Thursday, November 23, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 659

   I did not want to borrow Gilberte's copy of La Fille auz Yeux d'Or as she was reading it herself.  But she lent me to read in bed, on that last evening of my stay with her, a book which produced on me a strong but mixed impression, which did not, however, prove to be lasting.  It was a volume of the unpublished Journal of the Goncourts.  And when, before putting out my candle, I read the passage which I am about to transcribe, my lack of talent for literature, of which I had had a presentiment long ago on the Guermantes way and which had been confirmed during the stay of which this was the last evening - one of those evenings before a departure when we emerge from the torpor of habits about to be broken and attempt to judge ourselves - struck me as something less to be regretted, since literature, if I was to trust the evidence of this book, had no very profound truths to reveal: and at the same time it seemed to me sad that literature was not what I had thought it to be.  At the same time, the state of ill-health which was soon to shut me up in a sanatorium seemed to me also less to be regretted, if the beautiful things of which books speak were not more beautiful than what I had seen myself.  And yet, by an odd contradiction, now that they were being spoken of in this book I had a desire to see them.
Marcel Proust, Time Regained, p. 728

As I've shared previously I'm notoriously guilty of writing all over my books (and I always tell my students than unless they write all over theirs then they don't really own them).  Next to this paragraph I had scrawled, "This entire paragraph is absurd."  Proust is trying to express that Marcel still has profound doubts about his abilities as a writer, and about the validity of literature as well.  However, you can only stretch the truth so far before it simply takes on the light of grand farce.  If Marcel was someone undeniably different than Proust himself then statements such as "my lack of talent for literature" and that literature "had no very profound truths to reveal" would have more power.  Here they just read as if Proust is trying to hard, or is simply trying to be ironic and sinking at the audience.

Proust mentions that he would soon be shut up in a sanatorium in an attempt to recapture his health.  It's difficult to read Remembrance of Things Past, and especially the latter portion, and not be constantly reminded of the death sentence that hung over Proust, but also his refusal to surrender, rest up, and try to stretch out his life.  Rather, the work had to be finished, and sacrifices had to be made, and those would include his own life.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 658

   "As a matter of fact the book I'm reading at the moment talks about that sort of thing," Gilberte said to me.  "It is an old Balzac which I am swotting up so as to be as well-informed as my uncles, La Fille aux Yeux d'Or.  But it is absurd, improbable, nightmarish.  For one thing, I suppose a woman might be kept under surveillance in that way by another woman, but surely not by a man." "You are wrong, I once knew a woman who was loved by a man who in the end literally imprisoned her; she was never allowed to see anybody, she could only go out with trusted servants." "Well, you who are so kind must be horrified at the idea. By the way, we were saying, Robert and I, that you ought to get married.  Your wife would improve your health and you would make her happy." "No, I have too bad a character." "How absurd!" "I mean it.  Besides, I was engaged once.  But I couldn't quite make up my mind to marry the girl - and anyhow she thought better of it herself, because of my undecided and cantankerous character." This was, in fact, the excessively simple light in which I regarded my adventure with Albertine, now that I saw it only from outside.
Marcel Proust, Time Regained, pp. 725-726

I love this exchange between Gilberte and Marcel, where he keeps trying to admit that he's a horrible person, and she's not buying it.  She tells a story, which she finds unbelievable, from a novel: "For one thing, I suppose a woman might be kept under surveillance in that way by another woman, but surely not by a man." "You are wrong, I once knew a woman who was loved by a man who in the end literally imprisoned her; she was never allowed to see anybody, she could only go out with trusted servants."  He is admitting that he imprisoned Albertine, although he's really only making the admission to the reader.  Marcel also shares, "This was, in fact, the excessively simple light in which I regarded my adventure with Albertine, now that I saw it only from outside."  Yes, the relationships always make sense on the far side of their painful/comical/disastrous endings.  I think it's because we can then tie it all up with a narrative which was impossible to impose when you were in the middle of the chaos.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 657

Perhaps, too, she might not have remembered, or she might have lied.  In any case I was no longer interested to know, since my heart had changed even more than Gilberte's face.  This face gave me little pleasure, but above all I was no longer unhappy, and I should have been incapable of conceiving, had I thought about it again, that I could have been so unhappy of Gilberte tripping along by the side of a young man that I had said to myself: "It's all over, I shall never attempt to see her again." Of the state of mind which, in that far-off year, had been tantamount to a long-drawn-out torture for me, nothing survived.  For in this world of ours where everything withers, everything perishes, there is a thing that decays, that crumbles into dust even more completely, leaving behind still fewer traces of itself, than Beauty: namely Grief.
Marcel Proust, Times Regained, p. 713

With the death of Albertine, and the reemergence of Gilberte in his life, Marcel now gets to fret about the latter once again.  In this case, as we saw yesterday, he gets to fret about what might have been if he had acted on his earlier fascination with Gilberte - or, for that matter, simply responded to her advances.  Except, he's not actually suffering that much, especially by Proustian standards.  This might be because he's grown and has greater perspective, or maybe he's still numb from Albertine's death.  Apparently nothing survives the ravages of time: "For in this world of ours where everything withers, everything perishes, there is a thing that decays, that crumbles into dust even more completely, leaving behind still fewer traces of itself, than Beauty: namely Grief."  If beauty fades with the passing of time, then at least we have the consolation of knowing that so does grief.

Monday, November 20, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 656

Before descending into the mystery of a deep and flawless valley carpeted with moonlight, we stopped for a moment like two insects about to plunge into the blue calyx of a flower.  Gilberte then uttered, perhaps simply out of the politeness of a hostess who is sorry you are going away so soon and would have liked to show you more of a countryside which you seem to appreciate, an avowal of the sort in which her practice as a woman of the world skilled in putting to the best advantage silence, simplicity, sobriety in the express of her feelings, makes you believe that you occupy a place in her life which no one else would fill.  Opening my heart to her suddenly with a tenderness born of the exquisite air, the fragrant evening breeze, I said to her: "You were speaking the other day of the little footpath.  How I loved you then!" She replied: "Why didn't you tell me?  I had no idea.  I loved you too.  In fact I flung myself twice at your head." "When?" "The first time at Tonsonville.  You were going for a walk with your family, and I was on my way home.  I'd never seen such a pretty little boy.  I was in the habit," she went on with a vaguely bashful air, "of going to play with little boys I knew in the ruins of the keep of Roussainville.  And you will tell me that I was a very naughty girl, for there were girls and boys there of all sorts who took advantage of the darkness.  The altar-boy from Combray church, Theodore, who, I must admit, was very nice indeed (goodness, how handsome he was!) and who has become quite ugly (he's the chemist now at Megeglise), used to amuse himself with all the peasant girls of the district.  As I was allowed to go out by myself, whenever I was able to get away, Used to rush over there.  I can't tell you how I longed for you to come there too; I remember quite well that, as I had only a moment in which to make you understand what I wanted, at the risk of being seen by your people and mine, I signalled to you so vulgarly that I'm ashamed of it to this day.  But you stared at me so crossly that I saw that you didn't want to."
   And suddenly I thought to myself that the true Gilberte, the true Albertine, were perhaps those who had at the first moment yields themselves with their eyes, one through the hedge of pink hawthorn, the other on the beach.  And it was I who, having been incapable of understanding this, having failed to recapture the impression until much later in my memory after an interval in which, as a result of my conversation, a dividing hedge of sentiment had made them afraid to be as frank as in the first moments, had ruined everything by my clumsiness.  I had "botched it" more completely - although in fact the comparative failure with them was less absurd - and for the same reasons as Saint-Loup with Rachel.
Marcel Proust, Time Regained, pp. 711-712

Is there anything worse than the pain of a lost love?  Doubtless, and the most obvious choice would be a "botched" lost love.  Gilberte and Marcel are on a walk when he admits to her, "How I loved you then!"  Classically, she replies: "Why didn't you tell me?  I had no idea.  I loved you too." She continues on with an amusing anecdote about her own youthful adventures, and other boys and girls who "took advantage of the darkness."  Not surprisingly, Marcel hears little of her story because he's immediately saddened by this lost opportunity: "And it was I who, having been incapable of understanding this, having failed to recapture the impression until much later in my memory after an interval in which, as a result of my conversation, a dividing hedge of sentiment had made them afraid to be as frank as in the first moments, had ruined everything by my clumsiness."  We've all been in exactly the same situation, although doubtless in our memories we've built a much more dramatic and definite and romantic narrative than the moment actually held.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 655

   I should have no occasion to dwell upon this visit which I paid to the neighbourhood of Combray at perhaps the moment in my life when I thought least about Combray, had it not, precisely for that reason, brought me what was at least a provisional confirmation of certain ideas which I had first conceived along the Guermantes way, and also of certain other ideas which I had conceived on the Meseliglise way.  I repeated every evening, in the opposite direction, the walks which we used to take at Combray, in the afternoon, when we went the Meseglise way.  One dined now at Tansonville at any hour at which in the past one had long been asleep at Combray. And because of the seasonal heat, and also because Gilberte spent the afternoon painting in the chapel attached to the house, one did not go out for one's walk until about two hours before dinner.  The pleasure of those earlier walks, which was that of seeing, on the way home, the crimson sky framing the Calvary or mirroring itself in the Vivonne, was now replaced by the pleasure of setting forth at nightfall, when one encountered nothing in the village save the blue-grey, irregular and shifting triangle of a flock of sheep being driven home.  Over one half of the fields the sun had already set; above the other half the moon was already alight and would soon bathe them in their entirety.  It sometimes happened that Gilberte let me go without her, and I set off, trailing my shadow behind me, like a boat gliding across enchanted waters.  But as a rule Gilberte came with me.  The walks that we took thus together were very often those that I used to take as a child: how then could I help but feel much more acutely even than in the past on the Guermantes way the conviction that I would never be able to write, reinforced by the conviction that my imagination and my sensibility had weakened, when I found how incurious I was about Combray?  I was distressed to see how little I relived my early years.  I found the Vivonne narrow and ugly alongside the towpath.  Not that I noticed any great physical discrepancies from what I remembered.  But, separated as I was by a whole lifetime from places I now happened to be passing through again, there was lacking between them and me that contiguity from which is born, even before we have perceived it, the immediate, delicious and total deflagration of memory. Having doubtless no very clear conception of its nature, I was saddened by the thought that my faculty of feeling and imagining things must have diminished since I no longer took any pleasure in these walks.
Marcel Proust, Time Regained, p. 709-710

And so we've now passed into Time Regained, the seventh and final volume of Remembrance of Things Past.  I suppose I should do some research into how the last few volumes were published posthumously after Proust's death and the role that others played in finalizing the novel, but at this point I'm mainly concerned with the final copy as it exists and my response to it.  As I've said from the beginning, this isn't meant to be a scholarly examination of Remembrance of Things Past, a task I'm eminently unqualified to bring about.  Still, before my first re-read of the novel, which I'm guessing will be in about three years, I'm hoping to read a biography of Proust and some more scholarly work on Remembrance of Things Past, or, maybe I won't, and instead I'll just happily exist within the confines of the novel. 

As we begin Marcel seems a little sad and struggling with some elegiac memories, but there doesn't seem to be the almost crushing pain that marked so much of The Fugitive.  Instead he's involved with Gilberte, herself very unhappy, in a relationship that has yet to be defined, although it's difficult to read an account of their time together without assuming that they're lovers.  It's not the mad passion of new love, but instead the comfortable relationship that a man would have with an ex-mistress when they get together years later, more of an homage to the past than a celebration of the present or the future.  Essentially, Marcel feels numb, which in its own way is a process of healing.  In these early days of the novel he seems mainly concerned about his lack of connection to the past: "But, separated as I was by a whole lifetime from places I now happened to be passing through again, there was lacking between them and me that contiguity from which is born, even before we have perceived it, the immediate, delicious and total deflagration of memory. Having doubtless no very clear conception of its nature, I was saddened by the thought that my faculty of feeling and imagining things must have diminished since I no longer took any pleasure in these walks."  I suppose most of us feel this pain, and fear, on some level, the loss of the past, but it must have been particularly haunting to Proust since his driving force was to recapture the past, and how was he even to write without this inspiration?




Saturday, November 18, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 654

But when did the change date from?  If from the year of my return to Balbec, hwo was it that he had never once come to see the lift-boy, had never once mentioned him to me?  And as for the first year, how could he have paid any attention to the boy, passionately enamoured as he then was of Rachel? That fist year, I had found Saint-Loup unusual, as was every true Guermantes.  Now he was even odder than I had supposed.  But things of which we have not had a direct intuition, which we have learned only through other people, are such that we no longer have the means, we have missed the chance of conveying them to our inmost soul; its communications with the real are blocked and so we cannot profit by the discovery, it is too late.  Besides, upon any consideration, this discovery distressed me too deeply for me to be able to appreciate it intellectually.  Of course, after what M. de Charlus had told me in Mme Verdurin's house in Paris, I no longer doubted that Robert's case that of any number of respectable people, to be found even among the best and most intelligent of men.  To learn this of anyone else would not have affected me, of anyone in the world save Robert.  The doubt that Aime's words had left me in my mind tarnished all our friendship at Balbec, and Doncieres, and although I did not believe in friendship, or that I had ever felt any real friendship for Robert, when I thought about those stories of the lift-boy and of the restaurant in which I had had lunch with Saint-Loup and Rachel, I was obliged to make an effort to restrain my tears.
Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, pp. 705-706

And so we draw to the close of The Fugitive, and, as has been my habit, I always include the last passage of each separate novel - as I will also include the beginning of the next one.  And the next one will be the last of the seven volumes that make of Remembrance of Things Past.  While I have enjoyed all of the volumes of Proust's masterpiece, I think that The Fugitive has been my favorite, although Swann's Way would also be in the running (I'm already looking forward to my re-read, when I won't be taking such extensive notes and just give myself over to the flow of the words).  I suspect I like The Fugitive the best simply because it is the one which shows the most transformation in Marcel's personality. By the end of The Captive I was growing annoyed with him, and in this volume the tragedy of Albertine's death if clearly leading him to do an immense amount of self-reflection (not that he doesn't do that throughout the entirety of the novel, of course), but in this case he seems to be actually changing.  Marcel is clearly a changed man, as he sadly tells us, "I did not believe in friendship."


My Years With Proust - Day 653

Personally, I found it absolutely immaterial from a moral point of view whether one took one's pleasures with a man or with a woman, and only too natural and human that one should take it where one could find it.  If, therefore, Robert had not been married, his liaison with Charlie ought not to have caused me pain. And yet I realised that the pain I felt would have been as acute if Robert had been a bachelor. In anyone else, his conduct would have left me indifferent.  But I wept when I reflected that I had once had so great an affection for a different Saint-Loup, an affection which, I sensed all too clearly from the cold and evasive manner which he now adopted, he no longer felt for me, since men, now that they were capable of arousing his desires, could no longer inspire his friendship. How could these tastes have come to birth in a young man who had loved women so passionately that I had seen him brought to a state of almost suicidal despair because "Rachel when from the Lord' had threatened to leave him? Had the resemblance between Charlie and Rachel - invisible to me - been the plank which had enabled Robert to pass from his father's tastes to those of his uncle, in order to complete the physiological evolution which even in the latter had occurred fairly late?
Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, p. 704

Last time we asked the question of whether Robert could no longer be friends with men because he now viewed them as potential sex objects.   Proust appears to answer the question in the affirmative: "But I wept when I reflected that I had once had so great an affection for a different Saint-Loup, an affection which, I sensed all too clearly from the cold and evasive manner which he now adopted, he no longer felt for me, since men, now that they were capable of arousing his desires, could no longer inspire his friendship."  Nevertheless, Marcel still finds is mysterious, especially considering how desperately sad, almost suicidally so, that Robert had grown when Rachel had broken things off with him.  However, as we've discussed, aren't all love affairs about self-love and vanity, and that transcends the shape and function of your naughty bits.

What I find more interesting about this section is Proust's statement that Robert's sexuality means nothing morally.  "Personally, I found it absolutely immaterial from a moral point of view whether one took one's pleasures with a man or with a woman, and only too natural and human that one should take it where one could find it."  It's appropriate that he opens the sentence with the word "personally," because this is just about the most personal statement Proust ever uttered in Remembrance of Things Past.  It's also important to remember that Proust wrote this novel over a century ago, and how progressive, if not revolutionary, that statement was then.  Today it constitutes, or should constitute, the very definition of a "duh" statement, but yet think of how much time and anguish and anger are devoted to this non-issue?