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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!

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