It is all a question of chronology

From Le Temps retrouvé (4.315-6):

Saint-Loup had just come back from Balbec. I learnt later, indirectly, that he had made unsuccessful advances to the manager of the restaurant. The latter owed his position to the money he had inherited from M. Nissim Bernard. He was, in fact, none other than the young waiter whom in the past Bloch’s uncle had “protected.” But wealth in his case had brought with it virtue and it was in vain that Saint-Loup had attempted to seduce him. Thus, by a process of compensation, while virtuous young men abandon themselves in their later years to the passions of which they have at length become conscious, promiscuous youths turn into men of principle from whom any Charlus who turns up too late on the strength of old stories will get an unpleasant rebuff. It is all a question of chronology.

Saint-Loup revenait de Balbec. J’appris plus tard indirectement qu’il avait fait de vaines tentatives auprès du directeur du restaurant. Ce dernier devait sa situation à ce qu’il avait hérité de M. Nissim Bernard. Il n’était autre, en effet que cet ancien jeune servant que l’oncle de Bloch « protégeait ». Mais sa richesse lui avait apporté la vertu. De sorte que c’est en vain que Saint-Loup avait essayé de le séduire. Ainsi par compensation, tandis que des gens vertueux s’abandonnent, l’âge venu, aux passions dont ils ont enfin pris conscience, des adolescents faciles deviennent des hommes à principe contre lesquels des Charlus, venus sur la foi d’anciens récits mais trop tard, se heurtent désagréablement. Tout est affaire de chronologie.

It no longer shocked anyone and that was all about it

From Proust’s Le Temps retrouvé (v.4 pg. 305 of the Pleiade). I think most failures to appreciate Proust’s commentaries on the laws of flux governing public and private opinion could be solved by ctrl+f replacing Dreyfus with whatever the most recent hub of contention had been.

In society (and this social phenomenon is only the application of a much more general psychological law) whether novelties are reprehensible or not, they only excite consternation until they have been assimilated and defended by reassuring elements. As it had been with Dreyfusism, so it was with the marriage of Saint-Loup and Odette’s daughter, a marriage people protested against at first. Now that people met everyone they knew at the Saint-Loups’, Gilberte might have had the morals of Odette herself, people would have gone there just the same and would have agreed with Gilberte in condemning undigested moral novelties like a dowager-duchess. Dreyfusism was now integrated in a series of highly respectable and customary things. As to asking what it amounted to in itself, people now thought as little about accepting as formerly about condemning it. It no longer shocked anyone and that was all about it.

Dans le monde (et ce phénomène social n’est, d’ailleurs, qu’une application d’une loi psychologique bien plus générale), les nouveautés coupables ou non n’excitent l’horreur que tant qu’elles ne sont pas assimilées et entourées d’éléments rassurants. Il en était du dreyfusisme comme du mariage de Saint-Loup avec la fille d’Odette, mariage qui avait d’abord fait crier. Maintenant qu’on voyait chez les Saint-Loup tous les gens « qu’on connaissait », Gilberte aurait pu avoir les mœurs d’Odette elle-même que, malgré cela, on y serait « allé » et qu’on eût approuvé Gilberte de blâmer comme une douairière des nouveautés morales non assimilées. Le dreyfusisme était maintenant intégré dans une série de choses respectables et habituelles. Quant à se demander ce qu’il valait en soi, personne n’y songeait, pas plus pour l’admettre maintenant qu’autrefois pour le condamner. Il n’était plus « shocking ». C’était tout ce qu’il fallait.

The point that was common to one being and another

From Proust’s Le Temps retrouvé (296/7 in v.4 of the Pleiade, with the updated Moncrieff translation):

…insofar as my own character was concerned, my incapacity for looking and listening, which the passage from the Journal had so painfully illustrated to me, was nevertheless not total. There was in me a personage who knew more or less how to look, but it was an intermittent personage, coming to life only in the presence of some general essence common to a number of things, these essences being its nourishment and its joy. Then the personage looked and listened, but at a certain depth only, without my powers of superficial observation being enhanced. Just as a geometer, stripping things of their sensible qualities, sees only the linear substratum beneath them, so the stories that people told escaped me, for what interested me was not what they were trying to say but the manner in which they said it and the way in which this manner revealed their character or their foibles; or rather I was interested in what had always, because it gave me specific pleasure, been more particularly the goal of my investigations: the point that was common to one being and another. As soon as I perceived this my intelligence—until that moment slumbering, even if sometimes the apparent animation of my talk might disguise from others a profound intellectual torpor—at once set off joyously in pursuit, but its quarry then, for instance the identity of the Verdurin drawing-room in various places and at various times, was situated in the middle distance, behind actual appearances, in a zone that was rather more withdrawn. So the apparent, copiable charm of things and people escaped me, because I had not the ability to stop short there—I was like a surgeon who beneath the smooth surface of a woman’s belly sees the internal disease which is devouring it. If I went to a dinner-party I did not see the guests: when I thought I was looking at them, I was in fact examining them with X-rays.

en ce qui me concernait personnellement, mon incapacité de regarder et d’écouter, que le journal cité avait si péniblement illustrée pour moi, n’était pourtant pas totale. Il y avait en moi un personnage qui savait plus ou moins bien regarder, mais c’était un personnage intermittent, ne reprenant vie que quand se manifestait quelque essence générale, commune à plusieurs choses, qui faisait sa nourriture et sa joie. Alors le personnage regardait et écoutait, mais à une certaine profondeur seulement, de sorte que l’observation n’en profitait pas. Comme un géomètre qui, dépouillant les choses de leurs qualités sensibles, ne voit que leur substratum linéaire, ce que racontaient les gens m’échappait, car ce qui m’intéressait, c’était non ce qu’ils voulaient dire, mais la manière dont ils le disaient, en tant qu’elle était révélatrice de leur caractère ou de leurs ridicules ; ou plutôt c’était un objet qui avait toujours été plus particulièrement le but de ma recherche parce qu’il me donnait un plaisir spécifique, le point qui était commun à un être et à un autre. Ce n’était que quand je l’apercevais que mon esprit — jusque-là sommeillant, même derrière l’activité apparente de ma conversation, dont l’animation masquait pour les autres un total engourdissement spirituel — se mettait tout à coup joyeusement en chasse, mais ce qu’il poursuivait alors — par exemple l’identité du salon Verdurin dans divers lieux et divers temps — était situé à mi-profondeur, au delà de l’apparence elle-même, dans une zone un peu plus en retrait. Aussi le charme apparent, copiable, des êtres m’échappait parce que je n’avais plus la faculté de m’arrêter à lui, comme le chirurgien qui, sous le poli d’un ventre de femme, verrait le mal interne qui le ronge. J’avais beau dîner en ville, je ne voyais pas les convives, parce que quand je croyais les regarder je les radiographiais.

…who made “learning by suffering” into an effective law

From Proust’s Le temps retrouvé (pg 284 in v.4 of the Pleiade edition, translation from the Modern Library updated Moncrieff):

What is odd, though I cannot here enlarge upon the topic, is the degree to which, at that time, all the people whom Albertine loved, all those who might have been able to persuade her to do what they wanted, asked, entreated, I will even say begged to be allowed to have, if not my friendship, at least some sort of acquaintance with me. No longer should I have had to offer money to Mme Bontemps as an inducement to send Albertine back to me. But this turn of fortune’s wheel, taking place when it was no longer of the slightest use, merely saddened me profoundly, not because of Albertine, whom I would have received without pleasure had she been brought back not from Touraine but from the other world, but because of a young woman with whom I was in love and whom I could not contrive to meet. I told myself that, if she died, or if I no longer loved her, all those who might have brought us together would suddenly be at my feet. Meanwhile, I tried in vain to work upon them, not having been cured by experience, which ought to have taught me—if ever it taught anybody anything—that loving is like an evil spell in a fairy-story against which one is powerless until the enchantment has passed.

Ce qui est curieux et ce sur quoi je ne puis m’étendre, c’est à quel point, vers cette époque-là, toutes les personnes qu’avait aimées Albertine, toutes celles qui auraient pu lui faire faire ce qu’elles auraient voulu, demandèrent, implorèrent, j’oserai dire mendièrent, à défaut de mon amitié, quelques relations avec moi. Il n’y aurait plus eu besoin d’offrir de l’argent à Mme Bontemps pour qu’elle me renvoyât Albertine. Ce retour de la vie, se produisant quand il ne servait plus à rien, m’attristait profondément, non à cause d’Albertine, que j’eusse reçue sans plaisir si elle m’eût été ramenée, non plus de Touraine mais de l’autre monde, mais à cause d’une jeune femme que j’aimais et que je ne pouvais arriver à voir. Je me disais que si elle mourait, ou si je ne l’aimais plus, tous ceux qui eussent pu me rapprocher d’elle tomberaient à mes pieds. En attendant, j’essayais en vain d’agir sur eux, n’étant pas guéri par l’expérience, qui aurait dû m’apprendre–si elle apprenait jamais rien–qu’aimer est un mauvais sort comme ceux qu’il y a dans les contes contre quoi on ne peut rien jusqu’à ce que l’enchantement ait cessé.

The above is no exceptional passage but a sample of why I incline to reading into Proust a 3000 page expansion of vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas that builds on the guiding principle from the Hymn to Zeus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (160-180):

[Zeus] who set mortals on the road
to understanding, who made
“learning by suffering” into an effective law.
There drips before the heart, instead of sleep,
the misery of pain recalled: good sense comes to men
even against their will.

τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-
σαντα, τὸν “πάθει μάθος”
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ᾿ ἀνθ᾿ ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ᾿ ἅ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Green Diary pt.2

A continuation of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Green Diary

It doesn’t do to go prodding as critic into details and timelines of Fermor’s actual journey but there’s no foul play in observing bits of the transformation process in order to better appreciate the end product.

It is on the way through Slovakia that (old author) Fermor mentions recovery of the diary now digitized by the National Library of Scotland.

So I headed north-east instead of south. I was still on the wrong side of the Danube and getting further from the river with every step and deeper into Slovakia. My new plan was to make a wide Slovakian loop, strike the Danube again about a hundred miles downstream and cross into Hungary by the Parkan-Esztergom bridge.

Meanwhile, an important change has come over the raw-material of these pages.

Recently—after I had set down all I could remember of these ancient travels—I made a journey down the whole length of the Danube, starting in the Black Forest and ending at the Delta; and in Rumania, in a romantic and improbable way too complicated to recount, I recovered a diary I had left in a country house there in 1939.

I must have bought the manuscript book in Bratislava. It is a thick, battered, stiffly-bound cloth-backed volume containing 320 closely-written pages in pencil. After a long initial passage, the narrative breaks off for a month or two, then starts up again in notes, stops once more, and blossoms out again in proper diary form. And so it goes on, sporadically recording my travels in all the countries between Bratislava and Constantinople, whence it moves to Mount Athos and stops. In the back of the book is a helpful list of overnight sojourns; there are rudimentary vocabularies in Hungarian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Turkish and Modern Greek and a long list of names and addresses. As I read these, faces I had forgotten for many years began to come back to me: a vintner on the banks of the Tisza, an innkeeper in the Banat, a student in Berkovitza, a girl in Salonica, a Pomak hodja in the Rhodope mountains… There are one or two sketches of the details of buildings and costumes, some verses, the words of a few folk-songs and the alphabetical jottings I mentioned two chapters back. The stained covers are still warped from their unvarying position in my rucksack and the book seemed—it still seems—positively to smell of that old journey.

It was an exciting trove; a disturbing one too. There were some discrepancies of time and place between the diary and what I had already written but they didn’t matter as they could be put right. The trouble was that I had imagined—as one always does with lost property—that the contents were better than they were. Perhaps that earlier loss in Munich wasn’t as serious as it had seemed at the time. But, with all its drawbacks, the text did have one virtue: it was dashed down at full speed. I know it is dangerous to change key, but I can’t resist using a few passages of this old diary here and there. I have not interfered with the text except for cutting and condensing and clearing up obscurities. It begins on the day I set out from Bratislava.

Of the two days he prints, March 19 and 20 of 1934, I’ll give only the end of the second since it is a favorite scene of mine. First is the final Time of Gifts version:

At last we got there. The Schloss—the Kastely (pronounced koshtey) as the boy called it in Magyar—stood in a clump of trees. Only a few windows were lit. The baron’s housekeeper Sari let us in and gave the boy a drink. She was a dear old thing with a kerchief tied under her chin. Hand kissed for second time! I found Baron Schey in his library in a leather armchair and slippers reading Marcel Proust.
“I’m on the last volume,” Baron Pips said, lifting up a French paper-bound book. It was Le Temps Retrouvé and an ivory paper-knife marked the place three quarters of the way through. “I started the first volume in October and I’ve been reading it all winter.” He put it back on the table by his chair. “I feel so involved in them all, I don’t know what I’ll do when I’ve finished. Have you ever tried it?”

And now the same section from the Green Diary:

Only a few windows were lit up and the baron’s housekeeper, a sweet old thing, with a neckerchief tied Hungarian fashion, over(?) her head, with the rest under the chin. I found Baron Schey in his library, reading Marcel Proust in an easy chair and bedroom slippers. He greeted me warmly and we were soon sitting down to eat dinner in a little table in the corner of the room. He told me he had lived here quite alone all the winter, reading all the works of Marcel Proust volume by volume and said that he was the most wonderful author.

There’s rearranging of the material – the published version splits the introduction to Baron Pips with a description of his house and library where those passages entirely follow the introduction in the Green Diary – and some dialogue padding but the core of everything is in place.

Some bonus sketches from the diary:

pg 226

pg 235

pg 254

The thought still has too much elbow-room in the expression

From Lichtenberg’s The Waste Books (D.18 in the Hollindale translation):

The thought still has too much elbow-room in the expression. I have pointed with the end of a stick when I should have pointed with the point of a needle

Reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s oft-quoted observation on Proust:

There has never been anyone else with Proust’s ability to show us things; Proust’s pointing finger is unequaled.

Which, for contextual honestly, should for once be quoted in critical fullness:

Something that is manifested irritatingly and capriciously in so many [of the Proustian narrator’s] anecdotes is the combination of an unparalleled intensity of conversation with an unsurpassable aloofness from his partner. There has never been anyone else with Proust’s ability to show us things; Proust’s pointing finger is unequaled. But there is another gesture in amicable togetherness, in conversation physical contact. To no one is this gesture more alien than to Proust.

For use almost can change the stamp of nature

Hamlet to Gertrude at 3.4.159-167, on the power of habit. And because I hear Proust in the background of everything I imagine a connection to his ‘L’habitude! aménageuse habile‘ early in Swann’s Way and similar reflections elsewhere (which is less absurd if you remember that he did give Hamlet as his sole response to the ‘heroes in fiction’ prompt in the original Proust questionnaire).

That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
and either [in]* the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency.

The reading of what follows ‘either’ in the next to last line here is a fun point of conjecture. Q2 has nothing (‘and either the devil, or throw him out’) and Q3 has (I think) ‘and either maister the devil, or throw him out.’ Other suggestions go:

and either master ev’n the devil, or throw him out
and either master the devil, or throw him out
and either curb the devil, or throw him out
and either entertain the devil, or throw him out
and either house the devil, or throw him out
and either lodge the devil, or throw him out
and either shame the devil, or throw him out

Arden takes ‘shame’ from the proverb ‘tell truth and shame the devil’ Shakespeare uses elsewhere but I like the neater Oxford conjecture of a lost preposition – that when replaced gives a synchesis:
either in the devil, or throw him out

Un subject merveilleusement vain, divers, et ondoyant

From Montaigne’s Essai 1.1 Par Divers Moyens On Arrive à Pareille Fin (By different means one arrives at the same end).

Certes, c’est un subject merveilleusement vain, divers, et ondoyant, que l’homme. Il est malaisé d’y fonder jugement constant et uniforme

Certainly he is a subject marvellously vain, diverse, and undulating – man.  It is not easy to found a steady and unchanging judgment on him.

There’s nothing remarkable in the sentiment but the word choice is so beautifully Montaigne and so good an instance of one of Proust’s insights into style:

Il en est ainsi pour tous les grands écrivains, la beauté de leurs phrases est imprévisible, comme est celle d’une femme qu’on ne connaît pas encore; elle est création puisqu’elle s’applique à un objet extérieur auquel ils pensent—et non à soi—et qu’ils n’ont pas encore exprimé. Un auteur de mémoires d’aujourd’hui, voulant sans trop en avoir l’air, faire du Saint-Simon, pourra à la rigueur écrire la première ligne du portrait de Villars: «C’était un assez grand homme brun… avec une physionomie vive, ouverte, sortante», mais quel déterminisme pourra lui faire trouver la seconde ligne qui commence par: «et véritablement un peu folle». La vraie variété est dans cette plénitude d’éléments réels et inattendus, dans le rameau chargé de fleurs bleues qui s’élance, contre toute attente, de la haie printanière qui semblait déjà comble, tandis que l’imitation purement formelle de la variété (et on pourrait raisonner de même pour toutes les autres qualités du style) n’est que vide et uniformité, c’est-à-dire ce qui est le plus opposé à la variété, et ne peut chez les imitateurs en donner l’illusion et en rappeler le souvenir que pour celui qui ne l’a pas comprise chez les maîtres.

So it is with all great writers: the beauty of their sentences is as unforeseeable as is that of a woman whom we have never seen; it is creative, because it is applied to an external object which they have thought of—as opposed to thinking about themselves—and to which they have not yet given expression. An author of memoirs of our time, wishing to write without too obviously seeming to be writing like Saint-Simon, might at a pinch give us the first line of his portrait of Villars: “He was a rather tall man, dark . . . with an alert, open, expressive physiognomy,” but what law of determinism could bring him to the discovery of Saint-Simon’s next line, which begins with “and, to tell the truth, a trifle mad”? The true variety is in this abundance of real and unexpected elements, in the branch loaded with blue flowers which shoots up, against all reason, from the spring hedgerow that seemed already overcharged with blossoms, whereas the purely formal imitation of variety (and one might advance the same argument for all the other qualities of style) is but a barren uniformity, that is to say the very antithesis of variety, and cannot, in the work of imitators, give the illusion or recall the memory of it save to a reader who has not acquired the sense of it from the masters themselves.

The anecdote about the tip to the concierge at the Ritz

From Jean Cocteau’s Opium: Diary of His Cure (Opium, journal d’une désintoxication – though I only have the translation).  I’ve lost my page citation but I think it was towards the middle of the book – along with a few other notes on Proust.

I have recounted elsewhere the anecdote about the tip to the concierge at the Ritz Hotel.  “Can you lend me fifty francs?” “Here you are, Monsieur Proust.” “Keep it, it’s for you.”

Needless to say, the concierge was to receive three times the amount next morning.

A perpetual generation of passions

Reflexion IX of La Rochefoucauld’s. Obvious style differences notwithstanding, Proust is to me the true end heir of La Rochefoucauld’s tradition and I always think it would be a curious experiment for an editor to try adding various maxims throughout the novel as aid to help first time readers stay on track. This one maybe most of all prompts that thought.

There is in the human heart a perpetual generation of passions, such that the wreck of one is almost always the establishment of another.

Il y a dans le cœur humain une génération perpétuelle de passions, en sorte que la ruine de l’une est presque toujours l’établissement d’une autre.