The boringest bit in Proust
Wrote this awhile ago, when I was still reading Proust:
This time around I’ve been finding Proust to be pretty engaging on a page-by-page level. I don’t really have to force myself to keep reading, and I don’t have trouble following what’s going on.
Except for one part!
God how I hate her.
This is the narrator’s primary love interest: a girl he meets on the beach in Volume 2, who reappears in volume 4, and then is the primary focus of Volume 5.
Part of the problem is that she’s the main vehicle through which Proust dispenses his (to my mind) incomplete and wrong-headed views on love. He brings her into his house and simultaneously becomes very bored with her and very possessive. Which is all fine and true, except then Proust will say something like, “And that’s just how love is!” and I’m like, no. Not all love is founded in so much distance and contempt.
Proust talks himself about how constrained his narrator’s life is: how the narrator doesn’t go very many places or do very much, and how he seems only to be alive when he’s by himself, contemplating. The entire book is about how it’s possible to make art out of very trivial impressions. But it still makes me depressed sometimes. I’m like come on, Proust, there’s more to life than this! Yes, you’ve done a spectacular job of describing a few very narrow things (primarily the complex social relationships between friends and acquaintances in both bourgeois and high society), but weren’t you ever curious about what else there might be?!
Occasionally there are hints in Proust of other interests. For instance he is literally the only fin de siecle author, who I’ve read, that pays any attention to technological progress. He goes on for pages about the social and aesthetic impact of the telephone, the car, and the automobile. And he’s neither distrustful of these innovations nor unduly admiring, instead he seems to have this sense of wonderment: a strange and amazing new thing has come into his life, and while it’s brought a lot of disruption, it also carries with it the potential for new experiences and new ways of life.
It makes you wonder. If the narrator had dedicated himself to something, anything, maybe he could’ve made something of his life.
Oh, the other problem with the Albertine plot is that it’s repetitive. There are no less than five other couples in the novel whose relationships play out in more or less the same way: Swann / Odette; narrator / Gilberte; narrator / Duchesse de Guermantes; Robert de Saint Loup / Rachel; Baron de Charlus / Charles Morel.
In each of these cases, there’s an interplay between indifference on the part of one person and a possessive, tormented love on the part of the other. And by the time we get to Albertine, we really do get it. Every single aspect of this kind of relationship has been described and re-described.
Anyway, this is just to say, I ended up skimming the last hundred pages of The Captive, which is the volume where they’re living together, and I’m so glad I did it. One of the main benefits of rereading a book has to be that you get to skip the boring parts. The next volume, The Fugitive, is also about her, but since she’s not literally on the page (she finally escapes from this relationship), I figure it’ll be less trying.