Four Moments from Proust

Four short passages from Within a Budding Grove (Moncrieff’s translation) that make up a short summary of Proust’s method and psychology.

The first when Marcel, the narrator, gets the letter from Gilberte that opens the doors to Swann’s house and a relationship with his daughter:

While I was reading these words, my nervous system, with admirable diligence, was receiving the news that a great joy was descending upon me. But my inner self, the one most closely concerned all, was still in ignorance of it.

The second occurs when Gilberte plays for Marcel the passage from Vinteuil’s sonata that served as Swann and Odette’s ‘signature tune’:

The reason for which a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him. It was Beethoven’s Quartets themselves (the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth) that devoted half a century to forming, fashioning and enlarging a public to Beethoven’s Quartets, marking in this way, like every great work of art, an advance if not in artistic merit at least in intellectual society, largely composed to-day of what was not to be found when the work first appeared, that is to say of persons capable of enjoying it.

The third is a description of the conversational style of Bergotte, the author Marcel has admired since childhood and who he meets in Madame Swann’s salon:

 …so that his ideas seemed as often as not to be in confusion, for each of us finds lucidity only in those ideas which are in the same state of confusion as his own.

And the last is Marcel’s meditation on the transitory nature of happiness after he has sold a precious heirloom to have money to lavish on Gilberte, only to pass her out walking with another man as he drives from the dealer’s to her house:

But if I had not called there, if the carriage had not taken the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, I should not have seen Gilberte with that young man.   Thus a single action may have two contradictory effects, the the misfortune that it engenders cancel the good fortune it had brought one.”


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