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Proust: Chapter 1 - delta_november

Jul. 19th, 2008

08:17 pm - Proust: Chapter 1

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I have now finished the first chapter of Proust's third novel The Guermantes Way.  It is 357 pages long.  357 pages with no structural division beyond the paragraph.  Just an unrelenting stream of words.

cristalia  posts about priests, and so here is Proust's take:
"It was tacitly agreed that I had not noticed that he was spying on me.  With priests as with alienists, there is always an element of the examining magistrate.  Besides, what friend is there, however dear to us, in whose past as in ours there has not been some such episode which we find it more convenient to believe that he must have forgotten?"
-- Proust, Marcel, The Guermantes Way, p 352.

I'm not sure how I feel about that last sentence.  Being a big fan of communication, it seems unwise to dance around things like that.  Much better to acknowledge the episode, to forgive, and to move on.

"For several nights now my father, my grandfather and one of our cousins had been keeping vigil and no longer left the house.  Their continuous devotion ended by assuming a mask of indifference, and their interminable enforced idleness around this deathbed made them indulge in the sort of small talk that is an inseparable accompaniment of prolonged confinement in a railway carriage."
-- Ibid, p 353.

The end of the chapter is an interesting look at palliative care traditions from a hundred years ago.  I have nothing really profound to say about that, save that it is different from the traditions of today.  But that last sentence really rings true for me.  When sitting up with an unconscious person in their last days, just what do you say?  I vividly remember having a conversation in these circumstances with my father concerning limited-slip differentials -- this passes for small talk amongst us technical types.

And now, onwards!  Chapter two is only 265 pages long, and concludes this novel.  Then the second novel in this volume, Cities of the Plain, is divided into a whole four chapters for a total of 514 pages.  And then I shall be done this hateful tome and can read something else.

Comments:

From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 21st, 2008 10:09 am (UTC)

Guermantes Way, p. 352

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I certainly understand why you would feel uneasy about this last sentence. What you'll find, and what will remain with you long after you've finished the novel, is the overall abiding honesty of Proust's narrator. This can be a bit confusing because the reader also finds him to be vain, a liar, a cheat etc. How to reconcile the two? This is exactly what is happening in the retelling of the story. The narrator, as he learns and grows, has become baldly honest in the telling of his story. It is part of the major theme of tramsuting life into art. It is also painful because as a reader one identifies with a narrator and one wants to like him. What M is is real, as close to a real person as an author can get in literature. He is and has become totally self-aware.

Of course, that's only an opinion. But thought you might like to hear it.

best,
D
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From:delta_november
Date:July 21st, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Guermantes Way, p. 352

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Ooh. A mysterious anonymous Proust scholar. Welcome!

Interesting insights. Thank you. I agree with the pain. It's not easy to get this far inside someone's head, and to realize that you really don't like them.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 22nd, 2008 10:16 am (UTC)

Re: Guermantes Way, p. 352

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Thanks, D.N. No scholar, really. Just someone who started reading Proust, gulp, 30 years ago, read the first two books, then picked him up again about 10 years ago and managed to finish. I was so enthralled that I then started and read the new translations from England. So, no scholar, but I have read it through twice and think I'm just beginning to get a handle on it.

It will be interesting to see, as you read on, if you may not like the narrator better.

D.
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From:delta_november
Date:July 22nd, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)

Re: Guermantes Way, p. 352

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Twice through is quite an accomplishment! I'm not sure that I'll get there, but I am committed to doing it once. My rule for this is that while I am in a volume of Proust, I may touch no other reading material. It was a couple years ago that I finished the first. Once I am done this, I suspect it may be a few years before I pick up the final volume. But eventually I will get there.

Most of my reading is sci-fi and fantasy. I certainly believe that it has literary merit, but for the most part it's "easy-reading". It doesn't fight the reader at every sentence, and thus it doesn't demand absolute attention. And so, every once in a while, I embark upon something more edifying.

When I am done Proust (and recovered) I believe it may be time for another cover-to-cover Bible reading.
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