The 14-Minute Marcel Proust
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The Fugitive

The two-minute 'Fugitive'

Marcel dispatches Robert de St. Loup to offer Albertine's aunt 30,000 francs to persuade the fugitive to return. More directly, he tells Albertine that he had ordered a yacht and a Rolls for her; what a pity they won't be used! And he plays the jealousy card by suggesting that Andée could replace her. (He never thinks to say: "I love you. Please come back!") Alas, the next news he gets is from the aunt, telling him that Albertine was killed in a fall from her horse. This sets Marcel off on a hundred-page revel in the metaphysics of grief.

He knows he's healing when he sees a provocative blonde in the street and sets out to learn her name: Forcheville. She proves to be his childhood sweetheart, Gilberte Swann, whose mother has remarried the impoverished nobleman who was sniffing about her in Swann's Way, and who as part of the deal adopted Gilberte. Marcel then does take up with Andrée, who spins all sorts of lurid stories about the dead girl, some of them involving the violinist Morel.

Marcel and his mother make his long-delayed pilgrimage to Venice, and Gilberte marries St. Loup—who like almost every character in the novel, is now revealed to be a homosexual. Marcel visits Mme. de St. Loup at Tansonville and learns, among other things, that when he first spied her on those premises as a boy, the gesture she flipped him wasn't a dismissal but an invitation to the ball.

On grief and jealousy

As when Marcel grieves for his grandmother on his second visit to Balbec, Proust never writes so compelling as when the subject is loss. Here he is (p.477-478) yearning for Albertine: My imagination sought her in the skies, on evenings like those when we were still able to gaze at it together; I tried to wing my affections towards her, beyond the moonlight that she loved, to console her for no longer being alive, and this love for a person who had become so remote was like a religion, my thoughts rose toward her like prayers.

Less moving, but no less brilliant, is the way (p.554) he shows grief receding. The Duchesse de Guermantes invites him to the opera. But I replied sadly: "No, I cannot go to the theatre, I have lost a friend. She was very dear to me." The tears nearly came to my eyes as I said it and yet for the first time I felt something akin to pleasure in talking about it. It was from that moment that I started to write to everyone to tell them of my great sorrow and to cease to feel it. That cuts fairly close to the bone!

Because it was never finally reviewed by Proust (who died before it was published), The Fugitive is rough in spots, but also revealing. In the earlier books, I felt that the characters were younger than the conventional wisdom would have them. In In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, Marcel and the girls are generally thought to be eighteen, but here Marcel refers to the Albertine of that era (p.469) as "appearing to me at the moment of puberty," which is more or less how I placed all of them at Balbec. (Later, to be sure, he suggests that they were sixteen.)

Ronald Hayman tells us that Proust cut 250 pages from this already-short book, and changed its title from La Fugitive to Albertine disparue. The re-titling was done, but Robert his brother and Jacques Rivière ignored the cuts in the edition published in 1925. "It is clear," Hayman writes, "that what [Proust] had in mind was whole volumes to be interpolated between Albertine disparue and Le Temps retrouvé. (Whole volumes, mon dieu!) In the truncated book, Albertine runs off to join her lesbian friends, thus mooting much of Marcel's ponderings about this element of her nature; she dies on the bank of the Vivonne in Combray, instead of in Touraine; and the chapter about Gilbert and Andrée is jettisoned.

The Penguin Proust

The Prisoner / The Fugitive

I am no longer conscious that I am reading a new translation, nor that I am in the hands of seven different translators; I'm simply reading for pleasure. (I doubt however that I would be having as much fun if I were simply reading Scott Moncrieff for the third time, however much his prose might have been tweaked more recently by Kilmartin and Enright.)

I mentioned earlier that the British editions leave Proust's literary quotations in French, with an English translation in the notes, while the American editions do just the opposite. This didn't trouble me until I came to pages 426-427 of the Prisoner/Fugitive volume, where five quotations from Racine appear in the same long paragraph. I found this a bit irritating: if my French is insufficient to allow me to read Proust in the original, why should the editors assume that I can read Racine?

The gotcha! below gave me a reason to compare the old and new translations. In The Sweet Cheat Gone, Scott Moncrief writes as follows: Associated now with the memory of my love, Albertine's physical and social attributes, in spite of which I had loved her, attracted my desire on the contrary towards what at one time it would least readily have chosen: dark girls of the lower middle class.

Which Peter Collier renders: Now that they were associated with the memory of my love, the physical and social attributes of Albertine, whom I had loved in spite of them, had the opposite effect, that of orientating my desire towards what previously it would have least naturally have chosen, dark-haired girls from the lower-middle classes.


Oh, good grief! On page 518, Mr. Collier has Marcel say orientating. This is particularly funny since the verb comes from the French orienter, not orientater! Remembering that I got caught with the British spelling of appal in The Prisoner, I immediately went to the Shorter Oxford, and as I suspected, orientate appears there only as an alternate spelling of the verb orient, with the notation that it is probably a "back-form" from orientation. I detest these superfluous syllables. Why would anyone say orientate for orient, or preventative for preventive? I am sure that Proust would not have been so sloppy!

Which is not to say he was never sloppy: in Swann's Way, Gilberte is a redhead, but in The Fugitive she is blonde (and remembered as a blonde).

Swann's Way, Guermantes Way

When Gilberte married St. Loup, the two "ways" of Marcel's boyhood are joined. And when Marcel goes to Tansonville to visit Mme. de St. Loup, he is astonished to have her tell him that the "ways" are actually one and the same: Gilberte said: "If you like, we could still go out one afternoon to walk towards Guermantes, but we could walk past Méséglise [i.e., Swann's way], it's the prettiest route," a sentence which overturned all the ideas of my childhood by revealing that the two ways were not as irreconcilable as I had thought.