Thursday, November 19, 2009

In Search of Lost Time

Sodom and Gomorrah, the Final Chapter

I absolutely must -- and let's settle the matter at once, because I'm quite clear about it now, because I won't change my mind again, because I couldn't live without it -- I absolutely must marry Albertine. (p. 724)

With these words of the narrator Marcel Proust ends the final chapter of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume in his monumental In Search of Lost Time. Whether the narrator is sincere or not, any lack of sincerity is more than supplanted by his passion, if not love, for Albertine. Throughout this volume and especially in the final chapters the narrator has had a tempestuous relationship with Albertine both in his mind and in his life in Balbec and its environs.

Last night we discussed this aspect of the novel along with other themes while engaging in a sumptuous repast at Bistro Zinc, a delightful French restaurant (which I would highly recommend to all readers who venture out into the near north side of Chicago) not far from our normal class location at The Newberry Library.

Some of the other themes that are prominent in the final sections of this volume are the passion of both Baron Charlus and the Prince for young 'Charlie' Morel. Morel, a reprobate and a cad who is made somewhat appealing (at least for this reader) by virtue of being a talented pianist, plays with both men without the other knowing about his liaisons much as a mouse plays with a cat. The ruling word throughout for both the narrator and other characters is passion, if not lust, in the erotic sense which pervades several relationships. The issue of the Dreyfus case is also prominent and Proust is able to convey the complicated views of both sides through the seeming necessity that most prominent characters be identified as either "Dreyfusards" or not. The overall feeling I retain from this reading is one of the cumulative effect of the layers of themes, many of which have appeared in the previous three volumes and will, undoubtedly, appear again in the final volumes of In Search of Lost Time. To some extent this is due to the influence of Wagner and the use of literary "liet motifs" by Proust and the technique of the search, in this case the search for love. That the search for love seems to devolve into an impasse of passion for the sake of sanity if not love itself is a wonder -- one of the many wonders of this continuously engaging novel.

In search of Lost Time, Volume IV: Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust. Modern Library, New York. 2003 (1922)

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