Identical emotions do not spring up simultaneously in the hearts of all men in accordance with a pre-established order

From towards the end of the first part of Swann’s Way, an observation I make near daily and never remember for the next day.

And it was at that moment, too—thanks to a peasant who went past, apparently in a bad enough humour already, but more so when he nearly got a poke in the face from my umbrella, and who replied somewhat coolly to my “Fine day, what! Good to be out walking!”—that I learned that identical emotions do not spring up simultaneously in the hearts of all men in accordance with a pre-established order. Later on, whenever a long spell of reading had put me in a mood for conversation, the friend to whom I was longing to talk would at that very moment have finished indulging himself in the delights of conversation, and wanted to be left to read undisturbed. And if I had just been thinking of my parents with affection, and forming resolutions of the kind most calculated to please them, they would have been using the same interval of time to discover some misdeed that I had already forgotten, and would begin to scold me severely as I was about to fling myself into their arms.

Et c’est à ce moment-là encore — grâce à un paysan qui passait, l’air déjà d’être d’assez mauvaise humeur, qui le fut davantage quand il faillit recevoir mon parapluie dans la figure, et qui répondit sans chaleur à mes « beau temps, n’est-ce pas, il fait bon marcher » — que j’appris que les mêmes émotions ne se produisent pas simultanément, dans un ordre préétabli, chez tous les hommes. Plus tard chaque fois qu’une lecture un peu longue m’avait mis en humeur de causer, le camarade à qui je brûlais d’adresser la parole venait justement de se livrer au plaisir de la conversation et désirait maintenant qu’on le laissât lire tranquille12. Si je venais de penser à mes parents avec tendresse et de prendre les décisions les plus sages et les plus propres à leur faire plaisir, ils avaient employé le même temps à apprendre une peccadille que j’avais oubliée et qu’ils me reprochaient sévèrement au moment où je m’élançais vers eux pour les embrasser.

I’m reading Proust this time in the special Pléiade edition released earlier this year. It takes the text of their four volume edition, strips all notes and draft passages, and shrinks everything into two 1500 page volumes of ~1.5in thickness each (as opposed to 2+ for the normal). They explain their rationale as follows:

Selon toute vraisemblance, ce n’est que par crainte de devoir acquitter un supplément de bagage que les voyageurs ne l’emportent pas plus souvent sur l’île déserte.À l’occasion du centième anniversaire de la mort de Proust, la Pléiade propose à titre exceptionnel, et à tirage limité, le texte de la Recherche, intégral et nu (les notes et les Esquisses restant l’apanage de l’édition en quatre volumes), en deux tomes d’environ 1500 pages chacun. Ce tirage satisfera les globe-trotters, sans leur être réservé. Les sédentaires le placeront près de leur fauteuil. Les promeneurs le glisseront dans leurs poches. Toute table de chevet pourra l’accueillir. Une oeuvre-monde, toujours à portée de main, explorable à l’infini.

I put this because pocket copies happen to be a favorite of mine. They’re underappreciated nowadays but I’ve never learned to read on my phone and can tolerate a kindle only in bed or on a plane so I have a great appreciation for anyone who thinks to make my favorite things available in a well-constructed and portable format.

I have tried to provide the reader with, so to speak, an improvised memory

From the opening pages of Proust’s preface to his translation of John Ruskin’s Bible of Amiens. This translation is from the Yale press On Reading Ruskin. The French is available here

To read only one book by an author is to see that author only once. True, in a single conversation with someone we can discern particular traits. But it is only through repeated encounters in varied circumstances that we can recognize these traits as characteristic and essential . For a writer, for a musician, or for a painter, this variation of circumstances that enables us to discern, by a sort of experimentation, the permanent features of character is found in the variety of the works themselves. We meet again in a second book, in another painting, the peculiarities which we might have thought the first time belonged to the subject matter as much as to the writer or the painter himself. By comparing different works, we distinguish common traits which, taken together, reveal the moral character of the artist.

When several portraits by Rembrandt, painted from different models, are gathered in a room, we are immediately struck by what is common to all of them, what constitutes the very features of the Rembrandt face. By inserting a footnote to the text of The Bible of Amiens each time this text evoked, through even remote analogies, the recollection of other works of Ruskin, and by translating in the note the passage which had come to my mind, I have tried to put the reader in the position of one who would not find himself in Ruskin’s presence for the first time but who, having had previous conversations with Ruskin, would be able to recognize in his words what is permanent and fundamental in him. Thus I have tried to provide the reader with ,so to speak, an improvised memory in which I have arranged recollections of other works of Ruskin-a kind of sounding board against which the words of The Bible of Amiens will be able to ring more deeply by awakening fraternal echoes. But these echoes will undoubtedly not correspond to the words of The Bible of Amiens, as they penetrate a memory which is itself composed of horizons generally hidden from our sight and whose various distances our life itself has measured day by day. In order to come into focus with the present word whose resemblance evoked them, these echoes will not have to go through the gentle resistance of that interposed atmosphere which is the span of our life and all the poetry of memory.

Fundamentally, the first part of every critic’s task should be to help the reader appreciate these special traits by drawing his attention to similar traits that enable him to recognize them as the essential features of the genius of a writer.

If the critic is aware of this and has helped others to awareness, his function is almost fulfilled. Ifhe has not perceived it, he can write all the books in the world on Ruskin: the Man, the Writer, the Prophet, the Artist, the Influence of his Thought, the Errors of his Doctrine, and all these works may perhaps reach a very high level of excellence, but skirt the subject. They may exalt the reputation of the critic but, as regards the true understanding of the work, they will be of less value than the exact perception of a correct nuance, however insignificant it might seem.

These expressions alien to our thoughts which by virtue of that very fact reveal them

From the final volume of Proust, Le Temps Retrouvé/Time Regained (pg 401 of v.4 in the new Pléiade) The translation is the modern library:

Meanwhile, two very smart clients, in white tie and tails and wearing overcoats—two Russians, as I guessed from the very slight accent with which they spoke—were standing in the doorway and deliberating whether they should enter. It was visibly the first time that they had been to the place, to which no doubt they had come on somebody’s recommendation, and they appeared torn between desire, temptation and extreme fright. One of the two—a good-looking young man—kept repeating every ten seconds to the other, with a smile that was half a question and half an attempt at persuasion: “Well! After all, what do we care?” But though no doubt he meant by this that after all they did not care about the consequences, it is probable that he cared rather more than he implied, for the remark was not followed by any movement to cross the threshold but by a further glance at his companion, followed by the same smile and the same “After all, what do we care?” And in this “After all, what do we care?” I saw a perfect example of that portentous language, so unlike the language we habitually speak, in which emotion deflects what we had intended to say and causes to emerge in its place an entirely different phrase, issued from an unknown lake wherein dwell these expressions alien to our thoughts which by virtue of that very fact reveal them. I remember an occasion when Françoise, whose approach we had not heard, was about to come into the room while Albertine was completely naked in my arms, and Albertine, wanting to warn me, blurted out: “Good heavens, here’s the beautiful Françoise!” Françoise, whose sight was no longer very good and who was merely going to cross the room at some distance from us, would no doubt have noticed nothing. But the unprecedented phrase “the beautiful Françoise,” which Albertine had never uttered before in her life, was in itself enough to betray its origin; Françoise sensed that the words had been plucked at random by emotion and had no need to look to understand what was happening; she went out muttering in her dialect the word poutana.

Pendant ce temps, deux clients très élégants, en habit et cravate blanche sous leurs pardessus – deux Russes, me sembla-t-il à leur très léger accent – se tenaient sur le seuil et délibéraient s’ils devaient entrer. C’était visiblement la première fois qu’ils venaient là, on avait dû leur indiquer l’endroit et ils semblaient partagés entre le désir, la tentation
et une extrême frousse. L’un des deux – un beau jeune homme – répétait toutes les deux minutes à l’autre avec un sourire mi-interrogateur, mi-destiné à persuader : « Quoi ! Après tout on s’en fiche ? » Mais il avait beau vouloir dire
par là qu’après tout on se fichait des conséquences, il est probable qu’il ne s’en fichait pas tant que cela car cette parole n’était suivie d’aucun mouvement pour entrer mais d’un nouveau regard vers l’autre, suivi du même sourire et du même après tout on s’en fiche. C’était, ce après tout on s’en fiche, un exemplaire entre mille de ce magnifique langage, si différent de celui que nous parlons d’habitude, et où l’émotion fait dévier ce que nous voulions dire et épanouir à la place une phrase tout autre, émergée d’un lac inconnu où vivent ces expressions sans rapport avec la pensée et qui par cela même la révèlent. Je me souviens qu’une fois Albertine, comme Françoise, que nous n’avions pas entendue, entrait au moment où mon amie était toute nue contre moi, dit malgré elle, voulant me prévenir : « Tiens, voilà la belle Françoise. » Françoise qui n’y voyait plus très clair et ne faisait que traverser la pièce assez loin de nous ne se fût sans doute aperçue de rien. Mais les mots si anormaux de « belle Françoise » qu’Albertine n’avait jamais prononcés de sa vie, montrèrent d’eux-mêmes leur origine, elle les sentit cueillis au hasard par l’émotion, n’eut pas besoin de regarder rien pour comprendre tout, et s’en alla en murmurant dans son patois le mot de « poutana ».

Detest bad music but do not make light of it

In Praise of Bad Music From Proust’s Les Plaisirs et Les Jours. If you make allowance for youthful preciousness of sentiment and elitism, this is one of the work’s more clear (and concise) evidences of what Proust would become by way of social observer.

I’ve discovered there’s an English translation of these stories (by Joachim Neugroschel) so I can quote that instead of doing a hack job.

In Praise of Bad Music

Detest bad music but do not make light of it. Since it is played, or rather sung, far more frequently, far more passionately than good music, it has gradually and far more thoroughly absorbed human dreams and tears. That should make it venerable for you. Its place, nonexistent in the history of art, is immense in the history of the emotions of societies. Not only is the respect – I am not saying love – for bad music a form of what might be called the charity of good taste, or its skepticism, it is also the awareness of the important social role played by music. How many ditties, though worthless in an artist’s eye, are among the confidants chosen by the throng of romantic and amorous adolescents. How many songs like “Gold Ring” or “Ah, slumber, slumber long and deep,” whose pages are turned every evening by trembling and justly famous hands, are soaked with tears from the most beautiful eyes in the world: and the purest maestro would envy this melancholy and voluptuous homage of tears, the ingenious and inspired confidants that ennoble sorrow, exalt dreams, and, in exchange for the ardent secret that is confided in them, supply the intoxicating illusion of beauty.

Since the common folk, the middle class, the army, the aristocracy have the same mailmen – bearers of grief that strikes them or happiness the overwhelms them – they have the same invisible messengers of love, the same beloved confessors. These are the bad composers. The same annoying jingle, to which every well-born, well-bred ear instantly refuses to listen, has received the treasure of thousands of souls and guards the secret of thousdands of lives: it has been their living inspiration, their consolation, which is always ready, always half-open on the music stand of the piano – and it has been their dreamy grace and their ideal. Certain arpeggios, certain reentries of motifs have made the souls of more than one lover or dreamer vibrate with the harmonies of paradise or the very voice of the beloved herself. A collection of bad love songs, tattered from overuse, has to touch us like a cemetery or a village. So what if the houses have no style, if the graves are vanishing under tasteless ornaments and inscriptions? Before an imagination sympathetic and respectful enough to conceal momentarily its aesthetic disdain, that dust may release a flock of souls, their breaks holding the still verdant dream that gave them an inkling of the next world and let them rejoice or weep in this world.

Détestez la mauvaise musique, ne la médisez pas. Comme on la joue, la chante bien plus, bien plus passionnément que la bonne, bien plus qu’elle elle s’est peu à peu remplie du rêve et des larmes des hommes. Qu’elle vous soit par là vénérable. Sa place, nulle dans l’histoire de l’Art, est immense dans l’histoire sentimentale des sociétés. Le respect, je ne dis pas l’amour, de la mauvaise musique n’est pas seulement une forme de ce qu’on pourrait appeler la charité du bon goût ou son scepticisme, c’est encore la conscience de l’importance du rôle social de la musique. Combien de mélodies, de nul prix aux yeux d’un artiste, sont au nombre des confidents élus par la foule des jeunes gens romanesques et des amoureuses. Que de «bagues d’or», de «Ah! reste longtemps endormie», dont les feuillets sont tournés chaque soir en tremblant par des mains justement célèbres, trempés par les plus beaux yeux du monde de larmes dont le maître le plus pur envierait le mélancolique et voluptueux tribut,—confidentes ingénieuses et inspirées qui ennoblissent le chagrin et exaltent le rêve, et en échange du secret ardent qu’on leur confie donnent l’enivrante illusion de la beauté. Le peuple, la bourgeoisie, l’armée, la noblesse, comme ils ont les mêmes facteurs, porteurs du deuil qui les frappe ou du bonheur qui les comble, ont les mêmes invisibles messagers d’amour, les mêmes confesseurs bien-aimés. Ce sont les mauvais musiciens. Telle fâcheuse ritournelle, que toute oreille bien née et bien élevée refuse à l’instant d’écouter, a reçu le trésor de milliers d’âmes, garde le secret de milliers de vies, dont elle fut l’inspiration vivante, la consolation toujours prête, toujours entr’ouverte sur le pupitre du piano, la grâce rêveuse et l’idéal. Tels harpèges, telle «rentrée» ont fait résonner dans l’âme de plus d’un amoureux ou d’un rêveur les harmonies du paradis ou la voix même de la bien-aimée. Un cahier de mauvaises romances, usé pour avoir trop servi, doit nous toucher comme un cimetière ou comme Un village. Qu’importe que les maisons n’aient pas de style, que les tombes disparaissent sous les inscriptions et les ornements de mauvais goût. De cette poussière peut s’envoler, devant une imagination assez sympathique et respectueuse pour taire un moment ses dédains esthétiques, la nuée des âmes tenant au bec le rêve encore vert qui leur faisait pressentir l’autre monde, et jouir ou pleurer dans celui-ci.

Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool

I spent too long on this very minor problem. La Mort de Baldassare Silvande, the first story in baby Proust’s Les Plaisirs et Les Jours has as opening epigraph an unsourced quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson – «Apollon gardait les troupeaux d’Admète, disent les poètes; chaque homme aussi est un dieu déguisé qui contrerait le fou.». The notes in both my Pleaide and Folio texts point to Proust using an 1851 translation of Emerson’s essays by Emile Montegut – Essais de philosophie américaine. And the quote is indeed there on page 78 as part of the First Series essay History (Histoire):

Unfortunately, this doesn’t match the much briefer English in my Library of America edition:

The Prometheus Vinctus is the romance of skepticism. Not less true to all time are the details of that stately apologue. Apollo kept the flocks of Admetus, said the poets. When the gods come among men, they are not known. Jesus was not; Socrates and Shakspeare were not. Antaeus was suffocated by the gripe of Hercules, but every time he touched his mother earth his strength was renewed.

But it turns out the LOA edition uses the revised 1847 text, not the original 1841 and the editor didn’t see fit to comment on this significant change in the textual notes. So here is the full 1841 – restoring Montegut’s good name as translator and my equanimity.

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