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1. FOR DISCUSSION OF THE CAPTIVE
Discuss Albertine's position in the narrator's household and the various reactions of François, the mother, and Mme. Bontemps.
2. Discuss the narrator's wide range of feeling concerning Albertine. For example, at one point he observes: "I might very well divide her visit to me in two periods, an earlier in which she was still, although less so every day, the glittering actress of the beach, and a later period in which, become the grey captive, reduced to her dreary self, I required those flashes in which I remembered the past to make me see her again in color."
3. In what ways does the narrator find Albertine attractive? What traits does he seek in her what turns him on?
4. What makes the narrator bored and what excites him? What effect do memories of Albertine on the seafront have on the narrator? Why? What does she represent?
5. Does he prefer her waking or sleeping? Why? Search for examples where he discusses and explains his preferences.
6. Was this a sexual relationship or were there other forces at play?
7. Discuss the narrator's sense of possession and ownership of Albertine.
8. At one point the narrator confesses: "for my pleasure in having Albertine to live with me was much less a positive pleasure than that of having withdrawn from the world, where everyone was free to enjoy her in turn, the blossoming damsel who, if she did not bring me any great joy, was at least withholding joy from others. Ambition, fame would have left me unmoved. Even more was I incapable of feeling hatred. And yet to me, to love in a carnal sense was at any rate to enjoy a triumph over countless rivals. I can never repeat it often enough; it was like a drug." Discuss examples of where his actions and feelings demonstrate this.
9. Why is the narrator so jealous? What arouses his jealousy? Do you think that these feelings of jealousy cause him pleasure or pain? Find examples of both.
10. What is the narrator's relationship with the Duchess during this period?
11. What is the significance of the "little yellow patch of wall" in Vermeer's painting and what does it mean to Bergotte and, by extension, to Proust himself.
12. The group should be aware that Proust himself left his sickbed in order to see Vermeer's View of Delft shortly before his own death and that he then wrote this section and inserted it into the already completed The Captive.
13. Following Bergotte's death, what remains of him?
14. What is the significance of: "They buried him, but all through the night of mourning, in the lighted windows, his books arranged three by three kept watch like angels with outspread wings"?
15. Can the group think of other examples in which Proust refers to the immortality of art?
16. Discuss how the long passage concerning the death of Bergotte is artfully entwined with the completely separate theme of Albertine's lies.
17. Compile a list of Albertine's supposed lies.
18. What does the group think of Albertine's lies? Are they, in fact, lies, or is it just paranoia and fevered speculation on the narrator's part.
19. Is Albertine as devious and manipulative as she is presented or merely behaving like a normal person placed in such a dependant, paranoid, and stifling situation?
20. Discuss the relationship between Charlus, Morel, Jupien and Jupien's niece who is doing what to whom?
21. Discuss the motives of the four parties to this relationship: Charlus, Morel, Jupien and Jupien's niece.
22. Discuss the motives for the two organizers of the musical evening at Mme. Verdurin's new house: Charlus and Mme. Verdurin. What do the two of them, individually, hope to gain from the soiree?
23. What are the subtle undercurrents possibly threatening the success of the evening?
24. Discuss the selection of the evening's guest list.
25. Describe Charlus' mood immediately prior to the party.
26. What was Charlus' major error as the evening began and what effect did it have?
27. How did he compound his error at the conclusion of the evening.
28. What did he say to Mme. Verdurin that finally sealed his fate?
29. The description of the musical recital is quite long and contains examples both of Proust's comic as well as his most sublime writing. Find and read examples of both.
30. This description of Vinteuil's septet is just one example of Proust's description of Vinteuil's music. For example, there was Swann's first experience of the little phrase with Odette at the Verdurin's, and again at Mme. St Euverte's both in Swann's Way. The group might like to gather these various descriptions and read them aloud.
31. The famous description of the Verdurin's drawing room which begins "A sofa that had risen up from dreamland between a pair of new and thoroughly substantial armchairs" is one of Proust's longer sentences with 447 words. (Vintage Volume 3, page 287). It would be interesting to ask one member of the group to practice before the meeting and then read it aloud to the group leading to a discussion of the effects of these long and complex sentences; the pros and cons.
32. In addition to the technical aspect of its length, this sentence is also interesting for what it tells us about the Verdurins and their circle, and the places they have lived. Discuss.
33. The high point of The Captive concerns the downfall of Charlus. It has all the power of Greek Tragedy. Discuss the various ways that Proust quite deliberately and specifically emphasized this mythic and tragic dimension.
34. What was the most persuasive argument against Charlus that the Verdurins employed with Morel?
35. Compare the way that the Verdurins destroy the relationship between Charlus and Morel with the relationship between Odette and Swann. What other relationships have they destroyed? (Hint: Why is there no Mme. Brichot?)
36. Compare the behavior of the Queen of Naples with that of the other guests; why might that be significant when considering the later 'rescue' of Charlus?
37. What is the honest reaction of the group when they learn that Albertine has finally left the narrator? Relief?
38. FOR DISCUSSION OF THE FUGITIVE
What is the narrator's initial reaction to Albertine's departure? Discuss his wavering between denial and despair. Why is he upset—when he himself wanted to leave her?
39. Discuss the range of emotions he experiences and how he expresses and reacts to them. Discuss this in relation to his need for control and possession.
40. Discuss Saint-Loup's mission to Mme. Bontemps. What is the purpose of it? Why the need for secrecy? What impression does the narrator wish to convey to the aunt? Is bribery appropriate in these circumstances?
41. Discuss the meaning of "the shed, passage and drawing room". Why is the narrator so upset by these words? How does this fit with Proust's larger concerns with "Place, location and time"?
42. Discuss the exchange of letters concerning the Rolls Royce and the yacht. Was the narrator serious about making these purchases? Was this a sensible strategy to win Albertine back? Did he, in fact, wish to win her back? Discuss his whole strategy in winning back Albertine; the expensive gifts, his mother's blessing, the suggested engagement to Andrée.
43. Although she has been a central character throughout the novel, we know very little about Albertine and see her only through the eyes of the narrator. This opening section of Volume 6, by showing her letters, reveals her voice for the first time and gives a glimpse of a real human being. What impression do we form about her?
44. Discuss the narrator's obsessive inquiries into Albertine's secret past and the lengths to which he researches her possible lesbian activities. (Compare the narrator's search with Charles Bovary's determination to ignore the truth, in Flaubert's Madame Bovary). Was this search for the truth a genuine desire to fully understand another person or was it merely a prurient fascination with lesbian pleasures?
45. The reports the narrator receives from Aimé, as he researches Albertine's activities in Balbec and later in Touraine, are among some of Proust's most sustained comic writings. Discuss how Proust achieves these comic effects and compare with other examples of his humor.
46. Discuss the gradual revelations by Andrée; from her initial denials of everything; her concession that she herself had certain tastes; which Albertine did not share; her agreement to have sex with the narrator; and her final revelations of total depravity with Morel. How does this affect the storyline and what does it tell us about Andrée?
47. Discuss what Proust tells us about forgetting pain and the passing of Time. Compare the utter desolation he felt at the start of The Fugitive with the calm resignation he has achieved by the time he can say "What, so that is the truth which I have sought so earnestly, which I have so dreaded…" (Vintage Volume 3, page 615).
48. Discuss the narrator's submission to Le Figaro. Where else is it mentioned in the novel? What is the subject matter? What is the Duke's reaction to its eventual publication?
49. The death of Swann is first described in Volume 4, The Cities of the Plain where Proust deliberately hid it away inside a two-page paragraph comparing the salons of Mme. Swann and Mme. Verdurin (Vintage Volume 2, page 899). But it is only now, in Volume 6, that Swann's death is actually discussed—when Gilberte asks his old friends about him. What reasons might Proust have for doing this? Was it a surprise when the members of the group realized Swann was dead in this volume—or were they already aware?
50. Discuss the ways that Gilberte betrays Swann's memory and discuss the hopes that Swann had placed in his daughter when he said "one day, when I am no longer here, if people still mention your poor papa, it will only be to and because of you. (Vintage Volume 3, page 604).
51. The Duke would have recommended Swann and his parents for a post as gardeners. What does this mean? Discuss.
52. How has Gilbert's position in society changed and why? What does this tell us about the values of society?
53. Discuss the significance of her name change from Swann to de Forcheville. How does this reflect on the Dreyfus Affair?
54. Discuss the delivery of the misdirected letter in Venice. How plausible is this incident? Discuss the author's meaning behind this incident—however implausible. What is Proust telling us about love and Time?
55. Discuss the incident of Norpois sitting with Mme. de Villeparisis at the hotel in Venice while Mme. Sazerat searches for the famous beauty.
56. Discuss the significance of the anticipated arrival of Mme. Putbus at the hotel. Does this suggest a pattern about the promise as opposed to the reality of physical pleasure?
57. What does the conversation between the narrator and his mother on the train tell us about their relationship? Find examples of the mother's sense of irony as they read and discuss their letters.
58. What is Mme. Cambremer's reaction to her son's marriage? What inner conflicts does this create and how are they resolved—and why?
59. What effect does his nephew's marriage have on Legrandin and what does it finally permit him to do? What larger significance does this have within the novel as a whole in terms of the social structure—when the Legrandin/ Cambremers can "pitch their tent" among the Guermantes?
60. What motivates the Duc de Guermantes to support this alliance between his family with one so much lower on the social scale? (Hint: how did he like people to perceive his younger brother?)
61. Why is Jupien so angry with Morel? What is his biggest criticism of Morel's behavior?
62. It appears that Robert de Saint Loup surprisingly shares his uncle Charlus' sexual tastes. Give other examples in the novel of nephews being like their uncles.
63. Why does Robert humiliate his wife and openly chase other women?
64. What does Gilberte do to win back his affections? Is this a successful ploy?
65. Discuss the narrator's feelings about friendship. Why are Robert and the narrator no longer able to share the friendship they had previously enjoyed?
66. What is the final mood at the end of this volume?
67. FOR DISCUSSION OF TIME REGAINED
Compare the descriptions of Combray at the beginning of this volume, Time Regained, with the descriptions of Combray in Swann's Way. How are they different and what does this tell us about the narrator? What does it tell us about the passage of time when we try to recapture the pleasures of places we have known?
68. What has happened to the friendship between the narrator and Robert de Saint Loup and why has this occurred?
69. Gilberte surprises the narrator with several revelations describe them and discuss their significance to the overall novel.
70. What does the narrator discover about the Guermantes Way and Swann's Way that he did not know before?
71. When the narrator returns to Paris during the war what changes does he notice?
72. Mme. Verdurin and Mme. Bontemps are now the "Queens of this war-time Paris". How did this occur and for what reasons?
73. What is our previous knowledge of Mme. Bontemps and why are we surprised by her sudden social ascent? Discuss the nature of her ascent and how she adapts to the new circumstances. Discuss the possible threat to the lives of French soldiers.
74. Discuss the changes that have occurred in Mme. Verdurin's life since the start of the war and how this has affected her view of society.
75. What impact, if any, does the Great War have on the social life of the citizens of Paris? Discuss the ways that Proust contrasts the everyday life in Paris with the sufferings at the front. Discuss Mme. Verdurin's morning croissant prescribed by Dr. Cottard.
76. In his new profession as hotel manager, what is Jupien's greatest challenge?
77. Discuss the new way that Proust presents the arrogant Baron de Charlus. Are we surprised to learn of this new side to him?
78. Discuss other examples, throughout the whole novel, of the narrator's voyeuristic predilections.
79. When returning to Paris after the war, an incident occurs when the train stops unexpectedly in the countryside. Discuss the meaning and implications of this incident.
80. Discuss the meeting with Charlus and the ways in which he has changed. Is it true to say that he has gained a tragic stature? Proust compares him with King Lear and Oedipus is this a valid comparison? What is the significance of his behavior towards Mme. de Sainte Euverte?
81. When the narrator trips on some paving stones outside the Prince's front door, this is followed by a whole succession of memories and references to memories. The narrator recalls various epiphanies that occurred throughout the novel: Venice, the stiff towel in the hotel at Balbec, the sound of a hammer on a wheel, the taste of madeleines, the steeples of Martinville, the three trees near Balbec—why is the narrator so obsessed? Why, for example, does he continue to stumble around the Prince's courtyard, and why does he stay in the library obsessively focused on these memories?
82. Obviously this scene in the Prince's library is the core to the whole novel. What does his examination of all these different memories teach him? Why had they caused him moments of happiness? What do they have in common?
83. The narrator finally emerges from the library with a deeper understanding of the difference between conscious memory and unconscious memory. He uses the incidents from his past life to make some profound observations on memory and time, and on the importance and immortality of art. Is the group able to summarize and articulate his conclusions?
84. How and why do all these ruminations in the library revitalize the narrators' determination to become a writer?
85. Once he has finally joined the party, the narrator is surrounded by many of his old friends and acquaintances. Discuss the various signs of old age, which are comically described, and compare his observations with a similar social scene in the 21st century.
86. In addition to the physical signs of age on people's faces and bodies caused by the passage of the years, what other changes does the narrator observe?
87. Discuss the various changes in social values and standards, which the narrator attributes to the passing of time. List examples of the changes in various characters' social standing or reputations.
88. Mlle. de Sainte Loup is a 16-year-old girl who barely appears in the novel and yet the narrator decides that she is to provide the subject for his great book. Why?
89. Discuss the ways that Mlle. de Sainte Loup brings together the various threads of all seven volumes of the novel.
90. Discuss the novel's closing sentence in terms of what the narrator has learned about people, place and time. "If at least, time enough were allotted to me to accomplish my work, I would not fail to mark it with the seal of Time, the idea of which imposed itself upon me with so much force to-day, and I would therein describe men, if need be, as monsters occupying a place in Time infinitely more important than the restricted one reserved for them in space, a place, on the contrary, prolonged immeasurably since, simultaneously touching widely separated years and the distant periods they have lived through—between which so many days have ranged themselves—they stand like giants immersed in Time."
Posted January 1, 2010
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