Sunday, November 22, 2009

Marcel Proust: A la recherche du temps perdu 6: Albertine disparue (novel)

Marcel Proust: A la recherche du temps perdu 6: Albertine disparue, also known as La Fugitive. First published: FR 1925. Later, more definitive editions: FR 1954, FR 1962, FR 1987-1989. Read in the Finnish translation, Kadonnutta aikaa etsimässä 9: Pakenija, by Inkeri Tuomikoski, Helsinki: Otava 2003.

Synopsis: Albertine, "the prisoner", is gone. She has left the narrator who has no serious intentions with her, and who tries jealously to guard her from her lesbian passions. The narrator makes ingenious plans to win her back. But, shockingly, he learns that Albertine has died in a riding accident. Even after her death, the narrator continues spying retrospectively on Albertine's lesbian affairs, to learn about her secret life. Everything remains vague. The narrator tries to recover from the pain of losing her via substitutes. Most importantly, he meets his old lover Gilberte, and in a new, sober friendship with her he recovers from the loss of Albertine and is able to visit Venice together with his mother. The voyage to Venice is an experience of transformation and a farewell to youth. The voyage of Venice is also a subjective one, as the sights remind the narrator of his life experiences. On his way back home to Paris the narrator learns that Gilberte is marrying Robert de Saint-Loup. This is the union of the incompatible, and the end of a period in the life that has been depicted. Finally, revisiting Gilberte the narrator learns that from the start she has wanted the same thing that he had not dared to ask.

First impressions of the novel that I had never read before.
1. This novel is a draft that Proust never had the chance to finish. There are repetitions and imbalances due to the manuscript character of the work.
2. It is the portrait of a dandy who is insufferably nestling in his private affairs, not facing the world as a grown-up man. It is impossible to take his lament seriously.
3. His affairs with the young women are superficial. The women are only objects of pleasure for the playboy. There is not even the perspective that he might marry and that the women might become mothers.
4. This obnoxious, self-centered bon vivant is an importunate examiner who delves deep in the psychology of self-deception, and gets lost in the complexities of how much people will lie to keep appearances.
5. There is a strong homosexual and lesbian aspect in the novel, maybe displaced from the narrator himself to other characters such as Robert and Albertine. It has been noted that the narrator's lovers have feminine versions of male names: Albertine and Gilberte.
6. There is also a strong Jewish and anti-semitic theme in the novel, maybe also displaced from the narrator to others, such as Gilberte in this one.
7. Under these superficial and deceptive layers there runs a brilliant line of meditation and reflection.
8. This is one of my life-books. I started reading it, reluctantly, in ca 1970... and when I have finished reading all the volumes in a non-chronological order, I have to read all again.

C’est comme si elle m’avait dit: « Tournez à gauche, prenez ensuite à votre main droite, et vous toucherez l’intangible, vous atteindrez les inaccessibles lointains dont on ne connaît jamais sur terre que la direction, que (ce que j’avais cru jadis que je pourrais connaître seulement de Guermantes, et peut-être, en un sens, je ne me trompais pas) le « côté ».

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