Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our legs and our arms are full of torpid memories.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume VII -- Time Regained by Marcel Proust

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary

And now for the THRILLING CONCLUSION. Okay, so it's not that heavy on plot points actually, but here's the basic gist. World War I hits, Paris changes, society changes, people change. YBN spends some time in a sanatorium (2 separate stints), Robert de St-Loup goes off to war with the other men, and eventually dies a valiant death. (I know! I loved him.) In another voyeuristic scene, YBN witnesses Charlus with some pretty intense S & M action that his pal Jupien cooked up for him, involving chains, whips, and some young men who pretend to be "thugs". Social circles are re-arranged, both because of the war and because of passing generations. Odette becomes the Duke de Guermantes' latest mistress (even though he's in his 80's and she's no spring chicken!), St-Loup's old lady of ill repute mistress Rachel becomes a famous actress, Mme Verdurin marries the Prince of Guermantes after the Princess passes, Charlus has a stroke, and YBN's life and memories all come together at last and he prepares to begin his epic novel, realizing that his subject matter (his life) has been in front of his eyes all this time.

Spoiler Over: Continue Here

-- When WWI hits and everything gets rationed, Mme Verdurin gets a prescription for croissants, claiming they cure her headaches when she dips them in her morning coffee. I have headaches sometimes! Can I get a prescription for croissants, please?

-- Sorry to throw a spoiler in again, but St-Loup was one of those epic characters in literature, and even though his character faded a bit in importance throughout the volumes, I was sad to see him go. YBN, after hearing of St-Loup's death:
   "I recalled his arrival the first time at Balbec, when, in an almost white suit, with his eyes greenish    and mobile like the waves, he had crossed the hall adjoining the great dining-room whose windows    gave on the sea."

-- The passage is a bit long-winded to include here, but you can search for the words "Revolving the gloomy thoughts which I have just recorded..." and it will pop up. Proust discovers these flashes of memory (like the madeleine from volume 1) in this book that help him to reset, so to speak. They reveal powerful memories that reignite his literary fire and he realizes he needs to find these triggers (and record them) in order to write his epic work. This one is just him stepping between two uneven stones. Think of the million moments in life when you smell or feel or hear something that transports you to a specific instant from your past. The smell of a city (often sewage mixed with exhaust, in fact) puts my feet back on the cobblestones of Nantes; strains of Shostakovich throw my fingers up the neck of my cello; trains, hooting in the night, slide me under the covers in my childhood bunk bed, under my sister who slept above me. What memories transport you?

-- My favorite part of this volume was when Proust discussed writing itself. In speaking of this work, he writes, "it would be my book, but with its help I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves."

-- Towards the very end, Proust starts to worry about dying before finishing. (In fact, he's worried about dying before starting, as he's only just really settled on beginning at the end.) A few of my favorite lines:
-- "I bore within me as by something fragile and precious which had been entrusted to me and which I should have liked to deliver intact into the hands of those for whom it was intended, hands which were not my own."
--"No doubt my books too, like my fleshly being, would in the end one day die. But death is a thing that we must resign ourselves to. We accept the thought that in ten years we ourselves, in a hundred years our books, will have ceased to exist. Eternal duration is promised no more to men's work than to men." Proust died after the publication of "Sodom & Gomorrhah". He'd written the final volumes, but they were fragmentary, somewhat rough drafts. His brother Robert edited them and published them.
-- I was so touched by Proust's self-awareness as a writer. Now that he's finally found the germ of his great work, he writes, "But for me was there still time? Was it not too late?"
He writes that he had become indifferent to death, but when he realizes that he's to write this epic novel, he starts to worry that death will snatch him before he has time to write it.

-- Best line: "For neither our greatest fears nor our greatest hopes are beyond the limits of our strength - we are able in the end both to dominate the first and to achieve the second."

Sentences I particularly liked:

  • "The death of unknown millions is felt by us as the most insignificant of sensations, hardly even as disagreeable as a draught."on wars where the "front" is distanced from the civilian population
  • "Excuses have no place in art and intentions count for nothing."
  • "A name read long ago in a book contains within its syllables the strong wind and brilliant sunshine that prevailed while we were reading it."
  • "Through art alone we are able to emerge from ourselves."
  • "Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of the fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one its special radiance."
  • "The internal timepieces which are allotted to different human beings are by no means synchronized."

3,123 pages. I've completed a journey that not many will undertake, but at roughly the 100 year mark from Swann's Way's publication, I'll do my part to advocate that these books aren't dead yet.

I'm always sad when I finish a really great novel. A little because it's over, and if I've really enjoyed it, I  wanted more. But I think a little, too, because writing raw truths and careful prose takes not just intelligence and hard work, but true guts. Proust may have flitted from one party to the next for a few years, but he spent the better part of his life writing this novel, and that kind of dedication to art is so rare these days. There's a reason why this one's a classic.

Now appropriately I move to a different time and perhaps a different dimension, beginning far from the beginning.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Good-bye: I leave you with the best part of myself.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume VI -- The Sweet Cheat Gone (or, The Fugitive) by Marcel Proust

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary

Ready? The last volume ended with Albertine's departure. After a series of letters, lies, and melodramatic gestures are exchanged between Albertine and YBN, Albertine is thrown from a horse and dies. YBN is informed by letter, and enters into a period he calls "Grief and Oblivion". After learning of her death, YBN receives her last 2 letters, in which she promises to return and reconciles herself with YBN.  He proceeds to grieve, obsess over whether or not she was in fact a lesbian, throw himself at little girls (getting him into a spot of trouble, understandably) and find out several truths about Albertine, none of which we are entirely sure of. In the end, it appears that Albertine was a rather active lover, and in fact had a great many affairs, most particularly with her good friend Andrée. At first YBN is horrified, then scandalized, then intrigued (he doesn't mind as long as he can sleep with Andrée, too -- which he does) and then indifferent. Albertine was apparently also in love with Mme Verdurin's nephew, and was possibly going to marry him! Oh, and Morel helped her to "ensnare innocent virgin girls" (are you creeped out? Because I WAS.) Then YBN encounters a women he thinks is a prostitute Robert told him about who turns out to be none other than... GILBERTE! His boyhood pal! He goes to Venice with his Mamma, gets a telegram that he thinks is from Albertine, saying she wants to talk about marriage and that she's not dead (I know, WHAAAT?) but it turns out he misread it and read what he thought he wanted to read and it was really from Gilberte. YBN gets a letter on the train home from Gilberte, informing him that she's going to marry... dun dun Dun.... Robert de Saint-Loup! YBN's old bestie! Also, apparently one of the Cambremers is going to marry Jupien's niece (which we only sort of care about). Gilberte's status in society goes THROUGH THE ROOF, and the last scandal we uncover is that Robert de Saint-Loup is gay gay Gay, and he's having an affair with.... can you guess? Morel! The Baron de Charlus (St-Loup's uncle)'s old lover! Wow. Can. You. Say. Incestuous? These people really need to expand their social circle. Gilberte and YBN start hanging out again (just as friends) but she reveals that she loved him too (mostly not when he was in love with her) and starts to reveal a secret regret but then the volume is OVER. Cliff. Hanger.

Spoiler Over: Continue Here

OK, so honesty time. This was not my favorite volume, by a long shot. All the Proustian grief philosophizing and Albertine obsessing got a bit long-winded for my taste, and there were a few moments where I just had no idea what was going on (Gilberte is a prostitute? Albertine's not dead? Oh wait a minute... that's not right...) But, it moved the plot line forward, so I'm still excited to see what happens in THE VERY LAST VOLUME, volume #7.

-- My used copy of this book included notes by someone who simply identified as "SAHR" (I'm thinking middle-aged married woman based on handwriting, comments, and 4 initials). She also commented in the book, and I alternated between (A) not being able to read her comments (not very neat handwriting, as it were) (2) agreeing with her comments and writing the equivalent of "Amen, Sister" in several places and (D) completely disagreeing with her comments and feeling the need to write my comments in next to (and sometimes over) hers.

-- YBN makes up all SORTS of lies when he's writing to Albertine to get her back, but my favorite is that he pretends he has bought her a Rolls Royce and a yacht and that now he's stuck with them. At first he says she'll have to buy them off of him (which he knows she of course cannot do, since she is quite poor) but then he comes back and writes, "No, I prefer to keep the Rolls and even the yacht." HA!
   Also, during their period of estrangement, he sends St-Loup to "discreetly" buy Albertine back by offering election campaign funds to her aunt. When Albertine references this rather ungentleman-like behavior, YBN replies:
     "P.S. I make no reference to what you tell me of the alleged suggestions which Saint-Loup (whom I            do not for a moment believe to be in Touraine) may have made to your aunt. It is just like a Sherlock Holmes story. For what do you take me?" Tee hee hee.

-- In several places, particularly the ones that involve Albertine or Morel, my comments look like this: "oh. Oh! OHH MY!"  hee hee hee. Proust is many things, but lacking scandal he is not!

-- YBN decides he's not going to go back on the train from Venice to Paris with his mother (because he wants to find a lady-love to bring home with him. I know. Eye roll.) but he totally can't go through with it. He sits there on the patio and orders "a cool drink" and he's all, this is going to be SO GREAT. And then five minutes later he freaks out and high-tails it to the train station just in time to catch the train. Oh, YBN. :0)

Sentences I particularly enjoyed:

  • "It seemed to me that my life was stained with a double murder from which only the cowardice of the world could absolve me."
  • "The thought that we must die is more painful than the act of dying, but less painful than the thought that another person is dead." (I would say this is quite apt, except of course in cases where one is unfortunate enough to die rather a painful death. Slow or quick.)
  • "Days in the past cover up little by little those that preceded them and are themselves buried beneath those that follow them. But each past day has remained deposited in us, as, in a vast library in which there are older books, a volume which, doubtless, nobody will ever ask to see."
  • "It is the tragedy of other people that they are to us merely showcases for the very perishable collections of our own mind." (It's okay. I don't get it either. But I like the way it Sounds!)
  • "In spite of everything it was for me the actual point of contact between reality and dreams."
By the by, the title is a line from Albertine's letter when she leaves YBN. 

Now that I've finished the penultimate Proust, now it's time for the terminal Proust. Whee!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beneath any carnal attraction which is at all profound, there is the permanent possibility of danger.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume V -- The Captive by Marcel Proust

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary

This volume focuses primarily on YBN and Albertine's relationship. You may remember from the previous post that YBN asked Albertine to come stay with him in Paris (basically because he was worried she was going to start dating girls left and right). They play house for most of the novel (in secret - YBN doesn't want to tell his pals she's there because he's worried they'll FALL IN LOVE WITH HER) and YBN spends most of the time alternating between feeling like she's keeping him from greater loves and greater adventures and falling into astoundingly severe fits of jealousy about her and other women. Morel and Charlus continue their relationship, but after Charlus hosts a party at Mme Verdurin's featuring Morel performing on the violin, Mme Verdurin hatches a plot to drive a permanent rift between them because she's blind with rage from the way Charlus and his snobby pals treated her at his party at Her House. The same night as this tumultuous falling out between Morel and Charlus, YBN goes home to Albertine and tells her that they're done and he has no further use for her. She gets upset, he gets upset, and they decide It's Not Over Yet! They keep on keeping on for a few more days, but YBN starts to sense something is wrong when Albertine stops kissing him goodnight. He reaches a point of comfort nonetheless, and decides again that it's time to call it quits, but just when he's getting ready to peace out for Venice, Françoise informs him that Albertine has slipped away in the wee hours of the morning. YBN is DISTRAUGHT.

Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I really am enjoying Proust, I'm a bit surprised to admit. The books are following the trajectory (from what I can tell from the brief bios in my books) of Proust's life, if not in precise events, at least in a mimicry of time and space. It definitely requires some serious headspace (and a time commitment, depending on how fast you read sentences that are as long as paragraphs, and occasionally, pages) but in my opinion, it's definitely worth it.

-- Typical Proust. Typical, typical Proust. We've gone 5 volumes with nameless YBN, and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, Proust writes, "And then Albertine and I were exchanging sweet nothings and I was all, "my dearest Albertine" and she was all, "my dearest ___", which if we were giving the narrator the author's name, would be "my dearest Marcel." And then I was like, WELL ARE WE? Are we calling YBN Marcel? Is that YBN's name? Or are you just making an example? Typical.

-- YBN writes a lot about love, but one of the lines that really stuck out to me was this one -- "love, to me, was, first and foremost, a sedative." I found this really intriguing. We've all known some couple like Albertine and YBN (maybe not with the whole worried about her being a lesbian thing) -- a couple who loves passionately but fights often, whose jealousy can eclipse all other aspects of their relationship. But what I think is really fascinating about YBN is that he really just wants someone there in the morning when he wakes up and at night when he goes to bed. When he has her, he mostly feels this overwhelming need to break free; but when he's worried she won't be there, he's inconsolable. Clearly not healthy, but I think eminently understandable.

-- Proust (like any good Frenchman) is a philosopher. Some of my favorite moments are his ponderings about waking and dreaming:

-- "But are there perhaps other worlds more real than the waking world?
-- "Often we have before us, in those first minutes in which we allow ourself to slip into the waking state, a truth composed of different realities among which we imagine that we can choose, as among a pack of cards." -- I love this idea that there are other worlds, ones we could choose from. It makes me think of Tinkerbell's line in Hook -- "Do you know the place between sleep and awake? That place where you still remember dreaming? That's where I'll be waiting, Peter."

-- I regret to inform you that Swann dies in this novel, without ceremony and without comment. YBN's life has moved away from Swann's at this point, and he is admittedly distressed by it, but I was sad to see Swann go.

-- There is a truly exquisite passage in this volume about music, where Proust likens composers to natives of unknown countries, and as they approach their greatness, they get closer and closer to that unknown country. It's far too long and drawn out to detail completely here, but Proust describes music (as a listener and as a performer -- YBN plays the piano occasionally) in a way that is truly unparalleled. Here's a tasty tidbit -- (Vinteuil is a composer in the novel and Elstir is a painter):

"The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, or a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star."

-- Even though Charlus can be quite a jerk, and he really shouldn't have played Mme Verdurin the way he did, I felt genuinely sorry for him when Mme Verdurin poisoned Morel against him with vicious lies and crazy accusations. YBN remarks that Charlus, usually one to retaliate with vehement fury, looks rather on the brink of tears. His friend, the Queen of Naples (who was the only one of his friends to be nice to Mme Verdurin at the party) returns because she's forgotten her fan. Mme Verdurin thinks they're going to have a nice chat and tries to bring over Morel to introduce him to her (for Charlus had been planning to do so as a gift to Morel earlier, since Morel is of a much lower class and would stand to benefit greatly from the introduction). But the Queen takes one look at her friend Charlus and immediately ignores Mme Verdurin and Morel, offering Charlus her arm and escorting him haughtily from the room.

Sentences I particularly enjoyed:

  • "A glance from one, understood at once by the other, brings the two famished souls in contact."
  • "...oh girls, oh recurrent ray in the swirl wherein we throb with emotion upon seeing you reappear while barely recognising you, in the dizzy velocity of light."
  • "Love is an incurable malady."
  • "She caused my calamities, like a deity that remains invisible."
  • "All round her hissed the blue and polished sea."
  • "As a man who at first had no serious reason for losing his temper, becomes completely intoxicated by the sound of his own voice, and lets himself be carried away by a fury engendered not by his grievance but by his anger which itself is steadily growing, so I was falling ever faster and faster down the slope of my wretchedness, towards an ever more profound despair, and with the inertia of a man who feels the cold grip him, makes no effort to resist it and even finds a sort of pleasure in shivering."
  • "Life in its changing course makes realities of our fables."
Presently, I shall persevere -- onwards to the penultimate Proust!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

These Wednesdays were works of art.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume IV -- Cities of the Plain by Marcel Proust
[It's helpful to note here that this volume is also translated as Sodom & Gomorrhah]

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary

This one was a bit racy! I must say, if people steer clear of Proust because they think he's dull, then boy are they wrong! We start off with YBN witnessing some amours between Jupien (the dressmaker/tailor for the area - relevantly, a man) and M. de Charlus (you may remember him from the previous hat-stomping scene in Volume III). YBN describes the world of gay men that exists in France at the time (mostly they're aware of each other, but all of their connections are made through secret or covert acts, and a lot of them are older aristocratic men with younger lovers from lower classes) and we learn about Baron de Charlus's status as a member of the group. YBN attends a party at the Princesse de Guermantes' house, where he sees Swann for what may be the last time. Then YBN heads back to Balbec (the seaside resort) where he falls back in with Albertine and becomes accepted into Swann's previous "little clan" at Mme Verdurin's. M. de Charlus also becomes one of Mme Verdurin's "faithful" and YBN passes a great many Wednesdays there (for that is the day that the Verdurins accept guests) with the little clan and M. de Charlus. M. de Charlus becomes obsessed with Morel, the violinist for the clan and son of YBN's family's former servant, and they have a tumultuous courtship (which everyone sort of knows about but doesn't talk about - Morel's a guy, in case you hadn't picked that up). YBN becomes obsessed with whether or not Albertine is gay (for his friend Dr. Cottard points out how close she is with her intimate group, and YBN is also aware that a scene exists for lesbians as well, though, like for the gay men, it's underground) and proceeds to spend every waking moment with her in an attempt to keep her from ever coming into contact with other women. (I know, FOOLPROOF STRATEGY, right?) After a time, YBN decides he's finally over Albertine, and even starts to break up with her on the train, but she mentions she's going on vacation with a few girlfriends (whom YBN suspects are of the lesbian variety).  In a fit of horror, he begs her to return to Paris with him (even making up a fake girlfriend who he's supposedly been courting all summer) and tells his mother he plans to marry Albertine.

Spoiler Over: Continue Here

- Please add the game of "Telephone" to the list of things Proust invented. Swann describes it precisely in reference to a rumor spread about him at the Princesse de Guermantes' party. (Air-quotes and now this? We are clearly indebted to the man.)

-YBN doesn't really miss his grandmother until he gets back to Balbec and remembers how she used to comfort him when they first came by knocking on the wall between their rooms:
"I asked nothing better of God, if a Paradise exists, than to be able, there, to knock upon that wall the three little raps which my grandmother would know among a thousand, and to which she would reply with those other raps which said, "Don't be alarmed, little mouse, I know you are impatient, but I am just coming," and that He would let me remain with her throughout eternity which would not be too long for us." [How many people do you wish you could call back with three little raps?]

-The lift-boy at Balbec constantly refers to the Marquise de Cambremer as the Marquise de Camembert, which is hilarious once you know that Camembert is a kind of stinky cheese in France. He seems to have misheard the name somewhere, and YBN tries to correct him, but the lift-boy is confident that he's the only one saying it right. [Camembert is my favorite stinky cheese, as it were, and I used to buy a wheel a week and smear it on a baguette picked up from the closest boulangerie. Too bad it's pasteurized here and doesn't taste the same!]

-There is a hilarious discussion of a M. Nissim Bernard, who apparently fell for two twin young men, both of whom had heads which unfortunately resembled a tomato.  According to YBN, he often mixed the men up quite frequently, and since one was into men (and one was not) he got quite a few slaps to the face. This apparently turned him off tomatoes for life, and it became his habit not only not to order them at Balbec, but to tell others (after he'd heard them order tomatoes) that the tomatoes were stale that day, and that they should order something else. Tee hee hee.

-When YBN first arrives at Mme Verdurin's, Princess Sherbatoff finds YBN "very enthusiastic". Dr. Cottard replies that YBN is "too emotional, requires sedatives, and ought to take to knitting." Tee hee hee. I think I agree with both of them!

-The lift-boy gets whooping cough but insists on staying at work and "soldiering on", which results in the following:
"I told him that I preferred to walk upstairs, by which I meant, without putting it in so many words, that I preferred not to catch whooping-cough. But with a cordial and contagious burst of coughing the boy thrust me back into the lift." [Hahgahghag. But seriously folks, whooping cough is on the rise again. Get vaccinated. It's no laughing matter.]

-YBN, in pondering how different his 2nd trip to Balbec is from his first, remarks that the train stops, which used to represent fabulous unknown adventures, now represent a series of acquaintances, which he finds delightfully comforting. In coming to and from the Verdurins, he passes not through stops, but "friendships which from beginning to end of the journey formed a long chain." [Wouldn't it be nice if you could get on a train every day and pick up all your friends along the way? I'd like that.]

Sentences I particularly liked:

  • "Our goodness, our meanness, our name, our social relations do not disclose themselves to the eye, we carry them hidden within us."
  • "There would be no more entertaining if one was obliged to make friends with all the dying people." (callous, but just a little bit funny -- from the Duchesse de Guermantes)
  • "People would be cured for ever of romanticism if they could make up their minds, in thinking of the girl they love, to try to be the man they will be when they are no longer in love with her." (ah, yes. so META, Proust. Exaactly.)
  • "Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed: to kindness, to knowledge, we make promises only; pain we obey."
  • "There is no reason why, existing outside ourselves, a real place should conform to the pictures in our memory rather than to those in our dreams. And besides, a fresh reality will perhaps make us forget, detest even, the desires that led us forth upon our journey."
  • "I had long since given up trying to extract from a woman as it might be the square root of her unknown quantity, the mystery of which a mere introduction was generally enough to dispel."
  • "We can sometimes find a person again, but we cannot abolish time."
  • "Gradually, the lifeless sky took fire."

I am Crushing Proust. 4 volumes down, 2 (or 3 depending who you ask) to go. Have to find out if the next one's as racy as this one!

Monday, August 6, 2012

These people belong to a different race, they can't help it with a thousand years of feudalism in their blood.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume III -- The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
This volume begins with YBN's family moving to live in part of the Hôtel de Guermantes in Paris. This proximity to the Duke and Duchess Guermantes leads our lovely YBN (who, I'm sorry to report, has still not been granted a name) to obsess over the comings and goings of the once mystical family. He starts to stalk Mme de Guermantes, scheduling morning walks at a particular hour just to be able to accidentally wave at her, as if he just HAPPENED to be there at that specific time. Naturally, she begins to resent said stalking, and he eventually decides it isn't getting him any closer to meeting her for realz, so he goes off to stay with her nephew, Robert de Saint-Loup, at Saint-Loup's barracks. Saint-Loup and YBN develop a lovely friendship, and all in all, YBN is very happy during his time there. Saint-Loup has some run-ins with his mistress, Rachel (aka Zézette), who YBN immediately recognizes as a whore he has slept with in a brothel. He does not tell Saint-Loup, because they are besties. And who really wants to know that? YBN's grandmother falls ill, has a stroke while walking in the Champs-Élysées with YBN, and eventually dies.  YBN and family are understandably distraught. YBN has a weird pseudo-fling with Albertine, a girl he'd known and flirted with when he was at Balbec (Remember?).  M. de Charlus, the Duc de Guermantes' cousin, offers to take YBN under his wing as his protégé, but his family starts acting super-sketch around YBN and then Charlus yells at YBN and tells him he's messed up his chances (and YBN, utterly confused, ends up stomping on Charlus' hat and leaving). Charlus' motives are still extremely unclear. Dreyfusism is discussed throughout, and everyone takes sides (it was a widely publicized trial of a Jewish soldier (Dreyfus) who was wrongly accused -- brought out a streak of Anti-Semitism in France, apparently, as well as a great deal of social battles over who was and wasn't a "Dreyfusard").  Swann and Saint-Loup are the only strong-minded Dreyfusards in our côterie, which causes problems here and there. Swann, who is absent from most of this book, and mentioned only tangentially until the very end, reveals to his good friend the Duchess of Guermantes (and YBN, who happens to be visiting) that he is very ill and will most likely die within the year. This announcement closes out the second installment.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I assume (OF COURSE) that the lack of comments on my post from the first two volumes is merely a stunned silence in the face of my brilliance and ability to tackle Proust, and NOT the result of summer-induced lassitude on the part of my devoted readership. Never fear: the third volume, while enjoyable, was not nearly so stunning as the first (in my opinion) and therefore I shall have less to report.

-- Doncières -- tenderness of YBN-- tutoyering
This was my favorite section of the volume. We find out how tender YBN is, and Saint-Loup is so kind and pleasant and sweet to him. After several days of their intimate kinship, they decide to start "tutoyering", which is the French verb for using the informal "you". It was really cute.

-- Grandma -- the phone, the deathbed waiting, the book Chartreuse
YBN's relationship with his grandma felt very close to me. Most of you know my grandmother passed a way a little over a year ago, and his family's close watch over their grandmother, the unexpected suddenness of her stroke and quick decline, their assumption that she was merely anxious and a hypochondriac, rather than really ill, it all felt very near to me. When YBN calls his grandmother (the telephone having only recently come into being) he feels how different her voice sounds, and simultaneously how good it is to hear and how much he's reminded of the distance between them. Of all the things I miss about my grandmother, I think I miss her voice most. The last phone call we ever had was about this blog, actually, now that I think of it. She used to leave these adorable voicemails, and they always started with "Halloo?! It's... your Grandma!" So cute. :) And they reference a book called Chartreuse, which made me giggle. (Grandma, to Dennis: You're wearing my favorite color! Dennis: Lime green? Grandma: NO! CharTREUSE!)

-- Zézette
Zézette was the name of the 3rd bird that my French host family owned. Their previous pair of birds were Lulu and Fifi. Lulu fell off her perch and DIED one day at dinner, to which my host father said calmly, "Je suppose que Lulu est morte."[I think Lulu just kicked it] And my host mom said, "Oui, elle était malade ce matin."[Yeah, she didn't look so hot this morning] Lulu was quickly replaced by an ENOrmously fat look alike, who was named... Zézette.

-- YBN's description of Rachel, clearly the origin of the "Amber's a total Monet" line in Clueless 
"Rachel had one of those faces that distance - and not necessarily that between the auditorium and the stage, the world itself in this respect being merely a larger theater - throws into sharp outline, and which, seen close up, crumble to dust."

Favorite passages
--YBN, on passing the second night at Doncières, alone in his hotel
- "After that first night, I had to sleep at the hotel. And I knew beforehand that I was doomed to find it miserable. The sadness was like an unbreathable aroma, which every unfamiliar bedroom - that is to say, every bedroom - had exhaled for me for as long as I could remember: in my usual bedroom I was not really there; my mind stayed behind somewhere else and sent mere Habit to take its place. But I could not expect this less mindful servant to look after my needs in a new place, where I had arrived in advance of him, alone, and where I had to face the world with a "self" that I encountered only after years of absence, but which was always the same, the self that had never grown up since Combray, since my first arrival at Balbec, weeping inconsolably as it sat on the corner of an unpacked trunk."

--On why we wake up each morning as ourselves and no one else
- "So how, then, searching for our thoughts, our identities, as we search for lost objects, do we eventually recover our own self rather than any other? Why, when we regain consciousness, is it not an identity other than the one we had previously that is embodied in us? It is not clear what dictates the choice, or why, among the millions of human beings we might be, it is the being we were the day before that we unerringly grasp."

-- "We constantly strive to give our life its form, but by copying, in spite of ourselves, like a drawing, the features of the person we are, not the person we should like to be." How can we make the switch?

-- "It is illness that makes us recognize that we do not live in isolation but are chained to a being from a different realm, worlds apart from us, with no knowledge of us, and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body."

-- "Feel comfortable to be called a neurotic. Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. They and they alone are the ones who have founded religions and created great works of art. The world will never realize how much it is indebted to them, particularly how much they have suffered in order to present it with their gifts." As a self-proclaimed neurotic, I found this reassuring. ;)

Onwards to Proust, Proust, and MORE Proust! Half-done is well begun! See you later for Volume IV. I'm 99% sure I know which one that is...

I was only unhappy for one day at a time.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume II -- In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by Marcel Proust

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Picking up where we left off in Swann's Way, YBN gets a chance to see La Berma, a famous actress, perform at the local theatre, and GUESS WHAT? He's disappointed. This is going to be a bit of a theme for the next few volumes -- YBN gets to meet someone he's dreamed about and idolized, and it's a BIG FAT ginormous Letdown. With a capital L. I guess it's your classic case of disillusionment, but I found it a bit tiresome after a while. The same thing happens with his fave author, Bergotte. He becomes completely enraptured with Gilberte, Swann's daughter, and starts getting accepted to the Swann's house for tea parties, which of course, Delights him. Swann has married Odette, his lady obsession from the first novel, but of course, he's not in love with her anymore, and she's not in love with him, either. So it's a PERFECT time to get married! YBN looooves Madame Swann, and even when he starts having tempestuous quarrels with Gilberte, Mme Swann and he stay besties. YBN's friend Bloch takes him to a brothel to introduce him to the land of ladies (as all good friends should) and YBN takes a shine to one he calls "Rachel" (it's a Biblical reference to whores. he's iROnic.) YBN has a big fight with Gilberte and refuses to see her anymore. He hopes she'll beg to have him back, but when she does, he doesn't want her anymore and he maintains his friendship with her mama.

ACT II of this novel takes place in Balbec, a seaside resort where YBN travels with his grandmère. They do a whole lot of schmoozing and a whole lot of nothing while they're there -- YBN meets his new bestie, Robert de St-Loup, a nephew of one of the women related to the famed Guermantes clan. YBN has a few awkward interactions with Robert's uncle, Monsieur de Charlus, which leave us as readers feeling a bit confused and uncomfortable. Because YBN can't go long without a ladylove to stalk, he starts obsessing over a pack of early 20th century mean girls, and falls for the erstwhile Regina, Albertine. She confesses she likes him, but after misreading some signals, YBN ends up rebuffed after trying to kiss her in bed at night alone in her hotel room! SCANDALOUS! YBN also makes friends with a painter, Elstir, who's buddy buddy with the mean girls pack. YBN has a falling out with Albertine, shifts his affections to Andrée, another girl in the pack, and then shifts back to Albertine. The volume ends with the girls leaving and YBN and his grandmère getting ready to return home from the seaside resort.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Wasn't that fun? Like I said in my previous post, I accidentally read volumes II and III out of order (because Proust's time sequencing is SO CLEAR) so now that I've finished volume II, I'm posting for both. So no skipping! Just because I went out of order doesn't mean you can!

NEW SECTION: Words Proust taught me (well, technically Proust's translator taught me) and which you should use with your friends to show off your fantastic brilliance:
sesquipedalian - long-winded, polysyllabic

ukase (yoo-kas or yoo-kaz) - an edict; an arbitrary command

equerry - an officer of the king

suzerain (soo-zeh-rin; soo-zeh-ran) - a sovereign; a feudal overlord

jejune - naïve, superficial; dry, uninteresting

fustian - thick cloth; pompous or pretentious speech or writing

peccadilloes - small sins or offenses (maybe it's because of the first syllable, but I always thought this was a bad word!)

Moments I liked:
--Françoise, during her interactions in the kitchen with YBN
"I had been down to the kitchen before her, having earlier extracted from Françoise, the bloodthirsty pacifist, a promise not to inflict too much pain on the rabbit she had had to kill, and wishing to know how it had met its death. Françoise assured me that everything had gone off perfectly, very quickly. 'I have never seen any animal like that. It just died without saying a single word. Maybe it was dumb...' Unversed in the speech habits of animals, I suggested that perhaps rabbits do not screech quite like chickens. 'Oh, what a thing to say!' Françoise gasped in indignation at such ignorance. 'As if a rabbit wouldn't screech as loud as a chicken! They've actually got much louder voices!"

--YBN's affection for Madame Swann really is quite romantically adorable
"So it is that the average life expectancy, the relative longevity of memories being much greater for those that commemorate poetic sensation than for those left by the pains of love, the heartbreak I suffered at that time because of Gilberte has faded forever, and has been outlived by the pleasure I derive, whenever I want to read off from a sundial of remembrance the minutes between a quarter past twelve and one o'clock on a fine day in May, from a glimpse of myself chatting with Mme Swann, sharing her sunshade as though standing with her in the pale glow of an arbor of wisteria.

--YBN on traveling
"The specific pleasure of traveling is not that it enables one to stop when tired or to stay somewhere along the way; it is that it can make the difference between departure and arrival not as unnoticeable as possible, but as profound as possible." this is why I prefer driving over flying, when possible

--Poor YBN on spending his first night in a new place (here, Balbec)
"Deprived of my universe, evicted from my room, with my very tenancy of my body jeopardized by the enemies about me, infiltrated to the bone by fever, I was alone and wished I could die." his grandmère sets up a system of knocking between their rooms to help him settle in.

--On photography
"Photography acquires a certain dignity, which it does not normally have, when it is not just a reproduction of reality but can show us things that no longer exist."

--On why we should allow ourselves an imagination
"What monotony and boredom color the lives of those who, from laziness or timidity, drive directly to the houses of friends whom they have come to know, without first having imagined them, without ever daring to dally along the way with what they desire!"

Sentences/passages I particularly enjoyed:
--"Theoretically, we are aware that the earth is spinning, but in reality we do not notice it: the ground we walk on seems to be stationary and gives no cause for alarm." -- deep, Prousty. deep.

--"Swann would usher me into his study and speak to me for an hour about things that my state of emotional turmoil prevented me from understanding a single word of, and to which I could reply only with stammerings, diffident dumbness, and sudden daring outbursts of short-winded incoherence."

--"With intelligent people, three-quarters of the things they suffer from come from their intelligence. The thing they can't do without is a doctor who's aware of that form of illness."

--"If we are to make reality endurable, we must all nourish a fantasy or two."

--On courtesans (aka prostitutes) -- "The climax of her day is not the moment when she dresses for society, but when she undresses for a man."

--"How preferable the malleable memory of her seems: instead of the real meeting with her, in your solitude you can dramatize a dream in which the girl who is not in love with you assures you that she is!"

--"Glowing in the glory of the morning, her face was pinker than the sky."

The quote for this blog's title is YBN -- are you surprised? Because I'M NOT. Take a break, Have a Nap, then come back and read my post for Volume III! x's and o's!