Category: Proust

Albertine Gone

I have now finished Albertine Gone by Marcel Proust, which although being much shorter than The Fugitive – the standard version of this volume – it does contain much of the same content. This is the book that resulted from Proust’s family finding it among his papers but it was not published until the late 1980s.
The one major difference is that when Marcel is told of Albertine’s death he is also given a location of the horse accident and it is near to where the notorious lesbian Mlle Vinteuil lived so in death her lies are undone. Because of that it might explain why he is tighter with the rest of the copy because he does not need to delve too much into her past to know that she was a liar and kept a life hidden from him.

In all honesty I only picked this up from the library because I felt it might add something to the experience of Remembrance of Things Past but my advice is stick with the standard version because this adds one major detail, which becomes irrelevant anyway as a result of his later investigations which prove beyond doubt that Albertine kept secrets from him.

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Thoughts on Proust – part two

Following the comments yesterday on story and writing the spotlight falls on characterisation and the subject of time.

Character
It’s important to declare that the main character of Marcel is not the sort of person I would have too much time for and as a result it made reading some of the book a struggle. The things you find yourself disliking about him are his strange approach towards anyone of the female sex, obsess ional tendencies about new places and people and his tendency to wallow in thought rather than take action.

Despite that the positive about Marcel and the rest of the cast of characters is that they do change and so someone you did not particularly warm to, take the duchess de Guermantes for instance you get the chance to know better and someone you like from the first, Robert Saint-Loup for example, you grow to dislike.

Some characters that initially seem important – the mother and particularly his father – turn out not to be and ironically it is the servant Francoise who ends up having the longest relationship with Marcel serving him right through the books after she joins his service after his Aunt dies.

Another thought to share is that despite the move to various locations, even at one point Venice, the same characters populate those areas so you get the chance to follow their stories and development and as a result of their repetitive presence you feel immersed in Marcel’s world.

Finally, you have to note that one of the oddest things about Remembrance of Things Past is that throughout the book those characters that are cast in a negative light or at least suffer the arrows of society are those who are homosexual and Jewish. Marcel is cast as a hot blooded male distraught after he discovers Albertine is a lesbian but of course in real life Proust was homosexual. Knowing that you can’t help wondering what point he is trying to make with his gay characters.

Time
Proust’s work is about time in the clearest sense in terms of memory and breathing life into moments that have gone. But there are other clever uses of time throughout the books.

There are moments when coincidence is too much for some people to be in the same place and so there is a constant feeling that the reader is at the crossroads of various important points in time. People repeatedly turn up in different guises – no more than characters like Odette and Morel – and reinvent themselves having a different impact on the story. There are echoes of people, places and things like music with the passage of the sonata Swann loved cropping up again with Marcel also enjoying it. In terms of an appreciation for places Balbec attracts Marcel, Albertine, Charlus, the Verdurin’s and their clan as well as artists like Elstir.

The other thing is wishing time could be reversed so he not only drags up the past but also regrets the demise of his grandmother and Albertine. With Albertine it is very much a case of regret because he feels partly that the timing of her death is caused by the timing of the rupture between them. He tries to bring back people through focused grief but is unable to do it and has to accept that time will not only heal the pain of losing someone but in the end force you to forget so there is a reverse of the desperation he has in other instances to remember.

Finally, because of the nature of the books, which is a review back over a period where some of his family members die, friends are killed in war and the ageing process impacts everyone, there is a question about the difference between Marcel at the start of the book, where all he worried about was getting a kiss from his mother, and the end when innocence has been completely lost (think of the scene between Charlus and Jupien). So there is another dimension to time being part of growing up and as a loss of innocence.

It might be off at a tangent but Proust must have also realised as he wrote volume after volume that there is also going to be a time commitment from the reader who will have to spend some serious time reading the books.

Thoughts on Proust – part two

Following the comments yesterday on story and writing the spotlight falls on characterisation and the subject of time.

Character
It’s important to declare that the main character of Marcel is not the sort of person I would have too much time for and as a result it made reading some of the book a struggle. The things you find yourself disliking about him are his strange approach towards anyone of the female sex, obsess ional tendencies about new places and people and his tendency to wallow in thought rather than take action.

Despite that the positive about Marcel and the rest of the cast of characters is that they do change and so someone you did not particularly warm to, take the duchess de Guermantes for instance you get the chance to know better and someone you like from the first, Robert Saint-Loup for example, you grow to dislike.

Some characters that initially seem important – the mother and particularly his father – turn out not to be and ironically it is the servant Francoise who ends up having the longest relationship with Marcel serving him right through the books after she joins his service after his Aunt dies.

Another thought to share is that despite the move to various locations, even at one point Venice, the same characters populate those areas so you get the chance to follow their stories and development and as a result of their repetitive presence you feel immersed in Marcel’s world.

Finally, you have to note that one of the oddest things about Remembrance of Things Past is that throughout the book those characters that are cast in a negative light or at least suffer the arrows of society are those who are homosexual and Jewish. Marcel is cast as a hot blooded male distraught after he discovers Albertine is a lesbian but of course in real life Proust was homosexual. Knowing that you can’t help wondering what point he is trying to make with his gay characters.

Time
Proust’s work is about time in the clearest sense in terms of memory and breathing life into moments that have gone. But there are other clever uses of time throughout the books.

There are moments when coincidence is too much for some people to be in the same place and so there is a constant feeling that the reader is at the crossroads of various important points in time. People repeatedly turn up in different guises – no more than characters like Odette and Morel – and reinvent themselves having a different impact on the story. There are echoes of people, places and things like music with the passage of the sonata Swann loved cropping up again with Marcel also enjoying it. In terms of an appreciation for places Balbec attracts Marcel, Albertine, Charlus, the Verdurin’s and their clan as well as artists like Elstir.

The other thing is wishing time could be reversed so he not only drags up the past but also regrets the demise of his grandmother and Albertine. With Albertine it is very much a case of regret because he feels partly that the timing of her death is caused by the timing of the rupture between them. He tries to bring back people through focused grief but is unable to do it and has to accept that time will not only heal the pain of losing someone but in the end force you to forget so there is a reverse of the desperation he has in other instances to remember.

Finally, because of the nature of the books, which is a review back over a period where some of his family members die, friends are killed in war and the ageing process impacts everyone, there is a question about the difference between Marcel at the start of the book, where all he worried about was getting a kiss from his mother, and the end when innocence has been completely lost (think of the scene between Charlus and Jupien). So there is another dimension to time being part of growing up and as a loss of innocence.

It might be off at a tangent but Proust must have also realised as he wrote volume after volume that there is also going to be a time commitment from the reader who will have to spend some serious time reading the books.

Thoughts on Proust – part one

Having now finished Remembrance of Things Past and having a couple of days to think about it all I wanted to put together some thoughts about the story, writing, personality of Marcel (the character) and a couple of points on the subject of time.

In this first mini-essay (not really what blogging is meant to be about) I’ll cover off the story and writing.

The story
Unlike most books, which have a tight plot structure, this is about real life and as a result doesn’t follow a pattern but develops organically. That makes it sometimes feel like it is not going anywhere quickly and in others numerous things happen at once without the chance to provide the reader with the usual descriptive analysis that is displayed elsewhere across the volumes.

There are a few themes throughout the books – age and loss of innocence spring to mind – but the most important are around the themes of deception and disappointment. Most people are hiding things ranging from homosexuality to support for Dreyfus. A few figures provide the examples of the first problem most notably M. de Charlus, Albertine and in the end Saint-Loup. In terms of the second people are guilty of switching sides on the Dreyfus case as well as later on showing sympathy for the Germans during the First World War.

Ultimately the story is about a man who has the luxury of wealth so has no need to find a job, who pokes around the edges of his ambition to become a writer before having his moment of realisation. As he grows up, and although the ages are hard to guess at so maybe a rough guide is the period covered is something like 30 years from the age of ten to forty, he falls in love with various women before developing a physical relationship with Albertine, who it transpires is a lesbian, and then leaves him and dies.

Sadly Marcel is ill when the war is taking place so that the story about how the war impacted on society and Paris is told in snippets but not in the sort of depth that he brings to bear at the start of the epic on Combray and Balbec.

The story could have just petered out but you end with this sort of Back to The Future type blinding flash moment when Marcel realises he could set out to produce an opus about time and memory and far from having to struggle with finding the subject matter for a book he has all he needs in his own head.

For me it is those last passages about time and writing that make the book a success because it could have just fizzled out because by volume seven the main characters are either dead: Swann, Saint-Loup, Albertine, M Verdurin and a few of the minor players or so old and changed they are no longer of great interest: Charlus, Mde. De Guermantes, Morel and Bloch.

Finally, the other comment I would make on the story is that trying to describe it is bound to put people off the journey. In pockets there are moments of great humour – based mainly around Charlus – great pain and friendship. It is not quite like holding a mirror up but there are aspects of Marcel’s existence and life that do resonate with your own – the feeling of paranoia and jealousy when you first meet your partner – as well as evidence if it was needed that people from time’s first beginning have lied, kept secrets and hidden their true selves.

The writing
The other feature of Remembrance of Things Past that can provoke today’s generation is the writing style. For those people who love deep detailed description this is a master class in how someone can use the power of the memory to recall events that clearly happened years before they have been written about. Some of the passages are truly beautiful and have rightly become famous. One of my favourites came from Swann’s Way:

“But in summer, when we came back to the house, the sun would not have set; and while we were upstairs paying our visit to aunt Leonie its rays , sinking until they lay along her window-sill, would be caught and held by the large inner curtains and the loops which tied them to the back of the wall, and then, split and ramified and filtered, encrusting with tiny flakes of gold the citronwood of the chest-of-drawers, would illuminate the room with a delicate, slanting, woodland glow.” (pg145)

He manages to get the most out of sounds, smells and locations using his skill to create, like a composer, themes that will echo at different volumes throughout the seven volumes. Things like the bedtime kiss from his mother, which becomes replaced by Albertine, becomes a recurring theme he refers to.

There is also an ability, although sometimes it is cut very close, where he pushes the naval gazing intense analysis of his social world to such an extent the reader could switch off, before changing location and pace. There are moments when deaths, marriages and changes to circumstances are reeled off quickly and others where he can quite happily spend half a book talking about the social circle that gravitates to the Verdurin’s in Balbec during his second summer there.

The other point that is worth mentioning is the way he manages to seamlessly move into a narrative voice that is able to report on for instance the courtship of Swann and Odette, despite the fact Marcel is not involved. That happens again with Charlus and Morel.

Some writers have referred to Remembrance of Things Past as almost a soap opera and that feeling is only the result of Proust’s ability to keep the reader guessing and add extra twists to the story line. For instance you were kept wondering if society would find out about Charlus and his homosexuality; if Saint-Loup and Gilberte really were in love; if Albertine ever really cared for Marcel and so on. It would be almost impossible to get readers to stick with seven large volumes, around 3,000 pages, if they didn’t feel it was going anywhere.

Proust’s achievement is that he manages to pull the story and the focus of the writing back at the end to be centred on Marcel and the whirrings of his brain and that is where crucially the story, writing and narrative point of view come from.

Thoughts on Proust – part one

Having now finished Remembrance of Things Past and having a couple of days to think about it all I wanted to put together some thoughts about the story, writing, personality of Marcel (the character) and a couple of points on the subject of time.

In this first mini-essay (not really what blogging is meant to be about) I’ll cover off the story and writing.

The story
Unlike most books, which have a tight plot structure, this is about real life and as a result doesn’t follow a pattern but develops organically. That makes it sometimes feel like it is not going anywhere quickly and in others numerous things happen at once without the chance to provide the reader with the usual descriptive analysis that is displayed elsewhere across the volumes.

There are a few themes throughout the books – age and loss of innocence spring to mind – but the most important are around the themes of deception and disappointment. Most people are hiding things ranging from homosexuality to support for Dreyfus. A few figures provide the examples of the first problem most notably M. de Charlus, Albertine and in the end Saint-Loup. In terms of the second people are guilty of switching sides on the Dreyfus case as well as later on showing sympathy for the Germans during the First World War.

Ultimately the story is about a man who has the luxury of wealth so has no need to find a job, who pokes around the edges of his ambition to become a writer before having his moment of realisation. As he grows up, and although the ages are hard to guess at so maybe a rough guide is the period covered is something like 30 years from the age of ten to forty, he falls in love with various women before developing a physical relationship with Albertine, who it transpires is a lesbian, and then leaves him and dies.

Sadly Marcel is ill when the war is taking place so that the story about how the war impacted on society and Paris is told in snippets but not in the sort of depth that he brings to bear at the start of the epic on Combray and Balbec.

The story could have just petered out but you end with this sort of Back to The Future type blinding flash moment when Marcel realises he could set out to produce an opus about time and memory and far from having to struggle with finding the subject matter for a book he has all he needs in his own head.

For me it is those last passages about time and writing that make the book a success because it could have just fizzled out because by volume seven the main characters are either dead: Swann, Saint-Loup, Albertine, M Verdurin and a few of the minor players or so old and changed they are no longer of great interest: Charlus, Mde. De Guermantes, Morel and Bloch.

Finally, the other comment I would make on the story is that trying to describe it is bound to put people off the journey. In pockets there are moments of great humour – based mainly around Charlus – great pain and friendship. It is not quite like holding a mirror up but there are aspects of Marcel’s existence and life that do resonate with your own – the feeling of paranoia and jealousy when you first meet your partner – as well as evidence if it was needed that people from time’s first beginning have lied, kept secrets and hidden their true selves.

The writing
The other feature of Remembrance of Things Past that can provoke today’s generation is the writing style. For those people who love deep detailed description this is a master class in how someone can use the power of the memory to recall events that clearly happened years before they have been written about. Some of the passages are truly beautiful and have rightly become famous. One of my favourites came from Swann’s Way:

“But in summer, when we came back to the house, the sun would not have set; and while we were upstairs paying our visit to aunt Leonie its rays , sinking until they lay along her window-sill, would be caught and held by the large inner curtains and the loops which tied them to the back of the wall, and then, split and ramified and filtered, encrusting with tiny flakes of gold the citronwood of the chest-of-drawers, would illuminate the room with a delicate, slanting, woodland glow.” (pg145)

He manages to get the most out of sounds, smells and locations using his skill to create, like a composer, themes that will echo at different volumes throughout the seven volumes. Things like the bedtime kiss from his mother, which becomes replaced by Albertine, becomes a recurring theme he refers to.

There is also an ability, although sometimes it is cut very close, where he pushes the naval gazing intense analysis of his social world to such an extent the reader could switch off, before changing location and pace. There are moments when deaths, marriages and changes to circumstances are reeled off quickly and others where he can quite happily spend half a book talking about the social circle that gravitates to the Verdurin’s in Balbec during his second summer there.

The other point that is worth mentioning is the way he manages to seamlessly move into a narrative voice that is able to report on for instance the courtship of Swann and Odette, despite the fact Marcel is not involved. That happens again with Charlus and Morel.

Some writers have referred to Remembrance of Things Past as almost a soap opera and that feeling is only the result of Proust’s ability to keep the reader guessing and add extra twists to the story line. For instance you were kept wondering if society would find out about Charlus and his homosexuality; if Saint-Loup and Gilberte really were in love; if Albertine ever really cared for Marcel and so on. It would be almost impossible to get readers to stick with seven large volumes, around 3,000 pages, if they didn’t feel it was going anywhere.

Proust’s achievement is that he manages to pull the story and the focus of the writing back at the end to be centred on Marcel and the whirrings of his brain and that is where crucially the story, writing and narrative point of view come from.

Good Proust links

I am on the brink of putting together my thoughts about Proust and Remembrance of Things Past now I have finished the seven volumes – just want to get Albertine Gone completed – but in the meantime if my posts on the great man and his books have wetted your appetite then here are some great links (in no particular order) to find out more about Proust and his world:

Wikipedia – which has a biography, comments on the books and some further links

The Kolb-Proust archive – an online archive of letters, bibliography and some FAQs on the writer

Tempsperdu.com – a site simply dedicated to Remembrance of Things Past with the chance to buy books and CD-ROMs

Involuntary memory -a blog dedicated to reading and commenting on Remembrance of Things Past

Reading Proust – focuses on the new Penguin/Viking editions which has some good links and details of the latest Penguin editions

Other possibilities:

Le temps de proust – this is a blog about reading Proust but it doesn’t seem to have been updated since January but there is some good archive material on there

Good Proust links

I am on the brink of putting together my thoughts about Proust and Remembrance of Things Past now I have finished the seven volumes – just want to get Albertine Gone completed – but in the meantime if my posts on the great man and his books have wetted your appetite then here are some great links (in no particular order) to find out more about Proust and his world:

Wikipedia – which has a biography, comments on the books and some further links

The Kolb-Proust archive – an online archive of letters, bibliography and some FAQs on the writer

Tempsperdu.com – a site simply dedicated to Remembrance of Things Past with the chance to buy books and CD-ROMs

Involuntary memory -a blog dedicated to reading and commenting on Remembrance of Things Past

Reading Proust – focuses on the new Penguin/Viking editions which has some good links and details of the latest Penguin editions

Other possibilities:

Le temps de proust – this is a blog about reading Proust but it doesn’t seem to have been updated since January but there is some good archive material on there