoin d’elles. Mais par ce matin de voyage l’interruption de la routine de mon existence, le changement de lieu et d’heure avaient rendu leur présence indispensable. Mon habitude qui était sédentaire et n’était pas matinale faisait défaut, et toutes mes facultés étaient accourues pour la remplacer, rivalisant entre elles de zèle –s’élevant toutes, comme des vagues, à un même niveau inaccoutumé –de la plus basse à la plus noble, de la respiration, de l’appétit, et de la circulation sanguine à la sensibilité et à l’imagination. Je ne sais si, en me faisant croire que cette fille n’était pas pareille aux autres femmes, le charme sauvage de ces lieux ajoutait au sien, mais elle le leur rendait. La vie m’aurait paru délicieuse si seulement j’avais pu, heure par heure, la passer avec elle, l’accompagner jusqu’au torrent, jusqu’à la vache, jusqu’au train, être toujours à ses côtés, me sentir connu d’elle, ayant ma place dans sa pensée. Elle m’aurait initié aux charmes de la vie rustique et des premières heures du jour. Je lui fis signe qu’elle vînt me donner du café au lait. J’avais besoin d’être remarqué d’elle. Elle ne me vit pas, je l’appelai. Au-dessus de son corps très grand, le teint de sa figure était si doré et si rose qu’elle avait l’air d’être vue à travers un vitrail illuminé. Elle revint sur ses pas, je ne pouvais détacher mes yeux de son visage de plus en plus large, pareil à un soleil qu’on pourrait fixer et qui s’approcherait jusqu’à venir tout près de vous, se laissant regarder de près, vous éblouissant d’or et de rouge. Elle posa sur moi son regard perçant, mais comme les employés fermaient les portières, le train se mit en marche ; je la vis quitter la gare et reprendre le sentier, il faisait grand jour maintenant : je m’éloignais de l’aurore.

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, Marcel Proust 1918, Humanis Edition, Loc 11886

If a person can be the product of a soil the peculiar charm of which one distinguishes in that person, more even than the peasant girl whom I had so desperately longed to see appear when I wandered by myself along the Méséglise way, in the woods of Roussainville, such a person must be the big girl whom I now saw emerge from the house and, climbing a path lighted by the first slanting rays of the sun, come towards the station carrying a jar of milk. In her valley from which its congregated summits hid the rest of the world, she could never see anyone save in these trains which stopped for a moment only. She passed down the line of windows, offering coffee and milk to a few awakened passengers. Purpled with the glow of morning, her face was rosier than the sky. I felt in her presence that desire to live which is reborn in us whenever we become conscious anew of beauty and of happiness. We invariably forget that these are individual qualities, and, substituting for them in our mind a conventional type at which we arrive by striking a sort of mean amongst the different faces that have taken our fancy, the pleasures we have known, we are left with mere abstract images which are lifeless and dull because they are lacking in precisely that element of novelty, different from anything we have known, that element which is proper to beauty and to happiness. And we deliver on life a pessimistic judgment which we suppose to be fair, for we believed that we were taking into account when we formed it happiness and beauty, whereas in fact we left them out and replaced them by syntheses in which there is not a single atom of either. So it is that a well-read man will at once begin to yawn with boredom when anyone speaks to him of a new ‘good book,’ because he imagines a sort of composite of all the good books that he has read and knows already, whereas a good book is something special, something incalculable, and is made up not of the sum of all previous masterpieces but of something which the most thorough assimilation of every one of them would not enable him to discover, since it exists not in their sum but beyond it. Once he has become acquainted with this new work, the well-read man, till then apathetic, feels his interest awaken in the reality which it depicts. So, alien to the models of beauty which my fancy was wont to sketch when I was by myself, this strapping girl gave me at once the sensation of a certain happiness (the sole form, always different, in which we may learn the sensation of happiness), of a happiness that would be realised by my staying and living there by her side. But in this again the temporary cessation of Habit played a great part. I was giving the milk-girl the benefit of what was really my own entire being, ready to taste the keenest joys, which now confronted her. As a rule it is with our being reduced to a minimum that we live, most of our faculties lie dormant because they can rely upon Habit, which knows what there is to be done and has no need of their services. But on this morning of travel, the interruption of the routine of my existence, the change of place and time, had made their presence indispensable. My habits, which were sedentary and not matutinal, played me false, and all my faculties came hurrying to take their place, vying with one another in their zeal, rising, each of them, like waves in a storm, to the same unaccustomed level, from the basest to the most exalted, from breath, appetite, the circulation of my blood to receptivity and imagination. I cannot say whether, so as to make me believe that this girl was unlike the rest of women, the rugged charm of these barren tracts had been added to her own, but if so she gave it back to them. Life would have seemed an exquisite thing to me if only I had been free to spend it, hour after hour, with her, to go with her to the stream, to the cow, to the train, to be always at her side, to feel that I was known to her, had my place in her thoughts. She would have initiated me into the delights of country life and of the first hours of the day. I signalled to her to give me some of her coffee. I felt that I must be noticed by her. She did not see me; I called to her. Above her body, which was of massive build, the complexion of her face was so burnished and so ruddy that she appeared almost as though I were looking at her through a lighted window. She had turned and was coming towards me; I could not take my eyes from her face which grew larger as she approached, like a sun which it was somehow possible to arrest in its course and draw towards one, letting itself be seen at close quarters, blinding the eyes with its blaze of red and gold. She fastened on me her penetrating stare, but while the porters ran along the platform shutting doors the train had begun to move. I saw her leave the station and go down the hill to her home; it was broad daylight now; I was speeding away from the dawn.

Within A Budding Grove, Marcel Proust 1918; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1922, Loc 4008

Posted 3/4/2016 4:12pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Et Swann, qui était simple et négligent avec une duchesse, tremblait d’être méprisé, posait, quand il était devant une femme de chambre.

Il n’était pas comme tant de gens qui, par paresse, ou sentiment résigné de l’obligation que crée la grandeur sociale de rester attaché à un certain rivage, s’abstiennent des plaisirs que la réalité leur présente en dehors de la position mondaine où ils vivent cantonnés jusqu’à leur mort, se contentant de finir par appeler plaisirs, faute de mieux, une fois qu’ils sont parvenus à s’y habituer, les divertissements médiocres ou les supportables ennuis qu’elle renferme. Swann, lui, ne cherchait pas à trouver jolies les femmes avec qui il passait son temps, mais à passer son temps avec les femmes qu’il avait d’abord trouvées jolies. Et c’était souvent des femmes de beauté assez vulgaire, car les qualités physiques qu’il recherchait sans s’en rendre compte étaient en complète opposition avec celles qui lui rendaient admirables les femmes sculptées ou peintes par les maîtres qu’il préférait. La profondeur, la mélancolie de l’expression, glaçaient ses sens que suffisait au contraire à éveiller une chair saine, plantureuse et rose.

Du côté de chez Swann, Marcel Proust 1913, Humanis Edition, Loc 3571.

And though Swann was unaffected and casual with a duchess, he trembled at being scorned by a chamber-maid, and posed in front of her.

He was not like so many people who from laziness or a resigned sense of the obligation created by social grandeur to remain moored to a certain shore, abstain from the pleasures real life offers them outside the high-society position in which they live billeted and encamped until their death, contenting themselves in the end with describing as pleasures, for lack of any better, once they have managed to become used to them, the mediocre amusements or bearable tedium it contains. Swann did not try to convince himself that the women with whom he spent his time were pretty, but to spend his time with women he already knew were pretty. And these were often women of a rather vulgar beauty, for the physical qualities that he looked for without realizing it were the direct opposite of those he admired in the women sculpted or painted by his favorite masters. Depth of expression, melancholy, would freeze his senses, which were, however, immediately aroused by flesh that was healthy, plump, and pink.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by Lydia Davis 2002, P. 216.

Posted 3/2/2016 6:13pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Comme la promenade du côté de Méséglise était la moins longue des deux que nous faisions autour de Combray et qu’à cause de cela on la réservait pour les temps incertains, le climat du côté de Méséglise était assez pluvieux et nous ne perdions jamais de vue la lisière des bois de Roussainville dans l’épaisseur desquels nous pourrions nous mettre à couvert.

Souvent le soleil se cachait derrière une nuée qui déformait son ovale et dont il jaunissait la bordure. L’éclat, mais non la clarté, était enlevé à la campagne où toute vie semblait suspendue, tandis que le petit village de Roussainville sculptait sur le ciel le relief de ses arêtes blanches avec une précision et un fini accablants. Un peu de vent faisait envoler un corbeau qui retombait dans le lointain, et, contre le ciel blanchissant, le lointain des bois paraissait plus bleu, comme peint dans ces camaïeux qui décorent les trumeaux des anciennes demeures.

Mais d’autres fois se mettait à tomber la pluie dont nous avait menacés le capucin que l’opticien avait à sa devanture ; les gouttes d’eau, comme des oiseaux migrateurs qui prennent leur vol tous ensemble, descendaient à rangs pressés du ciel. Elles ne se séparent point, elles ne vont pas à l’aventure pendant la rapide traversée, mais chacune tenant sa place attire à elle celle qui la suit et le ciel en est plus obscurci qu’au départ des hirondelles. Nous nous réfugiions dans le bois. Quand leur voyage semblait fini, quelques-unes, plus débiles, plus lentes, arrivaient encore. Mais nous ressortions de notre abri, car les gouttes se plaisent aux feuillages, et la terre était déjà presque séchée que plus d’une s’attardait à jouer sur les nervures d’une feuille, et suspendue à la pointe, reposée, brillant au soleil, tout d’un coup se laissait glisser de toute la hauteur de la branche et nous tombait sur le nez.

Du côté de chez Swann, Marcel Proust 1913, Humanis Edition, Loc 2937.

Since the walk along the Méséglise way was the shorter of the two that we took out of Combray and since, because of that, we saved it for uncertain weather, the climate along the Méséglise way was quite rainy and we would never lose sight of the edge of the Roussainville woods, in the thickness of which we could take cover.

Often the sun would hide behind a storm cloud, distorting its oval, yellowing the edges of the cloud. The brilliance, though not the brightness, would be withdrawn from the countryside, where all life seemed suspended, while the little village of Roussainville sculpted its white rooflines in relief upon the sky with an unbearable precision and finish. Nudged by a gust of wind, a crow flew up and dropped down again in the distance, and, against the whitening sky, the distant parts of the woods appeared bluer, as though painted in one of those monochromes that decorate the pier glasses of old houses.

But at other times the rain with which we had been threatened by the little hooded monk in the optician’s window would begin to fall; the drops of water, like migrating birds which take flight all at the same time, would descend in close ranks from the sky. They do not separate at all, they do not wander away during their rapid course, but each one keeps to its place, drawing along the one that comes after it, and the sky is more darkened by them than when the swallows leave. We would take refuge in the woods. When their flight seemed to be over, a few of them, feebler, slower, would still be arriving. But we would come back out of our shelter, because raindrops delight in leafy branches, and, when the earth was already nearly dry again, more than one would still linger to play on the ribs of a leaf and, hanging from the tip, tranquil and sparkling in the sun, would suddenly let go, slip off, and drop from the entire height of the branch onto one’s nose.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by Lydia Davis 2002, P. 167.

Posted 2/7/2016 3:48pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Du côté de chez Swann, Volume I of À la recherche du temps perdue Marcel Proust 1913, as it concerns us:

Two sentences later Marcel Proust uses avoir bien.

On avait bien inventé, pour me distraire les soirs où on me trouvait l’air trop malheureux...

Humanis Edition Loc 288

The translators all differ on how to render this indeterminate verbal construction in English much like they did with avoir beau.

Posted 2/5/2016 3:59pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Du côté de chez Swann, Volume I of À la recherche du temps perdue Marcel Proust 1913, as it concerns us:

Look at how differently each translator handles the initial part of the sentence, "Mais j’avais beau savoir que je n’étais pas dans les demeures...". It is difficult to agree on the translation because no one agrees on the relationships formed by the following parts of speech; both, the first part of the sentence—as Marcel Proust has written it—and the grammatical contexts, have non-specified or partial meanings in French and the problem continues if not intensifies: avoir beau is considered idiomatic or indeterminate.

Mais j’avais beau savoir que je n’étais pas dans les demeures dont l’ignorance du réveil m’avait en un instant sinon présenté l’image distincte, du moins fait croire la présence possible, le branle était donné à ma mémoire ; généralement je ne cherchais pas à me rendormir tout de suite ; je passais la plus grande partie de la nuit à me rappeler notre vie d’autrefois, à Combray chez ma grand’tante, à Balbec, à Paris, à Doncières, à Venise, ailleurs encore, à me rappeler les lieux, les personnes que j’y avais connues, ce que j’avais vu d’elles, ce qu’on m’en avait raconté.

Du côté de chez Swann, Marcel Proust 1913, Humanis Edition Loc 285.

But it was no good my knowing that I was not in any of those houses of which, in the stupid moment of waking, if I had not caught sight exactly, I could still believe in their possible presence; for memory was now set in motion;as a rule I did not attempt to go to sleep again at once, but used to spend the greater part of the night recalling our life in the old days at Combray with my great-aunt, at Balbec, Paris, Doncières, Venice, and the rest; remembering again all the places and people that I had known, what I had actually seen of them, and what others had told me.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1922,Loc 107.

But for all that I now knew that I was not in any of the houses of which the ignorance of the waking moment had, in a flash, if not presented me with a distinct picture, at least persuaded me of the possible presence, rule I did not attempt to go to sleep again at once, but used to spend the greater part of the night recalling our life in the old days at Combray with my great-aunt, at Balbec, Paris, Doncières, Venice, and the rest; remembering again all the places and people I had known, what I had actually seen of them, and what others had told me.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin and D. J. Enright 1922-1992, P. 9, Loc 606.

But even though I knew I was not in any of the houses of which my ignorance upon waking had instantly, if not presented me with the distinct picture, at least made me believe the presence possible, my memory had been stirred; generally I would not try to go back to sleep right away; I would spend the greater part of the night remembering our life in the old days, in Combray at my great-aunt’s house, in Balbec, in Paris, in Doncières, in Venice, elsewhere still, remembering the places, the people I had known there, what I had seen of them, what I had been told about them.

Swann's Way Marcel Proust 1913; translated by Lydia Davis 2002, P. 9, Loc 482.

But it was no good my knowing that I was not in any of those houses of which, in the unknowing moment of waking, if I had not caught sight exactly, I could still believe in their possible presence; for memory was now set in motion; as a rule I did not attempt to go to sleep again at once, but used to spend the greater part of the night recalling our life in the old days at Combray with my great-aunt, at Balbec, Paris, Doncières, Venice, 7 and the rest; remembering again all the places and people that I had known, what I had actually seen of them, and what others had told me. 

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and revised by William C. Carter 2013, Loc 298.

Posted 2/3/2016 5:40am by Eugene Wyatt.

Du côté de chez Swann, Volume I of À la recherche du temps perdue Marcel Proust 1913, as it concerns us:

The following sentence is difficult to translate; none of the leading translators (listed below) of Marcel Proust's À la recherche... have left the French "...les unes des autres..." or translated it directly. 

Marcel Proust seems to echo this utterance in the beginning of the following sentence, or at least in the broken or repetitive rhythm of its syntax: "Mais j’avais revu tantôt l’une, tantôt l’autre..."

Echoing, along with the use of other poetic devices, helps us understand Marcel Proust's usage ln French: his words are easy, but his style is more difficult to translate.

Ces évocations tournoyantes et confuses ne duraient jamais que quelques secondes ; souvent, ma brève incertitude du lieu où je me trouvais ne distinguait pas mieux les unes des autres les diverses suppositions dont elle était faite, que nous n’isolons, en voyant un cheval courir, les positions successives que nous montre le kinétoscope.

Du côté de chez Swann, Marcel Proust 1913, Loc 255.

These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a few seconds; it often happened that, in my spell of uncertainty as to where I was, I did not distinguish the successive theories of which that uncertainty was composed any more than, when we watch a horse running, we isolate the successive positions of its body as they appear upon a bioscope.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1922, Loc 80.

These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a few seconds; it often happened that, in my brief spell of uncertainty as to where I was, I did not distinguish the various suppositions of which it was composed any more than, when we watch a horse running, we isolate the successive positions of its body as they appear upon a bioscope.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin and D. J. Enright 1922-1992, P. 7.

These revolving, confused evocations never lasted for more than a few seconds; often, in my brief uncertainty about where I was, I did not distinguish the various suppositions of which it was composed any better than we isolate, when we see a horse run, the successive positions shown to us by a kinetoscope.

Swann's Way Marcel Proust 1913; translated by Lydia Davis 2002, P. 7.

These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a few seconds; often, in my brief spell of uncertainty as to where I was, I did not distinguish the various suppositions of which that uncertainty was composed any more than, when watching a horse run, we isolate the successive positions of its body as they appear in a kinetoscope.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and revised by William C. Carter 2013, Loc 266.

Posted 1/11/2016 9:07pm by Eugene Wyatt.

I have said that it would be 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.

Each individual therefore—and I was myself one of these individuals—was a measure of duration for me, in virtue of the revolutions which like some heavenly body he had accomplished not only on his own axis but also around other bodies, in virtue, above all, of the successive positions which he had occupied in relation to myself.

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 quite different sort of three-dimensional psychology, added 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 at the moment when it was itself the present—suppresses the mighty dimension of Time which is the dimension in which life is lived.

Time Regained Volume VI, Marcel Proust, The Modern Library translation, Loc 6438.

Posted 11/19/2015 3:06am by Eugene Wyatt.

'Fashionable' People, 1899. Marcel Proust is in rear row, the 3rd from left.

The bonds between ourselves and another person exist only in our minds. Memory as it grows fainter loosens them, and notwithstanding the illusion by which we want to be duped and with which, out of love, friendship, politeness, deference, duty, we dupe other people, we exist alone. Man is the creature who cannot escape from himself, who knows other people only in himself, and when he asserts the contrary, he is lying.

The Fugitive Marcel Proust, Modern Library Edition, p. 608.

Posted 11/17/2015 5:46am by Eugene Wyatt.

Andrée admitted an affair with Albertine after she'd sworn the opposite a year ago; she was the fox who guards the henhouse and Albertine was the hen. 

It is desire that engenders belief, and if we are not as a rule aware of this, it is because most belief-creating desires—unlike the desire which had persuaded me that Albertine was innocent—end only with our own life. To all the evidence that corroborated my original version, I had stupidly preferred mere assertions by Albertine. Why had I believed them? Lying is essential to humanity. It plays as large a part perhaps as the quest for pleasure, and is moreover governed by that quest. One lies in order to protect one’s pleasure, or one’s honour if the disclosure of one’s pleasure runs counter to one’s honour. One lies all one’s life long, even, especially, perhaps only, to those who love one.

The Fugitive Volume VI by Marcel Proust (posthumous), Modern Library Edition p. 824

Posted 11/3/2015 6:51am by Eugene Wyatt.

Due to a chance disclosure, the Narrator suspects that his lover Albertine has had lesbian affairs; he fears that she plans to meet a lover in Trieste this coming Christmas...

How my whole life and its future would have been changed! And yet I knew quite well that this localisation of my jealousy was arbitrary*, that if Albertine had these tastes (lesbianism), she could gratify them with others.

And perhaps even these same girls, if they could have seen her elsewhere, would not have tortured my heart so acutely. It was Trieste, it was that unknown world in which I could feel that Albertine took a delight, in which were her memories, her friendships, her childhood loves, that exhaled that hostile, inexplicable atmosphere, like the atmosphere that used to float up to my bedroom at Combray, from the dining-room in which I could hear, talking and laughing with strangers amid the clatter of knives and forks, Mamma who would not be coming upstairs to say good-night to me; like the atmosphere that, for Swann, had filled the houses to which Odette went at night in search of inconceivable joys. 

It was no longer as of a delightful place where the people were pensive, the sunsets golden, the church bells melancholy, that I thought now of Trieste, but as of an accursed city which I should have liked to see instantaneously burned down and eliminated from the real world.

Sodom And Gomorrah, Marcel Proust, the Modern Library Edition p. 710.

* My emphasis.

Posted 7/16/2015 7:54am by Eugene Wyatt.

For the first time in Marcel Proust's novel, Habit is mentioned in the second volume with a capital H.

Now the memories of love are no exception to the general laws of memory, which in turn are governed by the still more general laws of Habit(1)

At Balbec on his first visit, and the journey there, the Narrator has relapses of l'amour fou for Gilberte—an intermittence of indifference—after two years. He finds himself loving her and suffering because he lacks her,

The self that had loved her, which another self had already almost entirely supplanted, would reappear, stimulated far more often by a trivial than by an important event (2)

On the sea-front at Balbec the Narrator was reminded that he'd overheard a conversation between Gilberte and her father in Paris mentioning the same trivial Ministry,

... I heard someone who passed me on the sea-front at Balbec refer to “the head of the Ministry of Posts and his family.” (3)

Hearing that, caused him to feel—once again—forlorn for Gilberte. What follows is much like the result of involuntary memory.

... but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged.

It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the person that we were, place ourselves in relation to things as he was placed, suffer anew because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what now leaves us indifferent. (4)

Habit is neither good nor bad but "... is bound by a diversity of laws."

In Paris I had grown more and more indifferent to Gilberte, thanks to Habit. The change of habit, that is to say the temporary cessation of Habit, completed Habit’s work when I set out for Balbec. (5)

I love Proust's magical side when he equates faeries with women in houses, when he writes of metempsychosis and time gone-bye—and so much more—and this too:

... what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because it was of no importance [it was trivial], and we therefore left it in full possession of its strength). (6)

(1) À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs by Marcel Proust 1919; translated as Within a Budding Grove by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1923 et al, p. 300.

(2) Ibid, p. 299.

(3) Ibid, p. 299.

(4) Ibid, p. 300.

(5) Ibid, p. 301.

(6) Ibid, p. 300.

Posted 7/7/2015 2:51pm by Eugene Wyatt.

I hope a better understanding of the Narrator's amorous trials with Gilberte may lead,

... in the context of another and later love affair ... (1)

to a fuller comprehension of Albertine which is a much more mysterious love.


As a child, when the Narrator saw Gilberte on the Méséglise way he was attracted to her; that attraction was to become a deeper love in Paris. Later, he often met her to play on the Champs-Élysées and he was overjoyed when she finally invited him to tea. At her house, he was a favorite with Gilberte, and moreover, he had become Swann's friend for the good influence on his daughter.

Surprisingly, he began to sense that Gilberte was put off by his frequent visits especially when he was invited by her parents, 

... detecting certain signs of impatience which she betrayed when her father asked me to the house almost against her will, I wondered whether what I had regarded as a protection for my happiness was not in fact the secret reason why that happiness could not last. (2)

Unwillingly Gilberte—at her mother's insistence—stays home with the visiting Narrator rather than go out dancing; she frowns and answers him in monosyllables while he assumes a mien of protective "coldness". They quarrel; he leaves and vows "never to see her again"

The storm that was blowing in my heart was so violent that I made my way home battered and bruised, feeling that I could recover my breath only by retracing my steps, by returning, upon whatever pretext, into Gilberte’s presence.

But she would have said to herself: “Back again! Evidently I can do what I like with him: he’ll come back every time, and the more wretched he is when he leaves me the more docile he’ll be.” (3)

The Narrator wants Gilberte in a singular way; she wants to go out dancing. They have many wants. A want can be denied by a power greater than what it desires, and in this instance, by parental authority. In Combray, a similar thing happened to the young Narrator: he wanted a goodnight kiss from his mother. He was denied it because of a guest and he was sent upstairs to bed by his father. But in contrast to Gilberte, he disobeyed the power,

Certainly my mother’s beautiful face seemed to shine again with youth that evening, as she sat gently holding my hands and trying to check my tears; but this was just what I felt should not have been; her anger would have saddened me less than this new gentleness, unknown to my childhood experience; I felt that I had with an impious and secret finger traced a first wrinkle upon her soul and brought out a first white hair on her head.

This thought redoubled my sobs ... (4)

A mother's love, the love of another woman...they are both beautiful but both different and both unreeling the same, 

Absence is the figure of privation; simultaneously, I desire and I need. Desire is squashed against need: that is the obsessive phenomenon of all amorous sentiment (5)

(1) À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs by Marcel Proust 1919; translated as Within a Budding Grove by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1923 et al, 278.

(2) Ibid 214.

(3) Ibid 218.

(4) Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust 1913; translated as Swann's Way by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1922 et al, 52.

(5) Fragments d’un discours amoureux by Roland Barthes 1977; translated by Richard Howard as A Lover's Discourse: Fragments  1979, 16.

Posted 7/1/2015 10:46pm by Eugene Wyatt.

In The Captive the Narrator sits down at the piano waiting for Françoise to bring back Albertine from the Trocadero where he feared that she might meet Lea. He starts to play Vinteuil and is reminded of Wagner and instead plays Tristan.

He muses about art...

Not factitious, perhaps indeed all the more real for being ulterior, for being born of a moment of enthusiasm when it is discovered to exist among fragments which need only to be joined together; a unity that was unaware of itself, hence vital and not logical, that did not prohibit variety, dampen invention.

p. 208

and then he muses about life (the situation in the novel with Albertine). Fictively, he is torn between one and the other...

Could it be this that gave to great artists the illusory aspect of a fundamental, irreducible originality, apparently the reflexion of a more than human reality, actually the result of industrious toil?

If art is no more than that, it is no more real than life and I had less cause for regret.

p. 209

La Prisonnière (1923, published posthumously) Marcel Proust; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin & revised by D. J. Enright in 1923, 1981 and 1992 as The Captive.

My small library is mostly nonfiction—I prefer that to reading fiction.  However I feel a little remiss about the lack of fiction in my life but reading À la recherche du temps perdue permits me both—fiction and nonfiction in the same volume. When what is positively written about in À la recherche du temps perdue is philosophy, aesthetics, art, history, religion, politics and other real things that matter to him, the Narrator is generally the author, Marcel Proust.

The Narrator in the first quote is Marcel Proust—what he says is nonfiction; the Narrator in the second quote is also Marcel Proust but fictively posing as the 1st person reflective Narrator (writing from his point of view)—what he says is fiction.

Simon: Proust's Note 1 to Sésame et les lys,

... obeyed a kind of secret plan, unveiled at the end, that retroactively imposes a kind of order on the whole and makes it seem magnificently staged, right up to the climax of the final apotheosis.

echoes your quote from The Captive, and moreover, it is nonfiction,

... a unity that was unaware of itself, hence vital and not logical, that did not prohibit variety, dampen invention.

Posted 6/29/2015 3:25pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Recently I've re-read the 35 pages of the Modern Library Edition of Within a Budding Grove: (p. 165-200) from the time of the luncheon at the Swanns with Bergotte to the time the Narrator gets out of the carriage at home that he shared with the author.

Some years ago I skimmed the passage the first time I read it. To tell you the truth, Bergotte bored me—I passed over the passage quickly and remembered little. But the plus to the situation was that when I read it again (or "for the first time" according to Proust on music, p. 140) it was fresh. I liked what Proust learned from the writing of Ruskin and I better liked Bergotte because Proust made him the axis of their stylistic interaction. Note 1 was published with Sésame et les Lys in 1906; À l'ombre de jeunes filles en fleurs (translated as Within a Budding Grove in 1922) was published in 1919 and was revised during the Great War of 1914 to 1918. Here are partial contents of Note 1:

He (Ruskin) moves from one idea to the next without any apparent order, but actually the imagination which leads him is following its own deep affinities and imposing a higher logic on him in spite of himself, to such an extent that at the end he finds himself to have obeyed a kind of secret plan, unveiled at the end, that retroactively imposes a kind of order on the whole and makes it seem magnificently staged, right up to the climax of the final apotheosis. 

IOn Reading translated by Damion Searls published in 2011.

There are other passages, to be sure; the one I singled out has mostly to do with Bergotte. In this passage I find that Proust, like his mentor Ruskin, stylistically "moves from one idea to the next without any apparent order", he "impose(s) a higher logic on him in spite of himself ... right up to the climax of the final apotheosis" and that was Bergotte in the carriage calling Mme Swann a "whore" (and its consequences for her husband) in spite of his being congenial to their faces. The Narrator was a little shocked at Bergotte's duplicity but I found it refreshing. 

Might I remind you that this is the same young Narrator who wouldn't eat caviare at the luncheon because he didn't know what it was. There is a music here and Proust has the advantage over the non-fictive Ruskin by writing with different Narrators: the younger 1st person active, the 3rd person omniscient or Marcel Proust and, here among indeterminate times, the older 1st person reflective:

Names, no doubt, are whimsical draughtsmen, giving us of people as well as of places sketches so unlike the reality that we often experience a kind of stupor when we have before our eyes, in place of the imagined, the visible world (which, for that matter, is not the real world, our senses being little more endowed than our imagination with the art of portraiture—so little, indeed, that the final and approximately lifelike pictures which we manage to obtain of reality are at least as different from the visible world as that was from the imagined).

Within a Budding Grove Marcel Proust 1919, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin & revised by D. J. Enright in 1923, 1981 and 1992, p. 166.

Delightful, Marcel.

Ruskin writes without an editor, and a single nonfiction narrator, himself. Proust has an editor and writex fiction and with several narrators.

The Narrator who won't eat caviare and the one who speaks about "Names" above are the same person but separated by some years, much learning and the "secret plan, unveiled at the end".

I thank Sharon for putting Note 1 in the hand-out about Bergotte given to members of the discussion group that met on Jane St. Because of the handout, I reread the Bergotte passage from a different viewpoint.

This is why one should read the actual texts of classical writers, and not be satisfied with excerpts or selections. Writers’ most famous pages are often those where this inner structure of their language is masked by the beauty of the excerpt, beauty of an almost universal character. 

Marcel Proust’s translation of John Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies and his preface On Reading were published in 1906. The introduction and translation of the preface, On Reading is by Damion Searls of the same title, published in 2011, p. 44.

Posted 6/24/2015 5:17pm by Eugene Wyatt.

It seemed clear, however, that it really was he who had written the books that I had so loved, for Mme Swann having thought it incumbent upon her to tell him of my admiration for one of these, he showed no surprise that she should have mentioned this to him rather than to any other guest, and did not seem to regard it as due to a misapprehension, but, swelling out the frock-coat which he had put on in honour of all these distinguished guests with a body avid for the coming meal, while his mind was completely occupied by other, more important realities, it was only as at some finished episode in his life, and as though one had alluded to a costume as the Duc de Guise which he had worn, one season, at a fancy dress ball, that he smiled as he bore his mind back to the idea of his books; which at once began to fall in my estimation (bringing down with them the whole value of Beauty, of the world, of life itself), until they seemed to have been merely the casual recreation of a man with a goatee beard.

Within a Budding Grove Marcel Proust 1919, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin & revised by D. J. Enright in 1923, 1981 and 1992, p. 167.

What initially attracted me to the sentence above was the places it goes and the persons it visits in 200 words, but when I  re-read it, I realized there are better examples in À la recherche du temps perdu of a traveling syntax than this. However this sentence was more appropriate to Saint-Simon's portrait of the Duc de Villars quoted on page 170 of Within a Budding Grove that began with a memoir-like description, "He was a rather tall man, dark ..." but the end of the citation 

“... and to tell the truth, a trifle mad” 

adds variety and is unexpected. What Saint-Simon said of Villars, in a small way, pertains to the Narrator's reversal of opinion on Bergotte's work: the love (of his books) becomes a loss of estimation (of their value), upon being disappointed—if not shocked—by meeting the author who had "a red nose curled like a snail shell and a goatee beard." Bergotte in reality was so unlike the Narrator's idealized idea of him. 

The first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu was published in 1913 but Contre Sainte-Beuve—written earlier—was unpublished; it is where Proust refuted the noted literary criticism of Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804–69). From The Modernism Lab at Yale University:

Sainte-Beuve championed a biographical criticism that saw texts as morally and intellectually inseparable from their writers.

and, as one can see in regard to Bergottean idealized (inseparable by the Narrator)—yet imaginary—personal conception of the author particularly his physiognomy. Yet the story of the young Narrator is a bildungsroman that has a successful ending. Idealization is not unlike idolatry which Proust faulted Ruskin in his translation of The Bible of AmiensExamples of the young Narrator's idealization: think of his disappointment seeing Berma for the first time; think of him confessing to Elstir how wanting the Balbec church was when he finally saw it, etc.

What of the corrective storytelling by the Narrator as an older, reflective person of the foibles of his youth in regard to Berma. To reflect on these errors is to have dealt with them and to say as Lady Macbeth said, What's done is done.

Sainte-Beuve is quoted by Proust in Contre Sainte-Beuve which is included in Marcel Proust on Art and Literature: 1896–1919, by Sylvia Townsend Warner, p. 99.

So long as one has not asked an author a certain number of questions ... What were his religious views? How did he react to the sight of nature? How did he conduct himself in regard to women, in regard to money? Was he rich, was he poor?

Was he snail-shell nosed; did he have a goatee, etc? I wonder, am I correct in comparing the erroneous valuation process of the young Narrator to Sainte-Beuve—well maybe—but I do feel secure in applying the style of Saint-Simon to Proust such that the writing syntactically equates Villars with the Narrator. Anyway...

When Proust found the composite way of storytelling (the reflective Narrator) that he would use in the novel, he could write À la recherche du temps perdu as we know it.

Posted 6/14/2015 12:21pm by Eugene Wyatt.

On page 98 of the Modern Library edition of Within a Budding Grove the Narrator, who was ill, received an invitation to tea from Gilberte. Her letter cheered him and was to become an object of reverie; like Leonardo said of painting, the letter was a cosa mentale. The Narrator longed for admittance to the Swann household and now the doors were open to him. When he received the letter he reread it every few minutes and kissed it.

Beginning the second volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, we notice that Swann has changed: among other things, he married Odette, he has a daughter, he's proud of the wives of lowly governmental ministers who call on his outcast wife and, contrary to his very discreet former-self, he has the "... habit of crying aloud from the house-tops the name of everyone he knew, however slightly ..." so says the Narrator's father.

But Swann is unchanged too. He is good and continues to be good over the years; he is probably the best and most consistent character in À la recherche du temps perdu. His goodness is apparent when we first meet him in Combray in the garden talking to the Narrator in Swann's Way, and it continues in the digression called Swann in Love (where he courts Odette) to his last appearance in the novel in Sodom and Gomorrah where he announces to the Duke and, the soon-to-be-red-shoed, Duchess his sickness and impending death. 

In Swann in Love he believed that if he waited until he no longer loved Odette, he will no longer be jealous and the vindictive actions he had planned when jealous will disappear as his love disappeared. We heard this reasoning then, and we hear it now,

But whereas at that other time he had made a vow that if ever he ceased to love the woman who, though he did not then know it, was to be his future wife, he would show her an implacable indifference that would at last be sincere, in order to avenge his pride that had so long been humiliated, now that he could enforce those reprisals without risk to himself (for what harm could it do him to be taken at his word and deprived of those intimate moments with Odette that had once been so necessary to him?), he no longer wished to do so; with his love had vanished the desire to show that he no longer loved.

Within a Budding Grove Marcel Proust 1919, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin & revised by D. J. Enright in 1923, 1981 and 1992, p. 134.

One could argue that Saint-Loup bests Swann as a good person. But late Saint-Loup is not the person he was earlier in Balbec—where we loved him. 

À la recherche du temps perdu is a delicate interweaving of facts and relations from its seven volumes. The reader becomes a detective and she discovers what Proust had in mind according to her social personalty...but only after a subsequent reading.

From the goodnight kiss episode in Swann's Way,

I imagined that Swann would have laughed heartily at it if he had read my letter and had guessed its purpose; whereas, on the contrary, as I was to learn in due course, a similar anguish had been the bane of his life for many years, and no one perhaps could have understood my feelings at that moment so well as he; to him, the anguish that comes from knowing that the creature one adores is in some place of enjoyment where oneself is not and cannot follow...

Swann's Way Marcel Proust 1913, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin & revised by D. J. Enright in 1923, 1981 and 1992, p. 40.

The young Narrator was sent upstairs; he was ostracized from his mother and her goodnight kiss the evening that Swann came to dine in Combray. (The Pain of Exclusion from Scientific American in DelanceyPlace is telling.)

Being excluded was what happened in Within a Budding Grove at Swann's house. With the Narrator in the drawing room, Gilberte would "often" go up to another room (for a reason that is not explained). By Gilberte's leaving, the Narrator experienced the empty, ostracized feeling that Swann had known courting Odette,

...the anguish that comes from knowing that the creature one adores is in some place of enjoyment where oneself is not and cannot follow...

Swann felt and knew the pain the Narrator suffered being a compassionate person; and I suspect, because of that, he confided the story of Swann in Love to him, if I may be so fictional.

From Within a Budding Grove

I was radiant with happiness in this house where Gilberte, when she was not yet with us, was about to appear and would bestow on me in a moment, and for hours to come, her speech, her smiling and attentive gaze as I had glimpsed it for the first time at Combray. At the most I was a trifle jealous when I saw her so often disappear into vast rooms above, reached by an interior staircase. Obliged myself to remain in the drawing-room, like a man in love with an actress who is confined to his stall and wonders anxiously what is going on behind the scenes, in the green-room, I put to Swann some artfully veiled questions with regard to this other part of the house, but in a tone from which I could not succeed in banishing a slight uneasiness. He explained to me that the room to which Gilberte had gone was the linen-room, offered to show it to me himself, and promised me that whenever Gilberte had occasion to go there again he would insist on her taking me with her. By these last words and the relief which they brought me, Swann at once abolished for me one of those terrifying inner perspectives at the end of which a woman with whom we are in love appears so remote. At that moment I felt for him an affection which I believed to be deeper than my affection for Gilberte. For he, his daughter’s master, was giving her to me, whereas she withheld herself at times; I had not the same direct control over her as I had indirectly through Swann. Besides, it was she whom I loved and whom I could not therefore see without that anxiety, without that desire for something more, which destroys in us, in the presence of the person we love, the sensation of loving.

Within a Budding Grove Marcel Proust 1919, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin & revised by D. J. Enright in 1923, 1981 and 1992, p. 138-139.

My emphasis.

Posted 6/3/2015 5:42pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Bernard Palissy 1510-1590

On long drives I listen to À la recherche du temps perdu [Remembance of Things Past] read by Neville Jason on Audible.com and when I hear a passage that interests me, I bookmark it in the Naxos Edition and type a note to distinguish it from other bookmarks. At home, I replay the bookmarked portion and select a relatively unique search word but common enough to be included in both the Moncrieff translation—which Jason reads—and the Modern Library translation which is on my iPhone in a Kindle version. Searching for "shrimps", I found the passage below and this gave me the page number or location. On my iPhone, I emailed it to myself on my iMac so I could read it at my leisure on a larger screen or easily put it in my blog, etc.

Marcel Proust gives us aspects of fellow-feeling in a novel where homosexuality is an important topic. In the passage that I selected, he brackets a food description (food interests me being a farmer) with his description of men talking: they were sheltered from the others (the troopers who were dining there) by the imposing veils of one of those instinctive likings between men which, when they are not based on physical attraction, are the only kind that is altogether mysterious. I wanted Proust to elaborate further on these instinctive likings between men...perhaps he will later on.

The seafood in France is now called Fruits de Mer but it may have not been called that then; he likens the dish to the work of an interesting early French potter, whom I didn't know, Bernard Palissy.

Palissy failed to discover the secret of Chinese porcelain, but invented a style of rustic pottery, called "Palissy ware," for which he is now famous. The pottery is decorated with reliefs mimicking wildlife from Palissy's native Saintonge marshes, and includes fish, crustaceans, reptiles, ferns and flowers.

From Wikipedia.


At Doncières where Saint-Loup and his fellow troopers take their mess,

On the third evening, one of (Saint-Loup's) friends, to whom I had not had an opportunity of speaking before, conversed with me at great length; and at one point I overheard him telling Saint-Loup how much he was enjoying himself. And indeed we sat talking together almost the entire evening, leaving our glasses of Sauterne untouched on the table before us, separated, sheltered from the others by the imposing veils of one of those instinctive likings between men which, when they are not based on physical attraction, are the only kind that is altogether mysterious.

The Guermantes Way 1922 by Marcel Proust; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1925, Terence Kilmartin and revised by D. J. Enright, p. 133.

I felt cut off—not only from the great icy darkness which stretched out into the distance and in which we could hear from time to time the whistle of a train which only accentuated the pleasure of being there, or the chimes of an hour still happily distant from that at which these young men would have to buckle on their sabres and go—but also from all external preoccupations, almost from the memory of Mme de Guermantes, by the kindness of Saint-Loup, to which that of his friends, reinforcing it, gave, so to speak, a greater solidity; by the warmth, too, of that little dining-room, by the savour of the exquisite dishes that were set before us. These gave as much pleasure to my imagination as to my palate; sometimes the little piece of nature from which they had been extracted, the rugged holy-water stoup of the oyster in which lingered a few drops of brackish water, or the gnarled stem, the yellowed branches of a bunch of grapes, still enveloped them, inedible, poetic and distant as a landscape, evoking as we dined successive images of a siesta in the shade of a vine or of an excursion on the sea; on other evenings it was the cook alone who brought out these original properties of the viands, presenting them in their natural setting, like works of art, and a fish cooked in a court-bouillon was brought in on a long earthenware platter, on which, standing out in relief on a bed of bluish herbs, intact but still contorted from having been dropped alive into boiling water, surrounded by a ring of satellite shell-fish, of animalcules, crabs, shrimps and mussels, it had the appearance of a ceramic dish by Bernard Palissy.

“I’m furiously jealous,” Saint-Loup said to me, half laughing, half in earnest, alluding to the interminable conversations apart which I had been having with his friend. “Is it because you find him more intelligent than me? Do you like him better than me? Ah, well, I suppose he’s everything now, and no one else is to have a look in!” (Men who are enormously in love with a woman, who live in a society of woman-lovers, allow themselves pleasantries which others, seeing less innocence in them, would never dare to contemplate.)

So rare Marcel. 

The Guermantes Way 1922 by Marcel Proust; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1925, Terence Kilmartin and revised by D. J. Enright, p. 151.

Posted 5/26/2015 5:34pm by Eugene Wyatt.

An abridged version of La mort des cathédrals was published in Pastiches et Mélanges 1919 by Marcel Proust. In 1948 Gerard Hopkins translated it as The Death of Cathedrals and included it in Marcel Proust, A Selection from his miscellaneous Writings.  

Here is a note by Marcel Proust on the abridgment included in Pastiches et Mélanges and translated by Gerard Hopkins:

This is the title of an essay which I once published in the Figaro, with the object of combatting one of the clauses in the Act which set the seal upon the Separation of Church and State. It was a mediocre affair, and I reprint here only a short extract from it, to show how, even after the shortest of intervals, words change their meanings; and how, in the twists and turns of life, we can no more foresee the future of nations than we can of individuals. When I spoke of death coming to the cathedrals, I feared that France was to be transformed into a beach strewn with vast heaps of chiseled shells, emptied of the life that once filled them, and no longer bringing to the listening ear the sounds that formerly they held; mere museum-pieces, frozen and dead. Ten years have passed. Death has come to the fabric of our Cathedrals at the hands of the German armies, but not to their spirit as the result of the activities of an anti-clerical Chamber which now stands solidly united with our patriot bishops. 

Marcel Proust, A Selection from his miscellaneous Writings 1948 by Gerard Hopkins is available at AbeBooks

Posted 4/27/2015 6:46pm by Eugene Wyatt.

When I reflect now that, on our return from Balbec, Albertine had come to live in Paris under the same roof as myself, that she had abandoned the idea of going on a cruise, that she was installed in a bedroom within twenty paces of my own, at the end of the corridor, in my father’s tapestried study, *and that late every night, before leaving me, she used to slide her tongue between my lips like a portion of daily bread, a nourishing food that had the almost sacred character of all flesh upon which the sufferings that we have endured on its account have come in time to confer a sort of spiritual grace, what I at once call to mind in comparison is not the night that Captain de Borodino allowed me to spend in barracks, a favour which cured what was after all only a passing distemper, but the night on which my father sent Mamma to sleep in the little bed beside mine.

The Captive Vol. 6, translated by Moncrieff 1929, Kilmartin 1981 and revised by Enright 1992, p. 1.

The initial clauses, she...lives under the same roof, abandoned a cruise, sleeps 20 paces from me ... are in parataxis, consequently they have no subordination one to another, but the following phrases and clauses, ... *and that late every night, before leaving me, she used to slide her tongue between my lips like a portion of daily bread, a nourishing food that had the almost sacred character of all flesh upon which the sufferings that we have endured on its account have come in time to confer a sort of spiritual grace ... are in hypotaxis. The interrelations of structure are subordinate to one another. They can't be changed, as you can with the initial paratactic structures, or you will alter the meaning.

This sentence is what is called "... either a partial period or a compromise between the loose and the periodic sentence." Composition and Literature: A Rhetoric for Critical Writing, Rosanna Grassi 1984.

A good prose writer will seek variation between the loose, periodic and partial in sentence structures. We find it many times over in À la recherche de temps perdu.

We will talk of the comparisons the Narrator makes about this kiss of Albertine when we talk of the novel’s spiritual passages.  

Quand je pense maintenant que mon amie était venue, à notre retour de Balbec, habiter à Paris sous le même toit que moi, qu'elle avait renoncé à l'idée d'aller faire une croisière, qu'elle avait sa chambre à vingt pas de la mienne, au bout du couloir, dans le cabinet à tapisseries de mon père, *et que chaque soir, fort tard, avant de me quitter, elle glissait dans ma bouche sa langue, comme un pain quotidien, comme un aliment nourrissant et ayant le caractère presque sacré de toute chair à qui les souffrances que nous avons endurées à cause d'elle ont fini par conférer une sorte de douceur morale, ce que j'évoque aussitôt par comparaison, ce n'est pas la nuit que le capitaine de Borodino me permit de passer au quartier, par une faveur qui ne guérissait en somme qu'un malaise éphémère, mais celle où mon père envoya maman dormir dans le petit lit à côté du mien.

La prisonnière Vol. 6, Marcel Proust 1923 p. 1.

*My Emphasis.

Posted 4/15/2015 4:37pm by Eugene Wyatt.

One of the good things about going to the slaughterhouse is that I'm in the truck for five-hours, to and fro. This Wednesday—as almost always—I listened to Neville Jason's reading of Marcel Proust's Remembrance Of Things Past—the Moncrieff translation. Specifically I listened to Volume 2, Within a Budding Grove, where the narrator is at the hotel in Balbec musing about the "Simonet girl". I don't know why I remember this passage from previous readings, but I do:

I stepped out of the lift, but instead of going to my room I made my way further along the corridor, for before my arrival the valet in charge of the landing, despite his horror of draughts, had opened the window at the end, which instead of looking out to the sea faced the hill and valley inland, but never allowed them to be seen because its panes, which were made of clouded glass, were generally closed. I made a brief halt in front of it, time enough just to pay my devotions to the view which for once it revealed beyond the hill immediately behind the hotel, a view that contained only a single house situated at some distance, to which the perspective and the evening light, while preserving its mass, gave a gem-like precision and a velvet casing, as though to one of those architectural works in miniature, tiny temples or chapels wrought in gold and enamel, which serve as reliquaries and are exposed only on rare and solemn days for the veneration of the faithful. But this moment of adoration had already lasted too long, for the valet, who carried in one hand a bunch of keys and with the other saluted me by touching his sacristan’s skull cap, though without raising it on account of the pure, cool evening air, came and drew together, like those of a shrine, the two sides of the window, and so shut off the minute edifice, the glistening relic from my adoring gaze.

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleursMarcel Proust (1919); translated as Within a Budding Grove by Moncrieff (1924), Kilmartin (1981) and Enright (1992); the page numbers, 521-522, are from the Modern Library Edition.

Proust describes for the reader what the Narrator sees through the windows with his eyes. In his article for Le FigaroSentiments filiaux d'un parricide he mentions eyes are important to understanding the past. 

Our eyes play a greater part than we are prepared to admit in that active exploration of the past to which we give the name of memory. If, when someone is scrutinising an incident of his past in an endeavour to fix it, to make it once again a living reality...

Proust had no camera, that I know of. Recall that Virginia Woolf's great aunt, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), an early photographer—being described as the Annie Leibowitz (1949...) of her day—was given her first camera in 1863 when she was 48 years old. He didn't need a camera, Proust made pictures with the assemblage of his words.

Proust's language is eye-ready; it is as if he'd first taken a photograph of what he describes. Among many other things memory—according to Proust—has the distinctness of uniting the past with the present. We hear him tell it of a real person that he met, Princess Mathilde, in his Sentiments filiaux d'un parricide (1907),

It was that she saw: something we shall never see. At such moments, when my glance met hers, I got a vivid impression of the supernatural, because with a curious and mysterious nearsightedness, and as the result of an act of resurrection, she was linking past and present.

By most accounts Proust began writing À la recherche du temps perdu in 1908, but its subject seems to have been his whole life. All writing done is in the past; we read it in the present as that present too slips into the past and that is a marvelous subject for a novel. 

The valet in charge of the landing had opened the window... then the Narrator tells us: 

I made a brief halt in front of it, time enough just to pay my devotions to the view... 

The Narrator specifically and people in general had a horror of draughts: evil and sickness were brought in on them, they thought. Why didn't the Narrator say something about the open window to the valet? Perhaps it was anomalies like this, and then, the creative-strange comparison to a divine experience when he saw the house in the landscape through the open window that make me remember the scene. Maybe these oddities are my madeline and lime blossom tisane?

The scene closes when the valet...

...came and drew together, like those of a shrine, the two sides of the window, and so shut off the minute edifice, the glistening relic from my adoring gaze.  

And the Narrator enters his psychedelic room of maritime reflections.

Posted 4/2/2015 8:54pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Almost two years after his beloved father had died of natural causes ago, Henri Van Blarenberghe shot and killed his eighty-year-old mother then committed suicide in January of 1907. Because he knew Henri Van Blarenberghe, Marcel Proust was asked by Gaston Calmette, the editor-in-chief of Le Figaro, to write an article about the tragedy.

Proust has included letters written by the murderer in his article, Sentiments filiaux d'un parricide; they give Proust's impressions a degree of reality—you can judge for yourself the sincerity of Henri Van Blarenberghe. 

Below, being informational rather than instructive as Proust was, I have included letters between Gaston Calmette and him about the writing, publishing and censuring of that article in Le Figaro.


Filial Sentiments Of A Parricide

Le Figaro, 1 February 1907

When, some months ago, Monsieur Van Blarenberghe died, I remembered that my mother had known his wife very well. Ever since the death of my parents, I have become (in a sense which this is not the place to discuss) less myself and more their son. Though I have not turned my back on my own friends, I very much prefer to cultivate theirs, and the letters which I write now are, for the most part, those I think they would have written, those they can no longer write. I write, in their stead, letters of congratulation, letters, especially, of condolence, addressed to friends of theirs whom I scarcely know. When, therefore, Madame Van Blarenberghe lost her husband, I wanted her to receive some small token of the sadness which my parents would have felt. I remembered that, many years before, I had occasionally met her son at the houses of mutual friends. It was to him, now, that I wrote, but in the name, so to speak, of my vanished parents rather than in my own. I received the following reply. It was a beautiful letter, eloquent of filial affection. I feel that such a piece of evidence, in view of the significance which it assumes in the light of the drama which followed so hard upon its heels, and of the light which it throws upon that drama, ought to be made public. Here it is:

Les Timbrieux, par Josselin


September 24, 1904

My Dear Sir,

It is a matter of regret to me that I have been so long in thanking you for your sympathy in my great sorrow. I trust that you will forgive me. So crushing has been my loss that, on the advice of my doctors, I have spent the last four months in travelling. It is only now, and with extreme difficulty, that I am beginning to resume my former way of life. 

However dilatory I may have been, I should like you to know that I deeply appreciate your remembering our former pleasant relations, and that I am touched by the impulse that led you to write to me—and to my mother— in the name of those parents who have been so untimely taken from you. I never had the honour of knowing them, except very slightly, but I am aware how warmly my father felt for yours, and how pleased my mother always was to see Madame Proust. It shows great delicacy and sensibility on your part thus to convey to me a message from beyond the grave.

I shall shortly be back in Paris, and if, between now and then, I can overcome that desire to be left to myself which, up to the present, I have felt as the result of the disappearance of one in whom my whole life was centred, and who was the source of all my happiness, it will give me much pleasure to shake your hand and talk with you about the past.

Yours, most sincerely,

H. Van Blarenberghe


I was much touched by this letter. I felt full of pity for a man who was suffering so acutely—of pity, and of envy. He still had a mother left to him, and in consoling her could find consolation for himself. If I could not respond to the efforts he wished to make to bring about a meeting, it was because of purely material difficulties. But, more than anything else, his letter made pleasanter the memories I had of him. The happy relationship to which he referred had, as a matter of fact, been the most ordinary of social contacts. I had had few opportunities of talking to him when we had happened to meet one another at dinners, but the intellectual distinction of our hosts had been, and still was, a guarantee that Henri Van Blarenberghe, beneath an appearance that was slightly conventional, and representative more of the circle in which he moved than of his own personality, concealed an original and lively nature. Among the strange snapshots of memory which our brains, so small and yet so vast, collect by the thousand, the one that is clearest to me when I rummage among those in which Henri Van Blarenberghe appears, is that of a smiling face, and of the curious amused look he had, with mouth hanging half open, when he had discharged a witty repartee. It is thus that I, as one so rightly says ‘see’ him, always charming, always moderately distinguished. Our eyes play a greater part than we are prepared to admit in that active exploration of the past to which we give the name of memory. If, when someone is scrutinising an incident of his past in an endeavour to fix it, to make it once again a living reality, we look at his eyes as he tries to recollect, we see that they are emptied of all consciousness of what is going on around him, of the scene which, but a moment earlier, they reflected. ‘You’re not there at all,’ we say: ‘you’re far away.’ Yet, what we see is but the reverse side of what is going on within his mind. At such moments the loveliest eyes in all the world are powerless to move us by their beauty, are no more—to misinterpret a phrase of Wells,—than ‘Time Machines’, than telescopes focussed upon the invisible, which see further the older we grow. When we watch the rusted gaze of old men wearied by the effort to adapt themselves to the conditions of a time so different from their own, grow blind in an effort to remember, we feel, with extraordinary certainty, that the trajectory of their glance, passing over life’s shadowed failures, will come to earth not some few feet in front of them— as they think—but, in reality, fifty or sixty years behind. I remember how the charming eyes of Princesse Mathilde took on a more than ordinary beauty when they became fixed on some image which had come unbidden to the retina when, in memory, she saw this or that great man, this or that great spectacle dating back to the early years of the century. It was that she saw: something we shall never see. At such moments, when my glance met hers, I got a vivid impression of the supernatural, because with a curious and mysterious nearsightedness, and as the result of an act of resurrection, she was linking past and present.

Charming and moderately distinguished. Those are the words I used when thinking back to my memories of him. But after his letter had come I put a few added touches to the picture thus preserved, interpreting as evidence of a deeper sensibility, of a less wholly ‘social’ mentality, certain ways he had of looking, certain characteristics, which might lend themselves to a more interesting, a more generous ‘reading’ that the one I had at first accorded him.

When, somewhat later, I asked him to tell me about one of the staff of the Eastern Railway (Monsieur Van Blarenberghe was Chairman of the Board) in whom a friend of mine was taking an interest, I received the following reply. It had been written on the 12th of last January, but, in consequence of my having changed my address, unknown to him, did not reach me until the 17th, that is to say, not a fortnight, barely eight days, before the date of the drama.

48, Rue de la Bienfaisance

January 12, 1907

Dear Sir,

Thinking it possible that the man X . . . might still be employed by the Eastern Railway Company, I have made enquiries at their offices, and have asked them to let me know where he may be found. Nothing is known of him. If you have the name right, its owner has disappeared, leaving no trace. I gather that he was, in any case, only temporarily in their employ, and that he occupied a very subordinate position. I am much disturbed by the news you give me of the state of your health ever since the premature and cruel death of your parents. If it is any consolation, let me tell you that I, too, have suffered physically as well as emotionally, from the shock of my father’s death. But hope springs eternal . . . What the year 1907 may have in store for me I do not know, but it is my dearest wish that it may bring some alleviation to you as well as to me, and that in the course of the next few months we may be able to meet. I should like you to know how deeply I sympathise with you.

Yours sincerely,

H. Van Blarenberghe


Five or six days after receiving this letter, I remembered, one morning on waking, that I wanted to answer it. One of those unexpected spells of cold had set in which are like the high tides of Heaven, submerging all the dykes raised by great cities between ourselves and Nature, thrusting at our closed windows, creeping into our very rooms, making us realise, when they lay a bracing touch upon our shoulders, that the elements have returned to attack in force. The days were disturbed by sudden changes in the temperature, and by violent barometric shocks. Nor did this display of Nature’s powers bring any sense of joy. One bemoaned in advance the snow that was on the way, and even inanimate objects, as in André Rivoire’s lovely poem, seemed to be ‘waiting for the snow’. A ‘depression’ has only to ‘advance towards the Balearics’, as the newspapers put it, Jamaica has only to experience an earthquake tremor, for people in Paris who are subject to headaches, rheumatism and asthma, and probably lunatics as well, to have a crisis—so closely linked are nervous temperaments with the furthest points upon the earth’s surface by bonds whose strength they must often wish was less compulsive. If the influence of the stars upon some at least of such cases be ever recognised (see Framery and Pelletean as quoted by Monsieur Brissaud) to whom could the lines of the poet be held to be more applicable :

Et de longs fils (soyeux) l'unissent aux étoiles? 

(René-François Sully-Prudhomme, 1839-1907)

No sooner was I awake than I sat down to answer Henri Van Blarenberghe. But before doing so, I wanted just to glance at Le Figaro, to proceed to that abominable and voluptuous act known as reading the paper, thanks to which all the miseries and catastrophes of the world during the past twenty-four hours—battles that have cost the lives of fifty-thousand men, crimes, strikes, bankruptcies, fires, poisonings, suicides, divorces, the shattering emotions of statesmen and actors alike—are transmuted for our own particular use, though we are not ourselves involved, into a daily feast that seems to make a peculiarly exciting and stimulating accompaniment to the swallowing of a few mouthfuls of coffee brought in response to our summons. No sooner have we broken the fragile band that wraps Le Figaro, and alone separates us from all the miseries of the world, and hastily glanced at the first sensational paragraphs of which the wretchedness of so many human beings ‘forms an element’, those sensational paragraphs the contents of which we shall later retail to those who have not yet read their papers, than we feel a delightful sense of being once again in contact with that life with which, when we awoke, it seemed so useless to renew acquaintance. And if, from time to time, something like a tear starts from our gorged and glutted eyes, it is only when we come on a passage like this : ‘An impressive silence grips all hearts: the drums roll out a salute, the troops present arms, and a great shout goes up—“Vive Fallières At that we weep, though a tragedy nearer home would leave us dry-eyed. Vile actors that we are who can be moved to tears only by the sorrows of Hercules, or, at a still lower level, by the State Progresses of the President of the Republic! But on this particular morning the reading of Le Figaro moved me to no easy responses. I had just let my fascinated eyes skim the announcements of volcanic eruptions, ministerial crises and gang-fights, and was just beginning to read a paragraph, the heading of which, ‘Drama of a Lunatic’, promised a more than usually sharp stimulus for my morning faculties, than I suddenly saw that the victim of this particular episode had been Madame Van Blarenberghe, that the murderer, who had later committed suicide, was the man whose letter lay within reach of my hand waiting to be answered. ‘Hope springs eternal. .. What the year 1907 may have in store for me I do not know, but it is my dearest wish that it may bring some alleviation to you as well as to me . . .’ etc. ‘Hope springs eternal! What the year 1907 may have in store for me I do not know ! ’ Well, life’s answer had not been long delayed. 1907 had not yet dropped the first of its months into the past, and already it had brought him his present—a gun, a revolver, a dagger, and that blindness with which Athene once struck the mind of Ajax, driving him to slaughter shepherds and flocks alike on the plains of Greece, not knowing what he did. ‘I it was who set lying images before his eyes. And he rushed forth, striking to right and left, thinking it was the Atrides whom he slew, falling first on one, then on another. I it was who goaded on this man caught in the toils of a murderous madness, I who set a snare for his feet, and even now he is returned, his brow soaked in sweat, his hands reeking with blood.’ Madmen, in the fury of their onslaught, are without knowledge of what they do, but, the crisis once past, then comes agony. Tekmessa, the wife of Ajax, said: ‘His madness is diminished, his fury fallen to stillness like the breath of Motos. But now that his wits are recovered, he is tormented by a new misery, for to look on horrors for which no one but oneself has been responsible, adds bitterness to grief. Ever since he realised what has happened, he has been howling in a black agony; he who used to say that tears are unworthy of a man. He sits, not moving, uttering his cries, and I know well that he is planning against himself some dark design.’ But when with Henri Van Blarenberghe the fit had passed, it was no scene of slaughtered flocks and shepherds that he saw before him. Grief does not kill in a moment. He did not fall dead at sight of his murdered mother lying there at his feet. He did not fall dead at the sound of her dying voice, when she said, like Tolstoy’s Princesse Andrée: ‘Henri, what have you done to me! what have you done to me!’ . . . ‘On reaching the landing of the stairs between the first and second floors, they’, said the Matin (the servants who, in this account— which may not have been accurate—are represented as being in a panic, and running down into the hall four steps at a time) ‘saw Madame Van Blarenberghe, her face contorted with terror, descending the first few stairs, and heard her cry out: “Henri! Henri! what have you done”. Then the wretched woman, her head streaming with blood, threw up her arms and fell forward on her face. The terrified servants rushed for help. Soon afterwards, four policemen, who had been summoned, forced the locked door of the murderer’s room. There were dagger wounds on his body, and the left side of his face had been ripped open by a pistol shot. One eye was hanging out on the pillow.’ I thought, reading this, not of Ajax. In the ‘eye hanging out on the pillow’ I saw, remembering that most terrible act which the history of human suffering has ever recorded, the eye of the wretched Oedipus . . . ‘and Oedipus, rushing forth with a great cry, called for a sword . . . With terrible moaning he dashed himself against the double doors, tore them from their sunken hinges, and stormed into the room where he saw Jocasta hanging from the strangling rope. Finding her thus, the wretched man groaned in horror and loosened the cord. His mother’s body, no longer supported, fell to the ground. Then he snatched the golden brooches from Jocasta’s dress and thrust them into his open eyes, saying that no longer should they look upon the evils he had suffered, the miseries he had caused : and, bellowing curses, he struck his staring eyes again and again, and the bleeding pupils ran down his cheeks in a rain, in a hail, of black blood. Then he cried out, bidding those who stood by to show the parricide to the race of Cadmus, urging them to drive him from the land. Ah! thus is ancient felicity given its true name. But from that day has been no dearth of all the evils that are named among men; groans and disasters, death and obloquy.’ And, thinking of Henri Van Blarenberghe’s torment when he saw his mother lying dead before him, I thought, too, of another wretched madman, of Lear holding in his arms the body of his daughter, Cordelia :

She’s dead as earth . . .

No, no, no life.

Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life

And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more.

Never, never, never, never, never ...

Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,

Look there, look there!

In spite of his terrible wounds, Henri Van Blarenberghe did not die at once. I cannot but think abominably cruel (though there may have been purpose in it. Does one really know what lay behind the drama? Remember the Brothers Karamazov) the behaviour of the Police Inspector. ‘The wretched man was not dead. The Inspector took him by the shoulders, and spoke to him “Can you hear me? Answer” . . . The murderer opened his one remaining eye, blinked a few times, and relapsed into a coma.’ I am tempted to address to that brutal Inspector the words uttered by Kent in that same scene of King Lear from which I have just quoted, when he stopped Edgar from bringing Lear round from his fainting fit:

Vex not his ghost! let him pass: he hates him

That would upon the rack of this tough world

Stretch him out longer.

If I have dwelt upon those great names of Tragedy, Ajax and Oedipus, I wish the reader to understand why, and why, too, I have published these letters and written this essay. I want to show in what a pure, in what a religious, atmosphere of moral beauty this explosion of blood and madness could occur, and bespatter without soiling. I want to bring into the room of the crime something of the breath of Heaven, to show that what this newspaper paragraph recorded was precisely one of those Greek dramas the performance of which was almost a sacred ceremony; that the poor parricide was no criminal brute, no moral leper beyond the pale of humanity, but a noble example, a tender and a loving son whom an ineluctable fate—or, let us say, pathological, and so speak the language of today—had driven to crime, and to its expiation, in a manner that should for ever be illustrious. I find it difficult to believe in death’, wrote Michelet in a fine passage. True, he was speaking only of a jelly-fish, about whose death—so little different from its life—there is nothing incredible, so that one is inclined to wonder whether Michelet was not merely making use of one of those hackneyed ‘recipes’ on which all great writers can lay their hands at need, and so serve to their customers, at short notice, just the dish for which they have asked. But if I find no difficulty in crediting the death of a jelly-fish, I do not find it easy to believe in the death of a person, nor even in the mere eclipse, the mere toppling of his reason. Our sense of the continuity of the human consciousness is too strong. A short while since, and that mind was master of life and death, could move us to a feeling of respect; and now, both life and death have mastered it. It has become feebler than our own, which, for all its weakness, can now no longer bow before what so quickly has become almost nothing. For this, madness is to blame, madness which is like an old man’s loss of his faculties, like death itself. What, the man who, only yesterday, could write the letter that I have already quoted, so high-minded and so wise, is today . . .? And even—to move for a moment to the lower level of those trivial matters which, nevertheless, are so important—the man who was so moderate and so sober in what he asked of life, who loved the little things of existence, answered a letter with such charm, was so scrupulous in doing what was demanded of him, valued the opinions of others, and wanted to appear in their eyes as someone, if not of influence, at least of easy friendliness, playing the social game so sensitively, so loyally . . . These things, I say, are very important, and, if I quoted, a while back, the first part of his second letter, which really concerned only my personal affairs, it was because the practical good-sense which it displays, seems even more at variance with what afterwards occurred than does the admirable and profound melancholy expressed in its final lines. Often, when a mind has been brought low, it is the main limbs of the tree, its top, that live on, when all the tangle of its lower branches has been eaten away by disease. In the present case, the spiritual core was left intact. I felt, as I was copying those letters, how very much I should have liked to be able to make my readers realise the extreme delicacy, nay, more—the quite incredible firmness of the hand which must have been needed to produce such neat and exquisite calligraphy.

What have you done to me! what have you done to me! If we let ourselves think for a few moments we shall, I believe, agree that there is probably no devoted mother who could not, when her last day dawns, address the same reproach to her son. The truth is that, as we grow older, we kill the heart that loves us by reason of the cares we lay on it, by reason of that uneasy tenderness that we inspire, and keep for ever stretched upon the rack. Could we but see in the beloved body the slow work of destruction that is the product of the painful tenderness which is the mainspring of its being, could we but see the faded eyes, the hair against whose valiant blackness time had so long been powerless, now sharing in the body’s general defeat and suddenly turned white; could we but see the hardened arteries, the congested kidneys, the overworked heart; could we but watch courage failing under the blows of life, the slowing movements, the heavy step, the spirit once so tireless and unconquerable, now conscious of hope gone for ever, and that former gaiety, innate and seemingly immortal, so sweet a consort for sad moments, now finally withered—perhaps, seeing all this in a flash of that lucidity now come too late, which even lives spent in a long illusion may sometimes have, as Don Quixote once had his—perhaps, then, like Henri Van Blarenberghe when he stabbed his mother to death, we should recoil before the horror of our lives, and seize the nearest gun, and make an end. In most men these painful moments of vision (even assuming they can gain the heights from which such seeing is possible) soon melt in the early beams of the sun which shines upon the joys of life. But what joy, what reason for living, what life, can stand up to the impact of such awareness? Which is true, it or the joy of life? Which of them is the Truth? 

From Marcel Proust, A Selection of his Miscellaneous Writings selected and translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1948 p. 177.


On the day that Proust read his article, Sentiments filiaux d'un parricide, that appeared in Le Figaro on the 1st of February in 1907, he wrote to Gaston Calmette, Le Figaro's editor-in-chief, that he had sent the article off to Le Figaro without an ending the previous morning, however to the proofs which came to him later that day he added an ending which he felt closed the article.

The final paragraph (the same one that was censured) came with a warning that cut what Le Figaro may cut, it should not cut this addition that closes the article. Understandably, Proust was upset when he read his truncated article in the newspaper the next day. He quotes the last paragraph that was added in his letter to Gaston Calmette. (see below)

Before reading Le Figaro's report of the parricide's deed, entitled Drama of a Lunatic, Proust knew the vulgarity of the world where he found himself living. Le Figaro, being a mercantile enterprise, was read by the common man as well; yet Proust published where he could hope to catch the rare eye of people who were as sensitive as he was. Everybody, no matter who they were, read Le Figaro.

The sub-editor of Le Figaro, M. Cardane, who censured Proust's closure remarked, "Does Monsieur Proust imagine that anyone will trouble to read his article besides himself and the few people who know him?"

Rather than concentrate wholly on Shakespeare or the ancient Greek playwrights (Proust is rich in the artistic allusions he makes) I want to discuss another matter untouched that I feel influences this article and the writing of À la recherche du temps perdu.

Vulgarity was as prevalent a century ago as it is today; now it is approached in a manner of understanding, then one could blatantly state it and even publicly in Le Figaro. Of course, no one accused of being vulgar would own up to it; to be vulgar was like being evil today: it is the other who is evil or vulgar—certainly not me or my friends, except perhaps in an odd jest that self-incriminates the doer as Proust does when he opens Le Figaro "to proceed to that abominable and voluptuous act known as reading the paper". He  tongue and cheek confesses to this vulgar act and with his morning coffee.

Proust is uncomprehending of the vulgar depiction in the initial report in Le Figaro of Henri Van Blarenberghe called Un drame de la folle. Proust mentions that with his writing in the article, "I want to bring into the room of the crime something of the breath of Heaven, to show that what this newspaper paragraph recorded was precisely one of those Greek dramas the performance of which was almost a sacred ceremony; that the poor parricide was no criminal brute, no moral leper beyond the pale of humanity, but a noble example, a tender and a loving son whom an ineluctable fate..." Perhaps not here, not this, but the vulgar inverts (or if you will, fashion changes into its opposite)—what was once vulgar becomes fashionable: look at denim pants, what was once working attire becomes high-fashion garb and very expensive today; and recently in menswear, sneakers can be worn with suits, according to the fashion section of the New York Times, that arbiter of today's taste reports. And I'm sure that you could list what was once fashionable that has now become passé or vulgar.

In his correspondence below Marcel Proust  explains the desire for possession of the tombs of the parricides, Oedipus and Orestes.


Marcel Proust

Selected Letters

Volume 2  1904-1909


To Gaston Calmette

[Friday, 1 February 1907]

Dear Sir,

My deep sense of your kindness and my gratitude received an even more direct and more powerful, almost crushing reinforcement when I saw just now your charming Figaro encumbered by the compact mass of my unwieldy article, and all the other articles, all the news, all the light flotilla of telegrams from every point of the compass held up by the enormous convoy to which your infinite kindness had accorded this special precedence of which I so unscrupulously took advantage.

One thing distresses me, however, because it increases even more the disproportion between the unworthiness of the article and your delightful benevolence. The only thing I had indicated to M. Cardane as being essential was omitted, though I said that he could cut anything he liked rather than these last few lines. I had indeed in my hurry sent off the article in the morning without an ending. I added one on the proofs, a paragraph in which I gathered my reins, my scattered steeds, at once hurtling and floundering, straying. The article ended thus: 

‘Let us remember that for the ancients there was no altar more sacred, surrounded with more profound superstition and veneration, betokening more grandeur and glory for the land that possessed them and had dearly disputed them, than the tomb of Oedipus, at Colonus, and the tomb of Orestes at Sparta, that same Orestes whom the Furies had pursued to the feet of Apollo himself and Athene, saying: “We drive from the altar the parricidal son.”’

Thus the word parricide, having opened the article, closed it. The article was given a sort of unity thereby. I dare not ask for an insertion tomorrow to the effect that a printing accident scuppered the final lines. Who will remember it all tomorrow? But to the extent that it may have made the article even more unworthy of the kindness which you so divinely bestow on its author, I am very unhappy, for nothing could be more distressing to me than to make you repent of your benevolence towards your grateful and devoted.

Marcel Proust



From Gaston Calmette


26 rue Drouot

[Friday, 1 February 1907]


Your article was very fine, my dear contributor and excellent friend. Don’t worry about those few lines: they frightened Cardane who thought they showed insufficient disapprobation for the unfortunate parricide’s deed. Cardane was undoubtedly wrong: but there is not a reader who will not thank you and re-read your article with an enchanted heart.

Yours ever,

Gaston Calmette


To Gaston Calmette

102 boulevard Haussmann

[Friday evening 1 February 1907]

Dear Sir,

Forgive me! It’s my last letter! First of all it’s too kind of you to have replied to me and I shan’t dare write again. Secondly, if what I thought was the clumsiness of a make-up man, a compositor (the omission of my ending), was the deliberate act of a severe moralist (M. Cardane) I have nothing to say. Or rather I have: I have this to say to M. Cardane (but I don’t know whether I’m supposed to know about his indignation—please don’t bother to write and tell me, we’ll talk about it when I see you), that one of his colleagues on the, Journal des Débats of old, St-Marc Girardin, who was not known for his immorality, wrote in his Cours de littérature dramatique some very edifying pages on the Greeks’ belief that the city which safeguarded the ashes of Oedipus and Orestes would always be victorious. He saw this as the effect of the high philosophy the Greeks which required that the crime of these parricides, ever involuntary, should be punished in their lifetime, but that in order re-establish a higher justice, since they had been involuntarily guilty, their memory should be honoured, consecrated. In my case the severe M. Cardane (who is, by the way, so kind and charming) must be aware all the wars which Athens and Sparta waged in order to lay hands on the bodies of Oedipus and Orestes of whom the oracles had predicted that they alone could ensure the greatness of their cities. I don’t want to bore you by quoting a passage from Herodotus on one of these oracles although it’s extremely interesting.

All the same, to take me for an apologist for parricide is a bit much! Forgive this self-defence which is not meant too seriously as I quite take the point of your letter and realize that M. Cardane didn’t mean to censure me. But the tragedy of Oedipus at Colonus which revolves exclusively around the military glory which the possession of Oedipus remains would bring to the Athenians has made these questions popular, so topical, that I’m sure that if my article had arrived at Le Figaro a little earlier, at an hour when one has a bit more time remember the Greek tragedians, M. Cardane would have judged my ending in a diametrically opposite way. Dear Sir, please don’t bother write to me; forget me in order to forgive me, and believe me.

Your infinitely grateful and devoted,

Marcel Proust


Selected Letters Volume 2 1904-1909, edited by Philip Kolb, 1989 translated by Terrance Kilmartin  p. 249-251

Also I would like to thank William C. Carter and his marvelous biography: Marcel Proust: A Life, 2002-2013, Loc 8773 ff; he was my guide but is in no way responsible for my opinions. But I'd like to quote him, "Many friends wrote to express their admiration for 'Sentiments filiaux.' To close friends Marcel expressed serious doubts about his talent. He did not trust this new voice."

Boldface type is either my emphasis or an addition.

Finally, Sharon thank you for your kind letter and for the patience to read mine; excuse me for my comment on your reference as I was already thinking of Sentiments filiaux d'un parricide.

Posted 3/10/2015 7:58pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Mais en les prononçant, je sentais qu'ils étaient déjà devenus inutiles, car dès le début de mon remerciement, d'une ardeur réfrigérante, j'avais vu passer sur le visage de l'ambassadeur une expression d'hésitation et de mécontentement et dans ses yeux, ce regard vertical, étroit et oblique (comme, dans le dessin en perspective d'un solide, la ligne fuyante d'une de ses faces), regard qui s'adresse à cet interlocuteur invisible qu'on a en soi-même, au moment où on lui dit quelque chose que l'autre interlocuteur, le Monsieur avec qui on parlait jusqu'ici - moi dans la circonstance - ne doit pas entendre.

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, 1919 Marcel Proust, Loc. 823 of 8912.


But as I uttered them I sensed that they were already superfluous, for from the beginning of my speech of thanks, with its chilling ardour, I had seen flitting across the face of the Ambassador an expression of hesitation and displeasure, and in his eyes that vertical, narrow, slanting look (like, in the drawing of a solid body in perspective, the receding line of one of its surfaces), that look which one addresses to the invisible interlocutor whom one has within oneself at the moment when one is telling him something that one’s other interlocutor, the person to whom one has been talking up till then—myself, in this instance—is not meant to hear.

Translated as Within a Budding Grove, 1992 Moncrieff, Kilmartin and Enright, P. 68.

The emphasis is my own. 

Posted 10/31/2014 7:17am by Eugene Wyatt.

And when he was tempted to regret that, for months past, he had done nothing but visit Odette, he would assure himself that he was not unreasonable in giving up much of his time to the study of an inestimably precious work of art, cast for once in a new, a different, an especially charming metal, in an unmatched exemplar which he would contemplate at one moment with the humble, spiritual, disinterested mind of an artist, at another with the pride, the selfishness, the sensual thrill of a collector.

Swann in Love Marcel Proust, 1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, 1922.

Posted 9/18/2014 7:57pm by Eugene Wyatt.

These reflections made me discover a stronger and more accurate sense of the truth of which I had often had a presentiment, notably when Mme. de Cambremer was surprised that I could abandon a remarkable man like Elstir for the sake of Albertine.

Even from the intellectual point of view I felt she was wrong but I did not know that what she was misunderstanding were the lessons through which one makes one's apprenticeship as a man of letters.

The objective value of the arts has little say in the matter; what it is necessary to extract and bring to light are our sentiments, our passions, which are the sentiments and passions of all men.

A woman we need makes us suffer, forces from us a series of sentiments, deeper and more vital than a superior type of man who interests us.

It remains to be seen, according to the plane on which we live, whether we shall discover that the pain the infidelity of a woman has caused us is a trifle when compared with the truths thereby revealed to us, truths that the woman delighted at having made us suffer would hardly have grasped.

In any case, such infidelities are not rare.

A writer need have no fear of undertaking a long labour.

Let the intellect get to work; in the course of it there will be more than enough sorrows to enable him to finish it.

Happiness serves hardly any other purpose than to make unhappiness possible.

Le Temps Retrouvé, Marcel Proust (posthumous); translated by Stephen Hudson  as Time Regained in 1931, (my emphasis).

I realized, as Proust does, that suffering has a much longer duration than love, but I wonder about "unhappiness", does suffering make love possible?

Posted 9/10/2014 8:06pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Yet I was so accustomed, ever since I first made their acquaintance, to consider his wife an unusual person with a thorough knowledge of Schopenhauer who had access to an intellectual _milieu_ closed to her vulgar husband, that I was at first surprised when Saint-Loup remarked: "His wife is an idiot, you can have her; but he's an excellent fellow, gifted and extremely agreeable," By the idiocy of the wife, no doubt Saint-Loup meant her mad longing to get into the best society which that society severely condemned and, by the qualities of the husband, those his niece implied when she called him the best of the family. Anyhow, he did not bother himself about duchesses but that sort of intelligence is as far removed from the kind that characterises thinkers as is the intelligence the public respects because it has enabled a rich man "to make his pile." 

But the words of Saint-Loup did not displease me since they recalled that pretentiousness is closely allied to stupidity and that simplicity has a subtle but agreeable flavor.

Time Regained Marcel Proust 1927 (posthumous) translated by Stephen Hudson 1931 on Gutenberg, (my emphasis).

Posted 9/8/2014 3:54pm by Eugene Wyatt.

And the most disagreeable part of all this was once again his vanity, for he was flattered at being loved by Gilberte and, without daring to say that it was Charlie whom he loved, gave, nevertheless, of the love which the violinist was supposed to feel for him, details which he, the Saint-Loup from whom Charlie every day demanded more and more money, knew to be wildly exaggerated if not invented from start to finish.

Time Regained Marcel Proust 1927 (posthumous) translated by Mayor, Kilmartin and Enright, 1992.

Posted 7/25/2014 5:41pm by Eugene Wyatt.

In Rome on her wedding voyage, or as we say now, her honeymoon,

She had been led through the best galleries, had been taken to the chief points of view, had been shown the grandest ruins and the most glorious churches, and she had ended by oftenest choosing to drive out to the Campagna where she could feel alone with the earth and sky, away-from the oppressive masquerade of ages, in which her own life too seemed to become a masque with enigmatical costumes.

Middlemarch, George Eliot 1871, page 117.

It is not easy to film this picture of Dorothea (that goes on for several sentences before and after the one quoted) or to depict the personal interactions in Middlemarch that George Eliot renders so well in her prose. Maybe the script of the BBC miniseries should have been much longer and taken into account the human detail of the English characters to match the book, or might the writer of the screenplay have chosen a smaller segment of the novel to describe better the people in the complex world in which Eliot writes. 

Perhaps for a screenwriter to adapt the whole of Middlemarch would be like Harold Pinter's adapting À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust that was never produced. Yet Pinter's Proust screenplay stands as a literary marvel.

Posted 7/20/2014 1:23pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Reading in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that "Mr. Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunt's (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) ill-breeding, and made no answer," (page 113) made me think of one of my favorite passages in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu about ill-breeding and then thinking of Mr. Darcy's no answer as the Narrator's masterpiece bow.

"The idea of supposing that you were not invited! Besides, wasn't I there? Do you suppose that I should be unable to get you an invitation to my cousin's house?" I must admit that frequently, after this, she (Duchess de Guermantes) did things for me that were far more difficult; nevertheless, I took care not to interpret her words in the sense that I had been too modest. I was beginning to learn the exact value of the language, spoken or mute, of aristocratic affability, an affability that is happy to shed balm upon the sense of inferiority in those persons towards whom it is directed, though not to the point of dispelling that sense, for in that case it would no longer have any reason to exist. "But you are our equal, if not our superior," the Guermantes seemed, in all their actions, to be saying; and they said it in the most courteous fashion imaginable, to be loved, admired, but not to be believed; that one should discern the fictitious character of this affability was what they called being well-bred; to suppose it to be genuine, a sign of ill-breeding. I was to receive, as it happened, shortly after this, a lesson which gave me a full and perfect understanding of the extent and limitations of certain forms of aristocratic affability. It was at an afternoon party given by the Duchesse de Montmorency to meet the Queen of England; there was a sort of royal procession to the buffet, at the head of which walked Her Majesty on the arm of the Duc de Guermantes. I happened to arrive at that moment. With his disengaged hand the Duke conveyed to me, from a distance of nearly fifty yards, a thousand signs of friendly invitation, which appeared to mean that I need not be afraid to approach, that I should not be devoured alive instead of the sandwiches. But I, who was becoming word-perfect in the language of the court, instead of going even one step nearer, keeping my fifty yards' interval, made a deep how, but without smiling, the sort of bow that I should have made to some one whom I scarcely knew, then proceeded in the opposite direction. Had I written a masterpiece, the Guermantes would have given me less credit for it than I earned by that bow. Not only did it not pass unperceived by the Duke, albeit he had that day to acknowledge the greetings of more than five hundred people, it caught the eye of the Duchess, who, happening to meet my mother, told her of it, and, so far from suggesting that I had done wrong, that I ought to have gone up to him, said that her husband had been lost in admiration of my bow, that it would have been impossible for anyone to put more into it. They never ceased to find in that bow every possible merit, without however mentioning that which had seemed the most priceless of all, to wit that it had been discreet, nor did they cease either to pay me compliments which I understood to be even less a reward for the past than a hint for the future..."

Sodom et Gomorrhe by Marcel Proust, 1921-1922; translated as Cities of the Plain by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, 1928, (my emphasis).


One experiences Jane Austen's symmetry of construction: Mr. Darcy is ashamed of Lady Catherine's ill-breeding, but as it is explained, the Bennet familial ill-breeding—primarily the caterwauling of Lizzy's mother and three younger sisters—is why Mr. Darcy separates Jane (Lizzy's older sister) from his friend Mr. Bingley who is in a reciprocal love unbeknownst to Mr. Darcy.  

Posted 11/1/2010 7:52am by Eugene Wyatt.

Marcel yearns for Gilberte in Paris.

I was sure that Gilberte was coming to the Champs-Elysées, and I felt an elation which seemed merely the anticipation of a great happiness when—going into the drawing-room in the morning to kiss Mamma, who was already dressed to go out, the coils of her black hair elaborately built up, and her beautiful hands, plump and white, fragrant still with soap—I had been apprised, by seeing a column of dust standing by itself in the air above the piano, and by hearing a barrel-organ playing, beneath the window, En revenant de la revue, that the winter had received, until nightfall, an unexpected, radiant visit from a day of spring. While we sat at luncheon, by opening her window, the lady opposite had sent packing, in the twinkling of an eye, from beside my chair—to sweep in a single stride over the whole width of our dining-room—a sunbeam which had lain down there for its midday rest and returned to continue it there a moment later. At school, during the one o’clock lesson, the sun made me sick with impatience and boredom as it let fall a golden stream that crept to the edge of my desk, like an invitation to the feast at which I could not myself arrive before three o’clock, until the moment when Françoise came to fetch me at the school-gate, and we made our way towards the Champs-Elysées through streets decorated with sunlight, dense with people, over which the balconies, detached by the sun and made vaporous, seemed to float in front of the houses like clouds of gold. Alas! in the Champs-Elysées I found no Gilberte; she had not yet arrived. Motionless, on the lawn nurtured by the invisible sun which, here and there, kindled to a flame the point of a blade of grass, while the pigeons that had alighted upon it had the appearance of ancient sculptures which the gardener’s pick had heaved to the surface of a hallowed soil, I stood with my eyes fixed on the horizon, expecting at every moment to see appear the form of Gilberte following that of her governess, behind the statue that seemed to be holding out the child, which it had in its arms, and which glistened in the stream of light, to receive benediction from the sun.

Du côté de chez Swann [1913] by Marcel Proust,  translated as Swann's Way [1922] by C. K. Scott Moncrieff.  The quote above is from the last section, Place-Names: The Name.  In final sentence of the section that preceeds it, Proust concludes the agony of Swann in Love:

...he cried out in his heart: “To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style!”

À la Recherche du Temps Perdu is a roman fleuve and it seems that Proust saw denouements unnessesary to the pleasure of writing and on he went until he died 3000 pages later.