Thursday, October 01, 2009

In Search of Lost Time

I could distinguish beneath the trees various women with whom I was more or less on friedndly terms, but they seemed transformed because they were at the Princess's and not at her cousin's, and because I saw them seated not in front of Dresden china plates but beneath the boughs of a chestnut tree.(p. 68)

As Part Two of Sodom and Gomorrah opens we find Marcel headed to a party at the Guermantes' even though he apparently is not sure if he was invited. Nonetheless he joins the crowd and we are treated to conversations with Charlus, Vaugoubert, the Prince and others. Multiple themes continue to abound but I am taken with the importance of Marcel's concern for his personal relations with the Baron. This concern, based on his lack of response to the Baron's previous offers to socialize, made Marcel feel that the Baron might be unwilling to introduce him to the Prince de Guermantes. His following comment suggests a Platonic view of the source of knowledge for, although he had only recently confirmed the Baron's inclinations through his observing the meeting with Jupien, he commented:

Sometimes, however, the future is latent in us without our knowing it, and our supposedly lying words foreshadow an imminent reality. (p. 54)

Whatever Marcel previously knew, his subsequent observations are colored by his current knowledge of the Baron and we as readers have our eyes opened as well, looking as it were for signs of this side of the Baron. We are given many opportunities especially later in the evening when the Baron meets Mme de Surgis and he is introduced to her two boys (pp. 127 ff.). On the surface he congratulates them on their knowledge of Balzac, while concealing his true response to their alluring masculinity. The scene also demonstrates the charisma of the Baron whose position within the Guermantes' sphere has Mme de Surgis almost mesmerized. Little does she know that if it were not for her sons the Baron would be unlikely to have deigned to give her any notice. With the introduction of Mme de Vaugoubert we have yet another example of the gender-twisting character: the woman who is "heavily mannish"(p. 61).

An aspect of Proust that is reinforced by my own experience (there are many) is his description of the inner workings of Marcel's memory. When he meets Madame d'Arpajon after dinner he cannot recall her name.

"my attention, concentrated on the inward region in which these memories of her lingered, was unable to discover her name there. It was there none the less." (p. 69)

As I myself have done many times he plays a game with his thoughts trying to grasp the name through search for its initial letter, with some difficulty. But he then makes one of those observations that, for this reader, make the long journey through Proust worth every moment.

Certainly my mind would have been capable of creating the most difficult names. Unfortunately, it had not to create but to reproduce. Any mental activity is easy, if it need not subjected to reality. Here, I was forced to subject myself to it. Finally, in a flash, the name came back to me in its entirety: "Madame d'Arpajon." (p. 69)

With this effort of conscious thought we will leave our comments on reading Volume IV of In Search of Lost Time until another day.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume IV: Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust. Modern Library, New York. 1993 (1921).

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