A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Proust Project, Day 64

Where this began
Day 63

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 450-465.

From "On arriving at Elstir's..." to "...conditional on differing circumstances.'"
The introduction to Albertine is treated to Proustian microanalysis. First, the narrator tells us that, "On going into a fashionable gathering as a young man, one takes leave of the person one was, one becomes a different man." And that the introduction itself was pleasurable only in retrospect: "Pleasures are like photographs: in the presence of the person we love, we take only negatives, which we develop later, at home, when we have at our disposal once more our inner darkroom, the door of which it is strictly forbidden to open while others are present." 

And if he is a different person in the situation, so is Albertine, his perception of her and her charms constantly changing, "as each part of her made out of imagination and desire was replaced by a perception much less." Her speech is different from what he expected, suggesting "a level of cultivation far above what I wold have imagined to be that of the bacchante with the bicycle, the orgiastic muse of the golf course." He finds himself focusing on "one of her temples, flushed and unpleasant to look at, instead of the singular expression in her eyes, which until then had been the thing about her that had always been in my thoughts." 

But then he discovers himself from her point of view, as she mentions things that she had noticed about him as he crossed the room, pretending not to  focus on the impending introduction to her: "everything that I believed, not to be of importance only to myself, but to have been noticed only by me, and yet here they were, transcribed in a version I had not suspected existed, in the mind of Albertine." 

Now, feeling "a moral obligation toward the real Albertine to keep the promises of love made to the imaginary one," he begins a process of reconciling "the unremarkable and touching Albertine with whom I had chatted" with "the mysterious Albertine against the backdrop of the sea" of his imagination. He has noticed a beauty mark on her face, but can't seem to decide where it is. Today it was "on her cheek, just below the eye." But when he had seen her before, "when she had greeted Elstir in passing, I had seen it on her chin. Each time I saw Albertine, I noticed she had a beauty mark, and my misguided memory moved it about her face, sometimes putting it in one place, at other times another." 

He also experiences the disappointment that he had felt on the first sight of the Duchesse de Guermantes, on seeing the church at Balbec, on watching La Berma in Phèdre, and on meeting Bergotte for the first time: "Disappointed as I was with Mlle Simonet, a young girl not very different from others I knew, I consoled myself with the thought ... that even though she had not lived up to my expectations, at least through her I would be able to meet her friends in the little gang." 

But when he sees her again a few days later on the esplanade, she has changed again. He almost doesn't recognize her as "a young girl with a little flat hat and a muff" and, "remembering the good manners which had so struck me, I was now surprised by their opposite, her coarse tone and her 'little gang' manners." Even the peripatetic beauty mark has relocated: 
Just as a phrase of Vinteuil that had delighted me in the sonata, and which my memory kept moving from the andante to the finale, until the day when, with the score in hand, I was able to find it and localize it where it belonged, in the scherzo, so the beauty mark, which I had remembered on her cheek, then on her chin, came to rest forever on her upper lip, just under her nose.
The citation of a phrase from the Vinteuil sonata, the leitmotif for Swann's infatuation with Odette, is a pretty obvious signal that the narrator will undergo a similarly dramatic relationship with Albertine. 

He begins an integration with Albertine's world when they meet Octave, "[a] young man with regular features and tennis racquets" who is "the son of a very wealthy industrialist." He and Albertine chat about golf while the narrator seethes with jealousy, noting that Octave "had no idea of how to use certain words, or even of the most elementary rules of good grammar." But he's gratified when Albertine dismisses him as "a lounge lizard ... incapable of conversing with you. He's good at golf and that's all he's good at." 

And then Bloch turns up, informing the narrator that he's going to Doncières to see Saint-Loup. When he leaves them, Albertine informs the narrator, "'I don't like him at all!'" When he tells her Bloch's name, "she exclaimed, 'I wouldn't have minded betting he was a Jew boy! They always know how to get your back up!'" 

They agree to go out together sometime, and the narrator parts from her in some perplexity, finding her "upbringing ... inconceivable," her "inclinations and principles, even the books she reads, a mystery.... Trying to strike up a relationship with Albertine felt like relating to the unknown, or even the impossible, an exercise as difficult as training a horse, as restful as keeping bees or growing roses." (If that last phrase seems enigmatic, it's because, as Grieve notes, scholars can't decipher Proust's handwriting and tell whether he wrote reposant -- "restful" -- or passionnant -- "exciting." Though either way it remains enigmatic.)

They do go out again, and this time they meet Andrée, the tall girl in the "little gang," who joins them but remains silent. They briefly encounter Octave again, who when the narrator alludes to Octave's family connection to the Verdurins, "disparaged the celebrated Wednesdays, and added that M. Verdurin was ignorant of the proper wearing of the dinner jacket." They pass the d'Ambresac sisters, and when both he and Albertine exchange greetings with them, she comments on the shared acquaintance, giving him some hope "that my situation with Albertine might improve." 

Albertine also surprises him with the information that the older d'Ambresac sister is betrothed to Saint-Loup, with whom the younger was also in love. "I felt very sad to realize that Saint-Loup had concealed his engagement from me and that he should be contemplating such an immoral thing as to marry without first giving up his mistress." 

But Albertine is not inclined to introduce him to the rest of the gang of girls: "It's very sweet of you to bother about them. But they're nobody, just pay attention to them. I mean, a fellow as clever as you should have nothing to do with a group of silly girls like that. Actually, Andrée's very clever, and she's a very nice girl, although perfectly skittish. But honestly, the others are just silly." And when he tries to set up a meeting with Andrée a few days later, she fibs by saying her mother is ill, when in fact, as he learns from Elstir, she had another engagement.

No comments: