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Monday, August 6, 2012

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!

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