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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2011 5:08 am    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Early on in the section entitled Madame Swann at Home from Within A Budding Grove, Proust gives me two pieces of information one of which I consider useful, the other not. The narrator’s mother is giving a dinner party and regretting that Professor Cottard is not available. Now he and his wife are two of the most interesting people in this series, Proust knows it, so he assures me that I shall meet them again when the Verdurins arrange a party at their country house La Raspeliere. I  anticipate further pleasure from reading about them. But I did not need to know that an ambition of Swann to present his wife and child at a social function would not happen until after his death. I haven’t reached the part where he expresses such an ambition; it is possible it is a minor social meeting which Swann over dramatises or not but it is something I would have liked to have read about at the time rather than be told now what is to happen. I feel this is an example of Proust giving me more information than I need.

In this series of novels with many characters I have decided that Marcel is the one to focus on and that his memory or lack of memory, as he remembers it, is to be trusted. I don’t mind if his memory of certain events, conversations or judgements is a little inaccurate as long as I can believe that he is really trying to record his life in detail. So it was unusual that a significant episode in Paris was not fully explained.
Marcel even from his Combray days has expressed a wish to meet girls so that when he meets up with Bloch in Paris who promises those wishes can be met, Marcel agrees to frequent a brothel. Typically it is one that Bloch no longer uses – a fact he doesn't convey to Marcel. The house is rather sparsely furnished which prompts Marcel to give the mistress of the house items of furniture, including a large sofa, left to him by Aunt Leonie. Marcel recalls that it was on this very sofa that he exchanged a kiss with a female cousin years before and it is because of those fond memories that he decides not to return to the brothel.

Now I am wondering why he doesn't remember that it was Bloch's suggestion that Aunt Leonie at one time was a 'kept' woman that led to Marcel's parents banning Bloch from the house in Combray. Doesn't Marcel realise that subconsciously he may be confirming in his own mind that the suggestion is true by giving the furniture to a brothel?
And that a member of the family Uncle Adolphe ceased visiting his parents when Marcel had told them of arriving at Adolphe's home in Paris uninvited and finding his favourite uncle entertaining ladies of the demi-monde. Has he forgotten that his parents disapproved of Mme Swann for years because of her life as a courtesan? It all adds up to a strict moral family code of conduct to follow.

I suppose the adolescent Marcel has suppressed such uncomfortable thoughts now that Bloch seems to be showing him the pleasures of the flesh. He is also ignoring Bloch's suspicious use of the name M. Moreul when employed in the secretariat of the Ministry of Posts. The Permanent Secretary is M. Bontemps whose wife is a friend of the Swanns and even more significantly, their niece is the famous 'Albertine' who is forecast to be dreadfully 'fast' when she gets older. I think Bloch will be around to witness that behaviour.

Just as I can only conclude that Marcel is intrigued by Bloch and is prepared to remain friends with him despite indications that he could be leading Marcel into new and possibly uncomfortable situations.


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is also a dinner party in this section which has a significant effect for Marcel. His father has invited a colleague, M de Norpois who is deeply interested in the arts, to dine.
Marcel's father is conscious of his position as a diplomat in the service of a republican government. He works alongside the Marquis de Norpois an aristocrat with ministerial experience who has been kept on as an advisor in the years following the Franco-Prussian war. It is after discussing Marcel's ambition to be a writer rather than follow his father into diplomacy that M de Norpois suggests that a successful and influential career is possible in the arts. He also sees no objection to Marcel attending a performance of a play – an activity, because it was indoors, considered by the family to be of no help to anyone prone to sickness.

So to encourage Marcel's literary desires his father asks him to write something to show de Norpois when he arrives for dinner. To his horror he finds despite all the wonderful stuff going through his mind he cannot write anything. In desperation he shows de Norpois a prose poem he wrote years ago in Combray – and is devastated when it is dismissed without any comment. Why doesn't he question himself on that failure? It seems ever since he started to read he has wanted to create fiction. He can in his head but somehow he seems incapable of committing anything to paper. However later on in the section he writes a sixteen page letter to Swann about his deep friendship for Gilberte. Emotion succeeds where imagination fails him? Perhaps the answer is explained in a future volume.

Marcel has another reason to recall the dinner party as it was the afternoon of the same day that he went to a matinee to see Berma (based on Sarah Bernhardt?) in the play Phedre by Racine. He had always wanted to see the play after reading about it in a book by one of his favourite childhood writers, Bergotte; now he was actually going to see it! Accompanied by his grandmother (how humiliating for a teenager although she doted on him and was the one who encouraged him to take exercise in the fresh air) he had mixed emotions after the performance. He expected some life transforming insight and yet it didn't register. It wasn't till the play was discussed over dinner by de Norpois and his parents and had heard their views that he began to appreciate what he had seen.

Not a good day for Marcel as he finds he cannot express his feelings by either the written or spoken word when requested.


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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
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Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Sat Jul 09, 2011 6:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Castorboy, I have had to put aside Proust for the moment, as I just don't have the time and space to concentrate on him - but am loving your posts here, and once the next week is out of the way, I will have more leisure time, and will definitely be back on the Proust wagon.  I doubt if I will catch up with you now, but your posts will be my companions!  And of course I hope to add some of my own - even posting seems to take more mental energy than I have been able to muster recently.  Quieter times on the way, though - hurray!


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798


Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 6:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evie, I can connect with you on at least one aspect and that is that I couldn't read Proust when I was in full time work. There is so much to absorb on almost every page. The only way I could describe it is that Proust is a reading experience which requires time and concentration to appreciate what and why he is writing in this way.
This novel in eight or twelve parts requires a leisurely pace, and would I believe need a number of re-reads, a pace I do not mind and knowing you will contribute your views at some stage allows me to indulge my own fancies about the characters plus I find my enthusiasm has been augmented by checking the artistic references with Paintings in Proust, a book recommended by Mike H,


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2011 6:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The dinner party may have been a disaster for Marcel; it was a triumph for Francoise. New to Paris she would be anxious to adjust to a changed routine. She is of peasant stock, very sure of the dignity of that stock but still aware that the aristocracy demand respect. She probably didn't like moving to Paris and would let the family know about it. The dinner must have been a revelation not just from the praise of de Norpois for her cooking; she proved to herself that she knew how to impress. She went herself to the Halles to procure the best cuts of rump-steak, shin of beef and calves'-feet as if she was a female Michelangelo choosing the perfect marble blocks from Carrara for her creations. Overnight she had cooked what she called a Nev'-York ham because she didn't think she had heard correctly and that the English dictionary couldn't include a York and a New York!

When Francoise first came to the family she was sent to several of the large restaurants to see how the cooking there was done. Marcel took great delight in hearing her dismiss the most famous of them as mere cookshops. No doubt buoyed by the praise of de Norpois who says he knows of no place where he can get cold beef and souffles as good as hers, she decides there is only one cafe that does know a bit about cooking (their souffles had plenty of cream). When pressed to name the cafe she can only remember it as being along the main boulevard, a little way back and having a very good family table. Marcel's father eventually identifies the one she means, the Cafe Anglais!

Her desire to speak to the workers of her own peasant class and to treat anything they say in a positive slant leads to an amusing encounter in the park in the Champs-Elysees where Marcel is accustomed to meet Gilberte. In the little pavilion converted into a series of water-closets Francoise has a conversation with the attendant of the place, an elderly dame with painted cheeks and an auburn wig. It turns out that her daughter has married 'a young man of family' which to Francoise meant that he was of a high rank and therefore the old dame was really a 'marquise' down on her luck!

I do find these garnishings of follies from Francoise enhance the already palatable portions from proust.


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798


Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 8:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the second and last section entitled Place-Names: The Place two years have passed since Marcel saw Gilberte and he is finally on his way to the long awaited holiday in Balbec on the Normandy coast accompanied by his grandmother and Francoise. Because the grandmother decides to break her journey half way to visit one of her friends Marcel is allowed to travel on and to meet up further down the railway line. Everything would have been fine except that Francoise has been sent on ahead with all the luggage to prepare the hotel rooms for them. Unfortunately the grandmother has given the wrong instructions and Francoise has boarded a train for Bordeaux. When he finally arrives at Balbec it is from his room over looking the sea that Marcel goes into rhapsodies with himself over the play of light on the waves, the blue peaks of the sea, the crests that crash down on the sand, tides which bring the water in close one day and then on another day take it far out to the horizon etc.  

This theme of aqueous observation is continued when he enters the dining room for the evening meals. There the concealed lighting creates the effect of a huge aquarium where through the outside glass wall the passing promenade walkers can watch the richly dressed occupants moving to and from the tables or catch the motions of individuals masticating like so many exotic fish served by the black-coloured fish going by the name of waiters.

So it is inevitable that when Marcel encounters a group of young girls who were for ever jumping, running or chasing each other along the sands, each different in dress, hair style or attractiveness that he immediately likens them to a shoal of darting and dazzling fish. He looks closely at one girl wearing a polo-cap pulled down low over her forehead with plump cheeks and brilliant, laughing eyes.
Her name is Albertine who along with another of the group, Andree, become the subjects of his main confessional and obsessional desires during the remaining time he spends in Balbec.


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Fri Aug 26, 2011 5:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Among the guests at the Grand Hotel, Balbec, is a wealthy old lady of title the Marquise de Villeparisis a relative of the Guermantes family, the feudal lords of Combray. One day she asks Marcel how his father , the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, is enjoying his holiday in Spain with M de Norpois (thus we find out that his father must be the civilian head of the Foreign Ministry) after losing their luggage. She is better informed than he is! However when Marcel develops a fever she takes him and his grandmother for daily rides in her private carriage. It is on one of these rides that he remembers that she was the lady who had given him a chocolate duck filled with chocolates when he was small.

The rides are suspended for the moment after the arrival of her nephew the young Marquis Robert de Saint-Loupe-en-Bray for a few weeks leave from his army training in a nearby town. Marcel imagines that he could be his best friend as he has qualities of intelligence and kind-heartedness. His appearance is startling; dressed in a suit of soft, whitish material and walking so fast that a monocle keeps dropping out of one of his sea-blue eyes and yet he is famed for his elegance.

It is not just Mme de Villeparisis who returns to the novel at this point – two more key characters are in Balbec each with his own role to perform in the continuing series. The first, Robert's uncle the disreputable Baron Palamede de Charlus, is recognised by Marcel as the man in a suit of linen 'ducks' in Combray in the garden of the Swanns' estate on that famous occasion when Marcel saw Gilberte and became infatuated with her. Back at the house and out of his hearing the family had talked over the rumour widely known in the village that Charlus was having an affair with Mme Swann.

Then there is the painter Elstir who has rented a viila nearby with a large studio to which Marcel is invited to visit. Whereupon he discovers a picture of an actress, a picture Elstir doesn't want his wife to see. It seems that in his younger days he knew the Verdurins and that he was the fashionable painter  who enjoyed arranging amorous liaisons between friends of patrons; he boasted that he had even arranged affairs between women! There is a four-letter word for men who arrange this kind of procurement but I don't think Proust lowers himself to provide the French equivalent. When I think back over all the sexual liaisons that appear in the novel, he is very discreet in his choice of words!

The adage a picture is worth a thousand words is demonstrated by Proust with his depiction of Estir's Carquethuit Harbour in just under that figure. I could 'see' the fishermen in their boats, the women gathering shrimps, the hulls of the boats reflected in the water. Eric Karpeles believes that the character of Elstir is modelled on James Whistler and Paul Hellue so I wonder if either of those artists did paint a Normandy harbour scene and thus provided an  inspiration for Proust.


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 5:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

At the beginning of chapter one of The Guermantes Way Marcel has returned from his holiday in Balbec and his obsession with Albertine and is living with his family in an apartment of the Guermantes mansion in Paris. In a matter of days Francoise is making friends of the servants while Marcel is imagining that he is in love with Mme de Guermantes.
My immediate thought was why? What happened to those desirable thoughts he had about Albertine? At a superficial glance there would seem to be a pattern in his behaviour. His adolescent mind focuses on Gilberte then agrees to part from her but cannot keep away from the Swann house because he now wants to become more familiar with Madame Swann even walking with her in the Bois de Boulogne and seeing himself as her escort. Then in Balbec and completely forgetting her, there are the group of girls to fantasize over. So I suppose it is perfectly logical that it is the turn of another older woman, Mme de Guermantes to occupy his mind. Maybe this fixation on women is the result of his nervous debility, the life of a neurasthenic that he has to endure.

One thing I am convinced of is that he has never had the experience of the act of physical intercourse. Yes he has been to a brothel with Bloch and he has seen women naked but he never describes his feelings, thoughts, sensations if such a personal contact had taken place. If it had I would have expected at least ten pages on the delights of sex and just as many on the feelings etc. of the woman. After all he can take, famously, a whole page to set forth the memories that arise when consuming a biscuit or, more recently, three pages on a description of a painting by Elstir. Anyway I am now satisfied that whatever obsessions and dreams he has about any woman he may meet in the novels to come the stimulus is going to be generated by his neurosis.

In the meantime I can enjoy the frequent moments of humour – in only eighteen lines he has an anecdote about a barber in the garrison town of Doncieres who persuades Saint-Loupe's commanding officer to grant Robert a leave pass merely by having an open razor very close to his exposed throat or to appreciate the four pages relating to a phone call for  Marcel's grandmother where he starts off not wishing to speak to her and finishes by wanting to ring her straight back when overcome by family devotion.


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 11:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've just found this thread and have enjoyed looking back over all your comments. I have only read the first volume, Swann's Way. It's the only one I own and I'm not sure I completed it. But this is a work I would love to retunr to when the time is right,and I could take time over it, too. (I'd need to ! Very Happy ) I have read the Combray section several times for various reasons. I was interested in the comments on translations; and think that, for me, a Kindle & Proust would not seem quite the right combination. I read bit of French but not nearly well enough to tackle something like this, though I'd love to look at a simultaneous translation.

On the whole translation is something that interests me, the decisions taken, the sense of a thing that cannot be quite got in another language. It's odd that one can find that at times, even when one is not terribly fluent in that language. I just read in the jokey bit of New Scientist about a translation of Henning Mankell that must have used an automatic programme for translating US English into UK English and ended up with the word "canmobileation". It sounds like a surgical procedure, but is just an insensitive glitch where the word "cell" for cell-phone has been switched to "mobile" for UK usage. The programme has found it within a word and made a substitution - I get this when I use find+replace on my word programme, but I'm then not doing it for publication. Preserve us from automatic translation!


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2011 3:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was able to keep going because I have the time; there is no way I could have concentrated on it when in full time work. There seems to be so much of interest on just about every page e.g. politics, writers, painters.
Among quite a few other literary blogs there is one  written by a French lady who is able to point out the different translations of some words in the original text.



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