12.24.2009

Notes on Week 15

But in my dreams of Combray (like those architects, pupils of Viollet-le-Duc, who, fancying that they can detect, beneath a Renaissance rood-loft and an eighteenth-century altar, traces of a Norman choir, restore the whole church to the state in which it probably was in the twelfth century) I leave not a stone of the modern edifice standing, I pierce through it and ’restore’ the Rue des Perchamps. 
Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (January 27, 1814 – September 17, 1879) was a French architect and theorist, famous for his "restorations" of medieval buildings. Born in Paris, he was as central a figure in the Gothic Revival in France as he was in the public discourse on "honesty" in architecture, which eventually transcended all revival styles, to inform the emerging spirit of Modernism.

 Steeples at Martinville
   At a bend in the road I experienced, suddenly, that special pleasure, which bore no resemblance to any other, when I caught sight of the twin steeples of Martinville, on which the setting sun was playing, while the movement of the carriage and the windings of the road seemed to keep them continually changing their position; and then of a third steeple, that of Vieuxvicq, which, although separated from them by a hill and a valley, and rising from rather higher ground in the distance, appeared none the less to be standing by their side.
    In ascertaining and noting the shape of their spires, the changes of aspect, the sunny warmth of their surfaces, I felt that I was not penetrating to the full depth of my impression, that something more lay behind that mobility, that luminosity, something which they seemed at once to contain and to conceal.

More views at the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive (currently offline)  {to search, enter Martinville for text + steeples for image properties}

Photo of Water-lillies on the Vivonne

I haven't yet found any analysis of the unnamed fisherman in the straw hat.  {{The Pont-Vieux led to a tow-path which, at this point, would be overhung in summer by the bluish foliage of a hazel, under which a fisherman in a straw hat seemed to have taken root. At Combray, where I knew everyone, and could always detect the blacksmith or grocer’s boy through his disguise of a beadle’s uniform or chorister’s surplice, this fisherman was the only person whom I was never able to identify. He must have known my family, for he used to raise his hat when we passed; and then I would always be just on the point of asking his name, when some one would make a sign to me to be quiet, or I would frighten the fish. }}

So.  Proust wrote Impressions on Riding in an Automobile about a car trip to Caen, where he saw the steeples shifting at Saint-Etienne & Saint-Pierre.  The pertinent part of the article later became the boy Marcel's writing fragment, the one he jots down in the carriage. See the page 437 preview in Carter's biography at this link. (Scroll down).

More analysis of the Martinville fragment in this learned essay (Ruskin, Proust, and the Art of Failure). (Use Ctrl F to find the word "Martinville").

12.10.2009

Notes on Week 14: An Image of an Image


A question at tonight's meeting: What is a monstrance? A very beautiful one is in the photo to the left.
A monstrance is the vessel used in the Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches to display the consecrated Eucharistic Host.
Proust uses it in a lovely passage, just when M. takes shelter from the rain at the Roussainville church after comparing the country girl of his  dreams to the sculptures on the church, reflecting the physical types of the local people:
"Before our eyes, in the distance, a promised or an accursed land, Roussainville, within whose walls I had never penetrated, Roussainville was now, when the rain had ceased for us, still being chastised, like a village in the Old Testament, by all the innumerable spears and arrows of the storm, which beat down obliquely upon the dwellings of its inhabitants, or else had already received the forgiveness of the Almighty, Who had restored to it the light of His sun, which fell upon it in rays of uneven length, like the rays of a monstrance upon an altar."
We also wondered about the word sadism in referring to Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend:
It was true that in all Mlle. Vinteuil’s actions the appearance of evil was so strong and so consistent that it would have been hard to find it exhibited in such completeness save in what is nowadays called a ’sadist’; it is behind the footlights of a Paris theatre, and not under the homely lamp of an actual country house, that one expects to see a girl leading her friend on to spit upon the portrait of a father who has lived and died for nothing and no one but herself; and when we find in real life a desire for melodramatic effect, it is generally the ’sadistic’ instinct responsible for it.  
It is possible that, without being in the least inclined towards ’sadism,’ a girl might have shown the same outrageous cruelty as Mlle. Vinteuil in desecrating the memory and defying the wishes of her dead father, but she would not have given them deliberate expression in an act so crude in its symbolism, so lacking in subtlety....  
But, appearances apart, in Mlle. Vinteuil’s soul, at least in the earlier stages, the evil element was probably not unmixed. A ’sadist’ of her kind is an artist in evil, which a wholly wicked person could not be, for in that case the evil would not have been external, it would have seemed quite natural to her, and would not even have been distinguishable from herself; and as for virtue, respect for the dead, filial obedience, since she would never have practised the cult of these things, she would take no impious delight in their profanation. ’Sadists’ of Mlle. Vinteuil’s sort are creatures so purely sentimental, so virtuous by nature, that even sensual pleasure appears to them as something bad, a privilege reserved for the wicked. And when they allow themselves for a moment to enjoy it, they endeavour to impersonate, to assume all the outward appearance of wicked people, for themselves and their partners in guilt, so as to gain the momentary illusion of having escaped beyond the control of their own gentle and scrupulous natures into the inhuman world of pleasure. And I could understand how she must have longed for such an escape when I realised that it was impossible for her to effect it. At the moment when she wished to be thought the very antithesis of her father, what she at once suggested to me were the mannerisms, in thought and speech, of the poor old music-master... 
It was not evil that gave her the idea of pleasure, that seemed to her attractive; it was pleasure, rather, that seemed evil. And as, every time that she indulged in it, pleasure came to her attended by evil thoughts such as, ordinarily, had no place in her virtuous mind, she came at length to see in pleasure itself something diabolical, to identify it with Evil...
Perhaps she would not have thought of wickedness as a state so rare, so abnormal, so exotic, one which it was so refreshing to visit, had she been able to distinguish in herself, as in all her fellow-men and women, that indifference to the sufferings which they cause which, whatever names else be given it, is the one true, terrible and lasting form of cruelty. (Emphasis added) 

So after winning us over to his argument that Mlle Vinteuil was not truly sadistic (if she were inherently evil, she would not have been able to separate her actions from her self; she was just being melodramatic), he implies that true cruel sadists are indifferent to the sufferings they cause. As always for Proust, love hurts.

Pages for December 2009

(Enright paging; yours may differ) 
Week 13 -- 12/3
Dawn of love for Gilberte: glamour of the name “Swann” (202; cf. 586). Farewell to the hawthorns (204). Mlle Vinteuil’s friend comes to Montjouvain (206). M. Vinteuil’s sorrow (208). The rain (211). The porch of Saint-André-des-Champs, Françoise and Théodore (211). Death of Aunt Léonie; Françoise’s wild grief (215). Exultation in the solitude of autumn (218). Disharmony between our feelings and their habitual expression (218). “The same emotions do not float spring up simultaneously in everyone” (219). Stirrings of desire (219). The little closet smelling of orris-root (222; cf. 14).

Week 14 -- 12/10
Scene of sadism at Montjouvain (224).

Week 15 -- 12/10 -- 1/7   (Finishing Combray)
The Guermantes Way. River landscape: the Vivonne (235); the water-lilies (238). The Guermantes; Geneviève de Brabant “the ancestress of the Guermantes family” (242). Daydreams & discouragement of a future writer (243). The Duchesse de Guermantes in the chapel of Gilbert the Bad (246). The secrets hidden behind shapes, scents and colors (252). The steeples of Martinville; first joyful experience of literary creation (254). Transition from joy to sadness (257). Does reality take shape in the memory alone? (260).
Awakenings (262; refers back to p.1).

12.08.2009

Hard to Read Proust?

Nah! Not after you read this lovely essay by Marcelle (get it?) Clements on how to do it. Many thanks to Virginia for unearthing this inspiring gem at Oprah's. It begins:
"Some readers are lucky; they fall in love with Proust on page one and enter a sort of rapture that transports them through all six volumes of In Search of Lost Time. Others struggle, resist, quit in a huff. My guess is that many readers are alternately smitten and outraged by Proust's prose style, especially in the opening pages, when we are in the dark—or rather, in a room where the drapes are drawn—and the only thing we can figure out with any certitude is that the narrator is unable to get to sleep and that this reminds him of many other sleepless nights...."
The essay continues here, on Oprah's website.  Enjoy. And thank you again, VA!
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But wait! There's more!  Here's the late, great Russell Baker making a case that reading Proust is like climbing Mount Everest....(no way)
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Here's someone else (LanguageHat) who finished reading it.