Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Marcel Proust's The Fugitive

Proust’s The Fugitive (or The Sweet Cheat Gone) continues Marcel’s fascination with Albertine and the possibility that Albertine has been unfaithful with women. Marcel has essentially driven her from his home – which we must remember is also his mother’s home – and then immediately thinks he wants her back. He ponders his situation, thinking that he both wants her back and wants her gone, realizing at times that he doesn’t really understand his feelings. He is riven with indecision both about his own feelings and his concern for having Albertine return.

None of his feelings are clarified by the news that Albertine has been killed in an accident with a horse. The sense of finality that should be his is not really acceptable to him. He even goes to a seance in an effort to know what Albertine feels about him. He gets a letter from her that says she still loves him and would return to him if he asked, and this does not make his sense of himself any more intelligible to him.

Aime’s two letters to him from Combray insist that Albertine was involved in a lesbian relationship with women in the baths, that she brought women from Balbec with her, and often appeared with younger girls and frequently met a woman in gray. All this made Marcel convinced that all his anguish earlier had roots in the truth of Albertine’s inclination toward a lesbian lifestyle. On the other hand Andree, who admits her own lesbian leanings, suggests that if that were true, Albertine had given it all up for Marcel while they were together.

Again, Marcel is unsettled about his relationship with Albertine. Meanwhile, his old friend Gilberte inherits so much money that she is the richest heiress in France. She is Mlle de Forcheville and attracts Robert St. Loup, who eventually marries her only to make her unhappy. St. Loup takes up with Charles Morel, once Morel is free of Palamede de Charlus. Thus, St. Loup reveals his inclination toward homosexuality and parallels the relationship of Marcel and Albertine. All this functions to reveal the complexities of sexuality and love and marriage. Near the end, Proust says, “Homosexuals would be the best husbands in the world if they did not pretend that they loved women.”

Throughout all this volume, the theme of the multiplicity of selves is constantly before us. Every important character seems to have several selves depending on whom they are with and what they are doing. Marcel is himself several selves, all essentially unaware of each other.

The volume ends with Marcel finally making his trip to Venice – the trip that he longed for in The Captive, but for which he substituted a visit to Versailles with Albertine. Now, his trip to Venice is with Mama, who essentially directs their travels and their attention. When Mama is ready to leave, Marcel is attracted to the Baroness Putbus and decides to stay, but after making his declaration and sending Mama away, he relents and rushes to the train station to go home with her.

Ironically, the novel ends with the realization with Gilberte that the Guermantes Way and the Meseglise Way are one and the same way.

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