Thursday, March 18, 2010


Proust's THE PRISONER in the new translation by Carol Clark ( or The Captive in other translations) is a study in the power of jealousy to make love especially intense. This is a remarkable vision of the passion Marcel feels for Albertine, but it is also a profound psychological analysis of the way in which he understands love. The last hundred pages are especially marvelous to read, especially following the section on Marcel's visit to the Verdurins. Some wonderful pithy sentences: “Love is space and time made apprehensible to the heart” (356); “we love only what we do not possess” (355); “we can find everything in our memory: it is a kind of pharmacy or chemical laboratory, where one's hand may fall at any moment on a sedative drug or a dangerous poison.” (361). Then there are those lovely passages about the Fortuny dresses that Marcel wants Albertine to have – partly because they are associated in his mind with Venice.  Here is one from the 1920s:

I particularly found the analysis of art (347ff) to be remarkable for his insights into Vermeer, Hardy, and Dostoevsky, starting of course from the music of Vinteuil, which echoes through the entire latter half of the book. Ironically at the end of the volume Marcel and Albertine visit Versailles, not Venice, whose architecture and gondoliers have haunted him throughout.

The opening pages of the book set an interesting theme in motion. Marcel meditates on the instability of one's own personality, establishing that we are many “people” in different circumstances, and that it is not a simple matter to know or understand one another. I suspect this concern of his is indebted to Freud's insights into the unconscious, although it is inherent in earlier psychological thought, as evidenced in R.L.S.'s Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde and in the work of Conrad and others who explore the idea of the double. Frequently in this volume, Proust points to the multiplicity of persons within a single character.

The extensive visit to the Verdurins, which Marcel makes alone, without Albertine, parallels the salon of the Duchess de Guermantes, where the subtext revolved around the Dreyfus affair. At the Verdurins Charlus is compromised without an expected passionate defensive response. Mme. Verdurin attempts to separate Morel from Charlus, and each offer Morel impressive “gifts” for him to reject one and accept the other. It is perhaps not precisely a subtext in this section, but certainly a profound concern in these pages is Charlus' homosexuality and Morel's bisexuality. These issues are explored in remarkable depth in the Verdurins' salon, with most characters offering views of both acceptance and rejection.

Another impressive theme running through the book is the question of repetition as a necessary ingredient in art. Repetition implies memory, which implies the recollection of past events, central to the entire book, and Marcel begins with the seven note melody from Vinteuil, which Morel plays at the Verdurins.. He them speculates on repetition in Venetian architecture, in the works of Hardy, which he sees as utterly repetitive from novel to novel, and on to Vermeer, whose work he interprets as repeating the same motifs again and again.

And of course, we see in this volume a great deal of repetition, not only within the volume, but repetitive of events in earlier volumes. Nothing could make the painfulness of Albertine's bedtime kisses in the last pages more intense than our memory of the significance of the bedtime kiss of Marcel's mother in Swann's Way. These kinds of repetitions – and many more than I can mention here – act as armatures for the novel as a whole, and they help us interpret its inner meanings and show us how events take on meaning partly through their very return into our consciousness. It is part of the ineffable beauty of this volume.


HS Wald, PhD said...

character more fixed with our "habitual lenses" serving to restrict interpretation of meaning, in events and relationships? Yes, as you note, "it is not a simple matter to know or understand one another" (or even ourselves)but literature, art, and ideas, which you bring us,can potentially facilitate this process. Your review resonated with our work in narrative medicine (including introducing literature and reflective writing within medical education)as we attempt to capitalize on the power of the written word to represent experience and give it meaning within the physician-patient relationship (better understanding perhaps of self and other). Thank you for your review and ideas.
HS Wald, PhD

HS Wald, PhD said...

Somehow, I note, the first part of my comment did not appear...
I had written: Your blog entry has led me to consider whether instability of character (as per the character's meditation) contributes to potential for extracting multiple meanings from events ("events take on meaning partly through their return into our consciousness").. or in contrast, is character more fixed...etc. as posted...
thank you
HS Wald, PhD