Posted by: Lizzie Ross | October 29, 2010

Per viam rectam

Within a Budding Grove, pp. 369-382

The Trocadero, Paris

After a hectic week, it was a pleasure to sit down with Marcel and read a few pages. Proust’s text takes me away from the madness of NYC — the noise and crowds and torn up streets that have made cycling to work this week a daily challenge — and into the calm of poor Marcel’s infatuation with Gilberte.

Palais de l'Industrie, Paris

Yes, he’s still going on about her. But in this section he crosses a threshold, literally. After hearing that Mme. and M. Swann “can’t abide” him, Gilberte suddenly begins inviting him to tea, where the Swanns treat him with polite distancing. Before, he would stand in the street and stare up at her windows, imagining what went on up there. But now, he stands at the window and looks down on the street, to see other guests arrive.

It’s very sweet to see him finally spending time with Gilberte, finally allowed entré to the world of the Swanns, but I can’t help wondering if there isn’t some kind of disaster waiting for him. We’ll see.

One passage stood out as Marcel rues writing an impetuous letter to Gilberte wishing for more time with her. No response comes, and it nearly crushes him:

I had spent the New Year’s Day of old men, who differ on that day from their juniors, not because people have ceased to give them presents but because they themselves have ceased to believe in the New Year. Presents I had indeed received, but not that present which alone could bring me pleasure, namely a line from Gilberte. I was young still, none the less, since I had been able to writer her one, by means of which I hoped, in telling her of my solitary dreams of love and longing, to arouse similar dreams in her. The sadness of men who have grown old lies in their no longer even thinking of writing such letters, the futility of which their experience has shewn.

And then, a few lines later, thinking about Berma surrounded by admirers but inured to their attentions, he wonders if a letter from Gilberte could fulfill his expectations:

At that moment, a message from Gilberte would perhaps not have been what I wanted. Our desires cut across one another’s paths, and in this confused existence it is but rarely that a piece of good fortune coincides with the desire that clamoured for it.

“The sadness of men who have grown old” and “this confused existence.” Melancholy phrases for an autumnal day.

BTW: The post title, “per viam rectam” can be found in Psalms 107:7 (et duxit illos per viam rectam/And he led them forth by the right way), and it’s the motto on the Gilberte’s stationery. Even more reason to worry about Marcel.

And, unless the NaNoWriMo writing goes well, there will be no posts here for the month of November. Check my NaNo progress at my writing blog.

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