Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pass the peas, please

Albertine is the object of jealousy when Andrée's mother learns her daughter's best friend is being invited to fine houses. The inevitable scapegoat is of course the chef responsible for the undercooked peas at dinner.

"Andrée's mother was probably not prompted by the thought that the banker and his wife, learning that Albertine was made much of by her and her daughter, would form a high opinion of them both; still less did she hope that Albertine, kind and clever as she was, would manage to get her invited, or at least get Andrée invited, to the financier's garden parties. But every evening at the dinner table, while assuming an air of indifference and disdain, she was fascinated by Albertine's accounts of everything that had happened at the big house while she was staying there, and the names of the other guests, almost all of them people she knew by sight or by name. Even the thought that she knew them only in this indirect fashion, that is to say did not know them at all (she called this kind of acquaintance knowing people "all my life"), gave Andrée's mother a touch of melancholy while she plied Albertine with questions about them in a lofty and distant tone, with pursed lips, and might have left her doubtful and uneasy as to the importance of her own social position had she not been able to reassure herself, to return safely to "the realities of life," by saying to the butler: "Please tell the chef that his peas aren't soft enough." She then recovered her serenity.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rainy day hijinks at the casino

"If it rained, although the weather had no power to daunt Albertine, who was often to be seen in her waterproof spinning on her bicycle through the showers, we would spend the day at the casino, where on such days it would have seemed to me impossible not to go. I had the greatest contempt for the Ambresac sisters, who had never set foot in it. And I willingly joined my new friends in playing tricks on the dancing master. As a rule we had to listen to admonitions from the manager, or from some of his staff usurping directorial powers because my friends — even Andrée whom on that account I had regarded when I first saw her as so Dionysiac a creature whereas in reality she was delicate, intellectual and this year far from well, in spite of which her actions were responsive less to the state of her health than to the spirit of that age which sweeps everything aside and mingles in a general gaiety the weak with the strong — could not go from the hall to the ball-room without breaking into a run, jumping over all the chairs, and sliding along the floor, their balance maintained by a graceful poise of their outstretched arms, singing the while, mingling all the arts, in that first bloom of youth, in the manner of those poets of old for whom the different genres were not yet separate, so that in an epic poem they would mix agricultural precepts with theological doctrine."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A profound astonishment in their presence

The group of girls at the Balbec seashore who Marcel admired from afar for so long have accepted him into their company. They spend their days riding bicycles, playing games and exploring the resort where they are staying. Marcel loves them, and this is one of the few times in the long novel where is he happy and satisfied with his life.

"Such was for me this state of love divided among several girls at once. Divided, or rather undivided, for more often than not what was so delicious to me, different from the rest of the world, what was beginning to become so precious to me that the hope of encountering it again the next day was the greatest joy of my life, was rather the whole group of girls, taken as they were all together on those afternoons on the cliffs, during those wind-swept hours, upon the strip of grass on which were laid those forms, so exciting to my imagination, of Albertine, of Rosemonde, of Andree; and that without my being able to say which of them it was that made those scenes so precious to me, which of them I most wanted to love... Besides, as my perception of them was not yet dulled by familiarity, I still had the faculty of seeing them, that is to say of feeling a profound astonishment every time I found myself in their presence."

"Meanwhile, I had been thinking of the little page torn from a scribbling block which Albertine had handed me. 'I like you,' she had written. And an hour later, as I scrambled down the paths which led back, a little too vertically for my liking, to Balbec, I said to myself that it was with her that I would have my romance."

Friends and lovers

The photograph that scandalized Proust's mother: Marcel Proust (seated), Robert de Flers (left) and Lucien Daudet (right), ca. 1894.