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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!

1 comment:

  1. Crush!!! I'm so glad YBN has decided to marry Albertine now that he's completely over her. This saga seems to be taking on a daytime soap-esque drama ;)