Re-entry

Gustave Moreau, Jupiter and Semele

Gustave Moreau, Jupiter and Semele (1896)

Within a Budding Grove, pp. 528-533.

I still have the 5-year-old notes for these pages, but to ease the task of getting back into reading Proust himself (rather than just my old blog posts and some books about his novel) I’ve backtracked. Re-entry completed.

I’m sure that somewhere there’s an annotated edition of Proust’s RTP, no doubt with more annotations than text. (Shattuck refers to a recent French edition of 7500 pages, which includes all Proust’s drafts and rejected materials, as well as critical essays, etc. etc. Shattuck rightly posits that if it wasn’t good enough for Proust to include in the published version, then we probably don’t need to know about it.)

I’m having fun, however, creating my own annotations. Moreau’s art work (left) is a case in point. Only a detour through the Wikiverse allowed me to fully appreciate how a fleeting reference to this painting works. Still at Balbec, Marcel sees his grandmother’s friend, Mme de Villeparisis, showing concern for Marcel’s father, in a way that “shewed her this one man so large among all the rest quite small, like that Jupiter to whom Gustave Moreau gave, when he portrayed him by the side of a weak mortal, a superhuman stature.” Behind this reference to Roman mythology lie jealousy, betrayal, murder. But what’s more interesting to me is that Moreau’s painting dates from AFTER Marcel’s visit to Balbec (Marcel Sprinker* places the Balbec visit as sometime between 1894 and 1896-7), thus reminding me of the importance of differentiating between the young Marcel and the older Narrator. Each tells a portion of RTP, but the line between them is so smooth as to be almost invisible.

The quote about Moreau, for instance, comes at the end of the paragraph below. Can you pinpoint where Marcel’s voice changes to the Narrator’s?

I asked myself by what strange accident, in the impartial glass through which Mme. de Villeparisis considered, from a safe distance, the bustling, tiny, purposeless agitation of the crowd of people whom she knew, there had come to be inserted at the spot through which she observed my father a fragment of prodigious magnifying power which made her see in such high relief and in the fullest detail everything that there was attractive about him, the contingencies that were obliging him to return home, his difficulties with the customs, his admiration for El Greco, and, altering the scale of her vision, shewed her this one man so large among all the rest quite small, like that Jupiter to whom Gustave Moreau gave, when he portrayed him by the side of a weak mortal, a superhuman stature.

That sentence appears to begin with Marcel’s POV (“I asked myself”); he’s astonished that such a great lady should be aware of his father. Yet almost immediately the language takes on the detailed complexity of the Narrator’s long-after-the-fact memory. The Jupiter reference finally confirms that a shift has occurred (how could Marcel have known about a painting not yet or only recently completed, and therefore not exhibited?).

Why is noting these shifts important, especially when Proust disguises them so well? It has to do with what I reported in an earlier post — the many selves. The much older Narrator is clearly not the same person as Marcel. It also has to do with the entire point of the novel, which I’ll write about when I get to the end of it myself (sometime in December of this year, if all goes well).

A final note about Proust’s titles: Moncrieff translated À la recherche du temps perdu as “A Remembrance of Things Past” (from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30), but not everyone has been happy with that. In fact, I think most experts dislike it immensely. A preferred version is the more literal “In Search of Time Lost”, although I don’t like how this drops the rhythm of”recherche”, as well as its implied meaning of “searching again”. Montcrieff at least holds on to that subtle prefix, re-.

For the second volume’s À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, which ought to be “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, Montcrieff gave us “Within a Budding Grove”. Was Proust’s appreciation of young girls flowering into puberty too creepy for Montcrieff? What to do? I’m taking the easy route by sticking to the version I have, Montcrieff’s original (1924), with all its flaws. It’ll do.

*Michael Sprinker, History and Ideology in Proust (1998), p. 96.

About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
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4 Responses to Re-entry

  1. calmgrove says:

    Another great example of the scholarly ‘interrogation’ of the text! Although clearly there are still secrets galore to be yielded up …

    • Lizzie Ross says:

      Sometimes I think “interrogation” is a misnomer (I picture an open book sweating under intense lights as a myopic professor subjects it to yet another harsh grilling), but you’re right that RTP offers innumerable opportunities for the curious. As Lucia said, “We must dig deeper, Georgie. Deeper. And possibly sideways.”

      • calmgrove says:

        Love the Lucia quote! I know what you mean about the associations of the word ‘interrogation’ which is sort of why I put it in quotation marks, but it is a sort of relentless questioning, isn’t it, that we give the poor bruised text that has already been given a going-over by the author …

      • Lizzie Ross says:

        I look for every opportunity to quote Lucia and Georgie, but never Miss Mapp.
        As for the the poor bruised text, if deserving, it will fortunately find itself in other readers’ hands. That’s the lucky thing about textual analysis — not many have the stomach to wade through it all. Much better just to read the book and leave the interrogating to others.

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