A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 34

Where this began
Day 33


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 59-70.

This was one of those hectic pre-holiday days (maybe because it's the shortest day of the year), so this post may be a little perfunctory.

Having vowed that January 1 would be the start of "a new friendship" with Gilberte, the narrator nevertheless realizes that there's no intrinsic reason why it should become one. "I was aware that this day did not know it was called New Year's Day, and that it was coming to an end in the twilight in a way that was not unknown to me." He recognizes instead "the reappearance of former times, with the never-ending unchangingness of their substance, their familiar dampness, their ignorant fluidity." In short, he's in the same mood as yesterday, when his father's remark -- "he's probably not going to change" -- cast him in such a funk. "Our desires interweave with each other; and in the confusion of existence, it is seldom that a joy is promptly paired with the desire that longed for it."

Moreover, in Gilberte's absence, he is tormented by the realization that he "could not even remember her face." But then Gilberte returns to the park, and "Each time she came, she left me with new things to desire for the following day." And then Gilberte taunts him with the information that her parents "don't fancy you very much, you know!" He writes Swann a sixteen-page letter assuring him of his sincerity and trustworthiness and asks Gilberte to take it to him. But the result is devastating: Gilberte informs him that her father didn't believe what he had written.

The obvious question here is, since the narrator has given up superimposing his mature voice on that of the young narrator, whether Gilberte is telling the truth. Did she even give her father the letter? Is she tormenting the narrator out of some perverse impulse to power? But Proust has stopped tipping his hand, at least for now.

He and Gilberte are interrupted by Françoise, who wants him to accompany her to the "green-trellised pavilion" that houses the restrooms. While he's there, he recognizes, or perhaps imagines, the attentions of the woman who tends the restroom as having a sexual overtone. When he returns, Gilberte offers to return the letter to him, but, "attracted by her body," he improvises a game in which she will try to keep the letter from him:
I had her pinned between my legs as though she were the bole of a little tree I was trying to climb. In the middle of all my exertions, without my breathing being quickened much more than it already was by a muscular exercise and the heat of the playful moment, like few drops of sweat produced by the effort, I shed my pleasure, before I even had time to be aware of it.

This bit of "pleasure-shedding" turns into a somewhat unsavory version of the madeleine scene: the experience links itself with "the cool, almost sooty air of the little trellised booth," which reminds him of the "dampish redolence" of his uncle Adolphe's room at Combray, the one in which he masturbated, leaving "a
natural trail like that left by a snail." He is overcome with a sense of shame because "I had experienced a moment of genuine rapture, not from some idea of importance, but from a musty smell."

As this section ends, he has fallen ill. "Neurotics ... are so used to detecting disorders in themselves, which they later come to realize were quite harmless, that they reach the stage of paying no attention to any of them." And even when he is not really ill, he masters the art of faking it because one of the medicines the doctor prescribes for him is "a drink of beer, champagne, or brandy" whenever he feels an attack coming on.