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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...

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