A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 42

Where this began
Day 41


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 161-171.

The split with Gilberte puts the novel into a kind of narrative paralysis as the narrator tries to work out how he's going to get her back. He imagines several strategies, including different kinds of letters.
But since we are unable, while we love, to act as the worthy predecessor to the next person we are going to be, the one who will no longer be in love, how could we accurately imagine the state of mind of a woman who, even though we knew we meant nothing to her, has always figured in our sweetest daydreams, a figment of our illusive wish to fancy a future with her, or of our need to heal the heart she has broken, whispering to us things she would have said only if she had been in love with us?

That kind of tortured and convoluted back-and-forth persists through the next several pages. He does have access to the Swanns' house, but when he goes there the butler tells him, "Mademoiselle is out, monsieur. I swear to Monsieur I am telling the truth. If Monsieur would like to check what I am saying, I can fetch the maid. As Monsieur well knows, I would do anything for him, and if Mademoiselle was in, I would take Monsieur straight to her." The realization that even the household knows he's been dumped provokes the narrator to anger -- not against Gilberte, but against the well-meaning butler.

When he visits Odette, he fancies that it bettered his image with Gilberte: "If we are to make reality endurable, we must all nourish a fantasy or two." And so he finds himself turning up at Odette's "at home" hours, giving us a glimpse of the artificial elegance of a "winter garden" room, which also evokes for him Odette's earlier life:
The life of a high-class courtesan, such as she had been, being much taken up by her lovers, is largely spent at home, and this can lead such a woman to live for herself.... The climax of her day is not the moment when she dresses for society, but when she undresses for a man. She has to be as elegant in a housecoat or a nightgown as in a walking-out dress. ... It is a type of life that demands, and eventually gives a taste for, the enjoyment of secret luxury -- that is, a life which is almost one of disinterest. This taste Mme Swann extended to flowers.