Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reading Proust Again

I was reading this chapter from The Guermantes Way again today. It is about the death of narrator's grandmother after a protracted struggle with a disease. It is long, brutal and brilliant. It was soon after this chapter that I left reading Proust completely exhausted. I am now planning to pick it up again. Now I have a blog too so reading will be more planned and structured.

The complete text I linked to above is the old and unrevised translation by C K Scott Moncrieff. I am now reading the new penguin ones which are comparatively easier to read.

From the older version the final paragraph. It was also here that I learned a new word "Hyperaesthesia" something that describes the novel very well too.

Spoiler alert (Heh!)...

They made me dry my eyes before I went up to kiss my grandmother.

“But I thought she couldn’t see anything now?” said my father.

“One can never be sure,” replied the doctor.

When my lips touched her face, my grandmother’s hands quivered, a long shudder ran through her whole body, reflex perhaps, perhaps because certain affections have their hyperaesthesia which recognises through the veil of unconsciousness what they barely need senses to enable them to love. Suddenly my grandmother half rose, made a violent effort, as though struggling to resist an attempt on her life. Françoise could not endure this sight and burst out sobbing. Remembering what the doctor had just said I tried to make her leave the room. At that moment my grandmother opened her eyes. I thrust myself hurriedly in front of Françoise to hide her tears, while my parents were speaking to the sufferer. The sound of the oxygen had ceased; the doctor moved away from the bedside. My grandmother was dead.

An hour or two later Françoise was able for the last time, and without causing them any pain, to comb those beautiful tresses which had only begun to turn grey and hitherto had seemed not so old as my grandmother herself. But now on the contrary it was they alone that set the crown of age on a face grown young again, from which had vanished the wrinkles, the contractions, the swellings, the strains, the hollows which in the long course of years had been carved on it by suffering. As at the far-off time when her parents had chosen for her a bridegroom, she had the features delicately traced by purity and submission, the cheeks glowing with a chaste expectation, with a vision of happiness, with an innocent gaiety even which the years had gradually destroyed. Life in withdrawing from her had taken with it the disillusionments of life. A smile seemed to be hovering on my grandmother’s lips. On that funeral couch, death, like a sculptor of the middle ages, had laid her in the form of a young maiden.

10 comments:

Antonia said...

you are right, this is a great passage, was just thinking, Proust was good with describing dead, somehow, the Bergottepassage is great, too.

Alok said...

also worth noticing is that he doesn't describe death in abstract philosophical terms (he does that too) but most of the passage is about the "real" physical suffering, the gradual painful descent... I think it must have come from his own life. he was bedridden and struggling with asthma too. In fact I read somewhere that he made last minute changes to Bergotte's death scene when he was himself on his deathbed. I don't remember where i read it...

the passage about Aunt Leonie in the first volume is also great. There must be some Proust scholar somewhere working on "Proust and Literary Representation of Disease" !

Antonia said...

i am pretty sure there must be something on disease. yet too lazy to look just now...yes, aunt leonie. or then, later, the decay of beloved Baron Charlus. Heard that too,about the changes abour Bergotte and that Proust also when he was very ill already went to see the Vermeer again, I don'tthink one can write such things without first hand experience. by the way, see here, this is an interesting blog
http://molesky.blogspot.com/
and then lovely Isaiah Berlin again, he could not have found a better editor in Henry Hardy....

Alok said...

wow, thats a great blog, lots of links there, have bookmarked it. thanks!

merlot said...

Hey Alok, watch out for the second half of this book. My friend calls it the curse of Guermantes. She can't get past it no matter how hard she tried - so she gave up reading the book.

On a different note, I am beginning my quest to read more German authors this year. Any advice on who I should begin with?

Alok said...

haha, yes, I already had trouble with the Guermantes family too.

German language writers... hmmm. From what i have read, and i have read most of these in the last one year or so...

The Sorrows of Young Werther Goethe
The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrant W G Sebald
The Radetzky March Joseph Roth
The Loser Thomas Bernhard
Lieutenant Gustl, Fraulien Else (both are novellas) by Arthur Schnitzler

one should of course find which subject and style interest one personally and take it up accordingly...

bhaya said...

May you make your way this time. Good luck Dude...

Alok said...

thanks, but i am already distracted with other books :)

merlot said...

Thanks. For some strange reasons unknown to me, I wanted to read something serious, something disturbing and something melancholy throughout this year. So, I'm looking along these line - thanks for the list.

Joseph Roth - you should read Tales of 1002nd Night - it's a charming book and not too melancholy like The Radetzky March.

Alok said...

Good. Everybody on the list will match your mood then :) Bernhard is a little disturbing initially. and Fraulein Else is quite provocative too.

I read a few stories by Roth after Radetzky March. The Bust of the Emperor and Stationmaster Fallmereyer were specially memorable. His other books are on the to-read list. Will check out 102nd Night too.