Context: A beautiful spring day’s punting on on the River Cam while reading this. Proust would have approved of the pace!
Proust continues with a trip to the seaside resort of Balbek which is the backdrop for the majority of the second volume of In Search of Lost Time. It’s a volume which explores the young man as he begins to venture out into the world making relationships with his peers on his own terms, both male and female.
The style continues to be stunningly beautiful. So evocative at points that, despite the length of the entire novel and even individual sentences, you find yourself wanting to re-read sections just because you know there is more there than you can take in on first reading. Check out some of the quotes below which I collected along the way.
What did I learn? Again, as with the first volume, I was encouraged how many hopes, fears and relational longings Proust and I shared as we grew into adulthood. I learned that even a genius like Proust, who was the last person in history who would be stuck for a way to capture anything in a description that captures its essence, even he can’t
fathom women. Ha! So, now I don’t feel so stupid after all.
Two key relationships begin in this novel, one with a young man and one with a young woman. The man is Robert de Saint-Loup, a dashing army officer who is the outward-going counterpart to our narrator’s shy and observant caution. The woman is Albertine Simonet who plays a far less central role in this volume than does Gilberte in volume 1 and yet who has a far deeper influence on our hero. This is an influence that will be felt, I believe, in volumes to come.
So, I enjoyed this for its description of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, for the characters that play through the pages and, most of all, for the sublime use of language from Proust.
My mother, when it was a question of our having M. de Norpois to dinner for the first time, having expressed her regret that Professor Cottard was away from home, and that she herself had quite ceased to see anything of Swann, since either of these might have helped to entertain the old Ambassador, my father replied that so eminent a guest, so distinguished a man of science as Cottard could never be out of place at a dinner-table, but that Swann, with his ostentation, his habit of crying aloud from the housetops the name of everyone that he knew, however slightly, was an impossible vulgarian whom the Marquis de Norpois would be sure to dismiss as—to use his own epithet—a ‘pestilent’ fellow.
“In a language that we know, we have substituted for the opacity of sounds, the perspicuity of ideas. But a language which we do not know is a fortress sealed, within whose walls she whom we love is free to play us false, while we, standing without, desperately alert in our impotence, can see, can prevent nothing.”
“It is always thus, impelled by a state of mind which is destined not to last, that we make our irrevocable decisions.”
“the man of genius, to shelter himself from the ignorant contempt of the world, may say to himself that, since one’s contemporaries are incapable of the necessary detachment, works written for posterity should be read by posterity alone, like certain pictures which one cannot appreciate when one stands too close to them.”
“Names are, no doubt, but whimsical draughtsmen, giving us of people as well as of places sketches so little like the reality that we often experience a kind of stupor when we have before our eyes, in place of the imagined, the visible world”
“certain favourite parts are played by us so often before the public and rehearsed so carefully when we are alone that we find it easier to refer to their fictitious testimony than to that of a reality which we have almost entirely forgotten”
“I lent to [the chambermaid’s] face, which the gathering dusk made featureless, the mask of my most impassioned dreams of beauty, but read in her eyes as they turned towards me the horror of my own nonentity.”
“And after Françoise had removed her pins from the mouldings of the window-frame, taken down her various cloths, and drawn back the curtains, the summer day which she disclosed seemed as dead, as immemorially ancient as would have been a sumptuously attired dynastic mummy from which our old servant had done no more than precautionally unwind the linen wrappings before displaying it to my gaze, embalmed in its vesture of gold.”
This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show
And after Françoise had removed her pins from the mouldings of the window-frame, taken down her various cloths, and drawn back the curtains, the summer day which she disclosed seemed as dead, as immemorially ancient as would have been a sumptuously attired dynastic mummy from which our old servant had done no more than precautionally unwind the linen wrappings before displaying it to my gaze, embalmed in its vesture of gold.
As Proust intended this to be a single novel, I won’t be rating In Search of Lost Time until the final volume.