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For a long time, I would go to bed early.
... and when I would awaken in the middle of the night, since I was unaware of where I was, at first I did not even know who I was;
... but then the memory (not yet of the place where I was, but ofsome of those where I had lived and where I could have been) came to me like help from above to pull me away from the void ...
... My memory was set in motion ...
... I would spend the better part of the night remembering our past life at my great-aunt's in Combray, at Balbec, Paris. Dancières, Venice, and elsewhere still ...
At Combray everyday as the afternoon ended, long before the moment when I would have to go to bed and remain there, sleeplessly, far from my mother and grandmother, my bedroom would again become the painful, fixed point of my worries.
In order to distract me on evenings when I seemed too unhappy someone had had the good idea to give me a magic lantern ...
YOUR MOTHER TOLD ME TO SET UP THE MAGIC LANTERN WHILE WAITING FOR DINNER TIME.
YOUR GREAT-AUNT'S COMING UP.
I'VE PREPARED THE LEGEND OF GENEVIEVE DE BRABANT
VERY WELL, FRANCOISE
THIS EVENING WE'RE HAVING BEEF CASSEROLE.
"... SO THE WICKED GOLO GAVE THE ORDER TO HIS LACKEYS TO THROW THE POOR GENEVIEVE IN THE DUNGEON ..."
"... MOVED BY SUCH MISFORTUNE, THE SWORDSMEN PRETENDED TO PUT HER TO DEATH AND LET HER FLEE INTO THE FOREST ..."
"... FOR MONTHS, POOR GENEVIEVE HID WITH HER CHILD IN THE DEPTHS OF THE FOREST ..."
"... FEARING THAT THE INFAMOUS GOLO WOULD FIND AND KILL HER ..."
After dinner, alas, I was soon obliged to leave Mama who would stay to chat with the others, in the garden if it were nice out, in the small parlor where everyone would retire if the weather were bad.
AH, IT'S RAINING.
FRANCOISE, SERVE THE LIQUEURS IN THE PARLOR.
Everyone, except my grandmother who, in all weather, even when the rain was pouring, would run up and down the soaked pathways.
IT'S A SHAME TO STAY SHUT AWAY IN THE COUNTRY. YOU CAN FINALLY BREATHE!
When these walks in the garden took place after dinner, only one thing had the power to draw her back inside:
To tease her, since my grandfather was forbidden any liqueurs, my great-aunt would make him drink a few drops.
GO AHEAD, AMADEE.
BATHILDE! COME STOP YOUR HUSBAND FROM DRINKING ANY BRANDY!
Alas! I was unaware that, far more than her husband's slight dietary slips, it was my own lack of will power, my delicate health, the uncertainty they cast on my future that sadly worried my grandmother during the course of those perambulations ...
My sole consolation, when I would go upstairs to sleep, was that Mama would come up to kiss me once I was in my bed.
But this goodnight lasted for so little time ... I got to where I hoped that it would came as late as possible, so the moment of respite when Mama had not yet come might be prolonged.
But on the whole, those evenings when my Mama spent so little time in my room,
were sweet indeed when compared to those when there were guests for dinner and when, because of that, she would not come up to say goodnight.
Our company was usually limited to Monsieur Swann, who, besides a few passing strangers, was about the only person who ever came to our house, sometimes for a neighborly dinner (less often since his unfortunate marriage, for my parents did not wish to welcome his wife), sometimes after dinner, just dropping in ...
A VISITOR? WHO COULD THAT BE?
DON'T WHISPER, NOTHING'S MORE UNPLEASANT FOR SOMEONE JUST ARRIVING.
I RECOGNIZE SWANN'S VOICE.
Monsieur Swann, although much younger than he, was very attached to my grandfather, who had been one of the best friends of Swann's father ...
For many years, however, especially before his marriage, the younger Swarm often came to see us at Combray, ...
... my great-aunt and my grandparents did not suspect that they were receiving one of the most elegant members of the Jockey Club, ...
... the particular friend of the Comte de Paris and the Prince of Wales, ...
... one of the most sought after men in the high society of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
If the conversation fell upon the princes of the House of France:
... PEOPLE THAT NEITHER YOU NOR I WILL EVER KNOW,
AND WE'LL DO JUST FINE WITHOUT, WON'T WE?
Thus, my great-aunt used to treat him in an off-hand manner ... handling this otherwise so refined being with a naïve roughness of a child playing with a collector's antique with little more care than with a cheap toy.
Our social personality is a creation of the thoughts of others. We fill out the physical appearance of the being we see with all the notions we have about him ...
Middle-class people back then had a rather Hindu idea about society and considered it to be composed of closed castes where each individual, from his birth on, found himself placed into the rank his parents occupied, from which nothing could remove you ...
... and allow you to climb to a superior caste.
MY GOODNESS! SWANN IS ONE OF THE MOST FAITHFUL REGULARS AT THE LUNCHES OF THE DUC DE ...
BUT AFTER ALL, SWANN COULD ASK HIM FOR ME WHY HIS UNCLE, IN HIS MEMOIRS ...
AMEDEE, WHAT PLEASURE DO YOU FIND SPEAKING OF SUCH FOOLISHNESS?
FOOLISHNESS? PASQUIER? A PRESIDENT OF THE HOUSE OF PEERS!
HOW UNBECOMING! A SWANN AT THE LUNCHES OF A DUKE!
DID YOU SEE THAT HE'S ALSO "HONORED" IN LE FIGARO?
ONE OF THE PAINTINGS FROM HIS COLLECTION IS IN THE COROT EXHIBITION!
SINCE HE'S COMING TO DINNER TOMORROW, WE'LL TALK TO HIM ABOUT IT
I DON'T THINK YOU'D PLEASE HIM AT ALL; I KNOW THAT IT WOULD BE QUITE UNPLEASANT FOR ME TO SEE MY NAME BOLDLY PRINTED LIKE THAT IN A NEWSPAPER, AND I WOULDN'T AT ALL BE FLATTERED IF SOMEONE TALKED TO ME ABOUT IT.
GOOD LORD, I'LL HAVE TO HAVE DINNER BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE TOMORROW,
AND MAMA WON'T COME UP TO KISS ME.
IT'S FROM MR. SWANN FOR MONSIEUR AMEDEE'S SISTERS-IN-LAW.
AND, THE EVENING OF THE DINNER ...
DO THINK TO THANK HIM INTELLIGIBLY FOR HIS WINE, YOU KNOW HOW DELICIOUS IT IS AND THE CASE IS ENORMOUS.
DON'T START WHISPERING,
HOW PLEASANT IT IS TO ARRIVE IN A HOUSE WHERE EVERYONE'S SPEAKING IN HUSHED TONES!
COME ALONG AND SIT WITH ALL OF US!
... AND WHAT DOES AUDIFFRET-PASQUIER HAVE TO SAY, SINCE IT SEEMS THAT YOU DINE WITH HIM?
I SAY. WHAT I AM GOING TO TELL YOU HAS MORE TO DO WITH WHAT YOU'RE ASKING ME THAN IT MAY APPEAR, I WAS ...
I MET A RATHER KIND NEIGHBOR OF MONSIEUR VINTEUIL.
MONSIEUR VINTEUIL ISN'T THE ONLY ONE TO HAVE KIND NEIGHBORS!
... RIGHT, SO I WAS RE-READING SAINT-SIMON'S MEMOIRS THIS MORNING ...
... IT'S SCARCELY MORE THAN A JOURNAL, BUT ADMIRABLY WRITTEN AND ...
THERE ARE DAYS WHEN READING JOURNALISM SEEMS RATHER PLEASANT TO ME ...
... WHEN THEY SPEAK OF THINGS AND PEOPLE WHO INTEREST US!
! RIGHT ... SO, SAINT-SIMON SAYS ABOUT MAULEVRIER: "NEVER DID I SEE IN THAT CRUDE BOTTLE ANYTHING OTHER THAN ILL-HUMOR, COARSENESS, AND FOOLISHNESS."
CRUDE OR NOT, I KNOW OF SOME BOTTLES WHERE THERE'S SOMETHING ELSE ALTOGETHER ...
REMIND ME OF THE VERSE THAT YOU TAUGHT ME THAT ALWAYS COMFORTS ME IN SUCH MOMENTS. AH, YES: "LORD, HOW MUCH VIRTUOUSNESS YOU MAKE US HATE!"
THE LITTLE ONE LOOKS TIRED, HE SHOULD GO ON UP TO BED. BESIDES, WE'RE EATING LATER THIS EVENING.
YES, GO AHEAD, GET TO BED.
DINNER IS SERVED!
NO, NO, GO ON AND LET YOUR MOTHER BE, YOU'VE BOTH SAID GOODNIGHT ENOUGH, THESE DISPLAYS ARE RIDICULOUS. GET ON UPSTAIRS!
FRANCOISE, DIE YOU SET UP THE SUMMER BED IN HIS ROOM?
YES, MA'AM, THE LITTLE IRON BED.
I wanted to try a condemned man's ruse ...
FRANCOISE, COULD YOU TAKE THIS NOTE TO MAMA?
WHILE, THOSE LADIES AND GENTLEMAN ARE AT THE TABLE?
IT'S NOT MY FAULT! MAMA WANTED THIS ANSWER AND SHE'S AWAITING IT IMPATIENTLY!
Mama would surely come
WE'LL, I'LL GO SEE.
and later ...
MADAME YOUR MOTHER SAYS TO TELL YOU THERE'S NO ANSWER.
DO YOU WANT SOME TEA, OR FOR ME TO STAY WITH YOU?
NO, THANK YOU, FRANCOISE, I'M GOING TO BED.
and I closed my eyes, trying not to hear the voices of my parents who were having coffee in the garden.
NO! WHATEVER IT COSTS ME, I WON'T FALL ASLEEP WITHOUT SEEING MAMA AGAIN!
When my mother saw that I had stayed up to tell her goodnight again, they would enroll me to the school the next day
Oh, well! ... I preferred that. What I wanted now was Mama and to tell her goodnight.
AH, THERE NOW, MONSIEUR SWANN HAS TAKEN HIS LEAVE.
... YES, THE CRAYFISH WAS GOOD, BUT THE ICE CREAM WAS RATHER ORDINARY.
WELL NOW! MY DEAR SISTERS-IN-LAW, YOU SEE, YOU DIDN'T THANK SWANN FOR THE ASTI ...
WHAT, DIDN'T THANK HIM? I EVEN BELIEVE THAT I DID SO RATHER DELICATELY.
YES, YOU MANAGED THAT VERY WELL, AND I WAS RATHER PROUD OF MY BIT ABOUT THE KIND NEIGHBORS.
I THINK SWANN'S CHANGING. HE'S LIKE AN OLD MAN!
I THINK HE HAS A LOT OF WORRIES WITH THAT HUSSY OF A WIFE OF HIS WHO, AS ALL COMBRAY KNOWS, IS LIVING WITH A CERTAIN MONSIEUR DE CHARLUS.
WHAT, THAT'S WHAT YOU CALL THANKING! YOU CAN BE SURE THAT HE UNDERSTOOD NOTHING. I GIVE UP. I'M GOING TO BED.
RUN ALONG, RUN ALONG, SO AT LEAST YOUR FATHER DOESN'T SEE YOU LIKE THIS, WAITING LIKE A CRAZY BOY!
SO HE'S NOT ASLEEP THEN?
THE CHILD LOOKS RATHER SAD!
COME, COME SAY GOOD NIGHT!
SINCE THERE ARE TWO BEDS IN HIS ROOM, THEN SPEND THE NIGHT WITH HIM. ANYHOW, GOOD NIGHT. I'M NOT SO FRETFUL, SO I'M GOING TO BED.
Mama stayed in my bedroom that night. I ought to have been happy, but I was not.
It seemed to me that even if I had just won a victory it was against her, and that this evening was the beginning of an era and would remain a sad date.
So it was for a long time, when, lying awake at night, recalling Combray, I never saw more than that kind of luminous image, cut out of indistinct shadows.
As if Combray had consisted of no more than two floors linked by a slender stairway and as if it had never been but seven in the evening.
I would never have had any desire to dream of other things and other hours at Combray. All that was, in reality, dead to me.
Forever dead? Possibly.
It is wasted effort to seek to evoke our past. All the efforts of our intelligence are useless. It is hidden beyond the intellect's domain and reach, in some material object that we do not suspect.
It depends on happenstance that we come upon that object before our death, or that we do not.
For so many years, everything about Combray that was not the theatre and drama of my bedtime no longer existed for me, when ...
IT'S HERE, COACHMAN, NUMBER 45.
MY POOR DEAR, YOU'RE FREEZING! FELICIE! MAKE US SOME TEA!
MAMA, YOU KNOW I NEVER DRINK TEA.
IT'LL WARM YOU UP. COME HAVE A SEAT.
Excerpted from REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST by MARCEL PROUST Copyright © 1998 by Guy Delcourt Productions
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted October 17, 2004
As I say, there is nothing to add perhaps to what have been said already. This with Shakespeare, Hugo, Flaubert, the greatest literature. I wish to add only the new English translation of 2003 is very fine and good introduction to Proust forWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 8, 2003
Posted August 5, 2002
It took Proust 14 years to write this book, locked away in a cork-lined room. It took me 3 weeks in a country retreat to read and my goodness was the effort well worth it. The sheer size of this book would put a lot of readers off, but don't be deterred the rewards will speak for themselves. If you listen to a massive Bruckner Symphony and look at the way the novel is constructed, both are in Sonata form, it starts to reveal it's secrets. A monumental achievement by Proust.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.