The 14-Minute Marcel Proust
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Finding Time Again

The two-minute 'Finding'

Marcel learns more about Gilberte's childhood affection for him, and of her husband's adult yearning for men. Between times he reads a fictionalized section from the Goncourt Journals, dealing with the wonders of the Verdurin salon (wonders that have escaped Young Marcel, as indeed they have escaped us).

Flash forward to the war. Combray (and Tansonville, with Gilberte in it) is a battlefield; in Paris, the Baron de Charlus loses the regard of society even as Mme. Verdurin gains it. Marcel meanwhile spends long periods in the sanitorium, whether for his asthma or his mental health, returning only for visits. In the final one of these, he attends a soiree at the Prince de Guermantes. En route, he meets a decrepit Baron de Charlus, in the care of Jupien the former tailor, then is barraged by moments from his past.

At the Prince's party, Marcel is bombarded with examples of "involuntary memory," which cause him to reflect upon life, art, and society. He is also astonished to discover that everyone has grown old (and so, presumably, has he). Gilberte looks like her mother, and her daughter is all but grown. I thought she was very beautiful: still full of hopes, laughing, formed out of the very years I had lost, she looked like my youth (p.342). Indeed, there's a hint that Marcel will add the never-named young woman to his menagerie of young girls in flower—and that with her mother's approval!

At the end of all, Marcel resolves to write the novel that has been bugging him for most of the last thousand pages: And I understood that all these raw materials for a literary work were actually my past life; I understood that they had come to me, in frivolous pleasures, in idleness, in tenderness, in sorrow, that they had been stored up by me without my divining their ultimate purpose, ... any more than a seed does as it lays up a reserve of all the nutrients which will feed the plant. Like the seed, I would be able to die when the plant had developed, and I began to see that I had lived for its sake without knowing it....

The Penguin Proust

Finding Time Again It's extraordinary how Swann's Way (published in 1913) prefigures the rest of Proust's sprawling novel. As Gilberte writes of their childhood haunts (p.64): "They now share the same immortal fame as Austerliz or Valmy. The battle of Méséglise lasted for more than eight months, in the course of which the Germans lost six hundred thousand men and destroyed Méséglise, but they did not take it.... The French blew up the little bridge over the Vivonne ... the Germans put up some new ones, and for the last year and a half they have held one half of Combray and the French have held the other." It's as if Proust had foreseen the war as a necessary bookend to his novel.

The evening at the Prince de Guermantes's is the last, longest, and least gripping of Proust's soirée scenes. He takes more than 50 pages from the dooryard to the ballroom, and more than 200 pages in the room itself.

More than in the six volumes that precede it, we are made aware that Proust is a philosopher as much as he is a novelist. I have to strain to follow his aesthetics, but his study of memory (which undergirds the entire novel, from the cake dipped in herbal tea in Swann's Way to the multiple flashes of "involuntary memory" in Finding Time Again) is more accessible. The only true paradise is a paradise we have lost, he writes (p.179). And we can re-enter that paradise not by attempting to recall it, but for the duration of a flash of lightning by encountering a physical sensation (the clink of a fork that recalls a workman's hammer, the uneven paving stones in front of the Prince de Guermantes's house that duplicates those in front of St. Mark's in Venice, the starched napkin evoking those at the Grand Hotel in Balbec) that enables us to live simultaneously in the past and in the present: a little bit of time in its pure state (p.180). Thus the intensity of the pleasure Marcel experienced when he tasted the moistened tea-cake. For a moment, he actually exists both in the past and the present:

Even if the simple taste of a madeleine does not seem logically to contain reasons for this joy, we can understand how the word 'death' has no meaning for him; situated outside of time, what should he fear from the future? (p.180).

The page references are to the Allen Lane hardcover.

Gotcha!

Like the other posthumously published books, Finding Time Again is marred by occasional solecisms that Proust doubtless would have corrected if he had lived a year or two longer. Some of this is deliberate: Some music-lovers find that, orchestrated by X————, the music of Z———— becomes absolutely different. Proust just never got around to filling in these literal blanks. Others are more awkward: on page 304, we are suddenly treated to a scene at the home of the aged actress La Berma—a scene that Marcel couldn't possibly have witnessed, and that serves as a four-page interruption to the Prince's party. In the course of it, he carelessly swaps the genders of La Berma's daughter and son-in-law, so that for a moment they are her son and daughter-in-law.