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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.